I have mentioned before in this series that the Eagles have somewhat of a low pressure draft ahead of them. Picking at the back of the first round (because they won the Super Bowl), there are few positions the team desperately needs to address. However, besides offensive tackle, linebacker would be a logical target for the team on day one of the draft.
The position could already be strong on paper for the Eagles, given their current roster, but it also comes with a lot of “ifs” for it to remain that way. For instance, Mychal Kendricks just turned in the best season of his career. However, the 27 year old linebacker is constantly mentioned in trade rumors and his play has been up and down until this season. The team should feel comfortable with him as a starter going into next season, but he is always a wildcard.
Nigel Bradham has enjoyed a two year stretch of very good play as a Philadelphia Eagle after coming here from Buffalo. Not only is he a playmaker on the team, but a tone setter and emotional leader on the defense. Of course, he is a free agent this spring and while the team could prioritize signing him, they are in a tight cap position that could prevent that.
Finally, the last starter is Jordan Hicks. Hicks is easily the best player of the three, but health concerns remain a big factor with him. Not including playoffs, Hicks has missed 17 games in his three year career to injury. While his one full season healthy was dominant, the team still does not know if it can depend on him for a full year. With Hicks heading into a contract season in 2018; the team should be thinking about drafting another player high who could take over sooner than later.
While Najee Goode, Joe Walker and Dannell Ellerbe are solid depth players; none should really be looked at as long term options for the team at linebacker. This draft has some really intriguing guys who are worthy of a top 40 pick. It is extremely unlikely that a talent like Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds falls to the Eagles, but here are some guys who might:
- Rashaan Evans, Alabama: The next talent in a line of Alabama linebackers; Rashaan Evans is a fantastic athlete who can fly around the field for a defense. He is still a bit green in terms of reading and reacting, but has really dominant flashes of plays. His adeptness as a blitzer should get him on the field early in his career and he has incredibly high potential.
- Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State: Despite being a one year starter at Boise State, Leighton Vander Esch has captivated a lot of NFL decision makers. The 6’4”, 240 pound backer has really incredible speed and instincts. He could improve his physicality and tries to out run blocks rather than work through them. However, with all his talent and a name like a James Bond villain; teams will really like him.
- Jerome Baker, Ohio State: In a class full of athletic linebackers, Jerome Baker might out run them all. Baker is a special athlete at the linebacker position, though he is built more like a safety. The 6’1”, 225 pounder is going to fly around a defense but defending the run is difficult for him when taking on a lot of blocks. He could be an outstanding player from the weak side if he is able to add more strength to his frame.
- Malik Jefferson, Texas: Jefferson was a top talent coming out of high school but Texas never knew exactly where to use him. He played all over their defense and never got super comfortable at any one position. However, he has immense physical talent and flashes ability in coverage, against the run and as a pass rusher. While he might be a big project among the players in this class, the pay off could be huge.