Yesterday our own Alexis Chassen asked if the Eagles should sign linebacker Christian Kirksey, who was a recent cap casualty of the Cleveland Browns. With the crowd fairly split in the vote, I’m here to make the case for the athletic 27-year old.
It’s an obvious area of need for the Eagles, who likely won’t invest heavily at the position in the draft or free agency. Kirksey, who spent that last two years dealing with injuries, represents a discounted, low-cost starter. If he hits, you fill a hole with a large amount of snaps up for grabs.
What makes Kirksey so attractive? Coming out of Iowa, Kirksey was a top-end athlete for the position. This isn’t reflected in his Combine testing (where he opted to only complete select drills), but his pro day testing showed the young man had plenty of explosion and juice in his game. Kirksey’s 4.58 40-yard dash would’ve been third-best, the broad jump was fifth-best, and his 36” vertical jump was the icing on the cake.
All of this shows up on his film and was obvious as soon as he got the chance to start for the Browns full-time in 2016 in Ray Horton’s system. Kirksey made the most of that opportunity, coming in third in combined tackles (148), eight in solo tackles (96), tied fourth in assists (56), ninth in tackle efficiency, and tied for fourteenth in run stop frequency (9.6%).
Kirksey was an assignment during my Scouting Academy courses after the 2016 season, so I’m familiar with the Iowa product. I thought his best fit was at WILL, partially due to his size (233 pounds, 25th percentile), but that doesn’t mean he can’t capably handle MIKE responsibilities or work in the trash. His performance against the New England Patriots in 2016 had plenty examples of Kirksey taking on and deconstructing blocks from fullbacks and linemen alike.
It’s also of note that Kirksey should have caught the Eagles eye that year, as he had a couple of eye-popping plays against them. On one he beat Brandon Brooks clean on a blitz and eventually wrangled Carson Wentz for a sack. On another, he came from outside the opposite hash to track down Darren Sproles on a screen.
Kirksey followed up his strong 2016 campaign with another solid performance in 2017, racking up another 138 total tackles (t-4th). His 2018 was cut short after seven games due to a grade 2 hamstring strain. 2019 met a similar fate after Kirksey tore his pec in week 2 action.
The risk that you have to weigh with Kirksey is that you have a player with two consecutive years of landing on injured reserve. The reward is that you’ve got a discounted starter that has been super productive when on the field. Kirksey is a solid chase-and-tackle linebacker with enough take-on skills to work in traffic.
His athletic profile hasn’t yet translated to a dynamic cover man, but he’s far from a liability in this regard and is much better than another recent cut, Tahir Whitehead, in the pass game.
Where that burst and explosion has translated on passing plays is as a blitzer, where Kirksey was an effective piece for the Browns, totaling 11.5 sacks over the first four years of his career, with 6 of those coming in his two years as an ingrained starter.
The bottom line on Kirksey is he’s an attractive and likely affordable option who can be had on a one-year “prove it” deal. If you’re willing to stomach the recent injury history, and I am considering the nature of those dings, he’s a better option than just about all of the bargain bin options set to hit the market. Unless the Eagles uncharacteristically get lavish in their spending at the position, Kirksey is one of my top choices.
We make the “Case for Kirksey” and more on The Kist & Solak Show #176! You can listen to that conversation on the media player below or click here if the player doesn’t load. New to podcasts?! Check out our guide on how to listen and subscribe to BGN! FLY EAGLES FLY!