Philadelphia Eagles training camp is right around the corner ... maybe? Players are currently scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex later this month. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles’ roster. We continue today by taking a look at the linebacker corps. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line | Defensive end | Defensive tackle.
Gerry’s 620 defensive snaps in 2019 were second to only Nigel Bradham’s 717 at the position. With the latter gone, Gerry is on track to be the Eagles’ primary linebacker in 2020. Gerry is something of a polarizing player ... from a fan perspective, at least. He did make some plays last year: five quarterback hits, five passes defensed, four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, one defensive touchdown. But he also ended up as one the league’s worst tackling linebackers with misses on 29% of his attempts, which ranked third-highest in the NFL. Regardless of how you or I might feel about Gerry, Philly’s coaching staff seems to really like him. The 25-year-old has been praised for his intelligence and athletic ability. Gerry has experience calling the defense and I imagine he’ll continue to do that this year. It’s a big season for Gerry since the 2017 fifth-round pick will be a free agent in March. He’s playing for his next contract.
Edwards quietly had a promising rookie season. Pro Football Focus specifically graded the 2019 undrafted rookie free agent signing out highly as a run defender. The Eagles seem to believe Edwards is ready for a bigger role in Year 2. He’s yet to prove he can really hold up in pass coverage but the team values how he’s assignment-sound and instinctive. It’s also worth mentioning Edwards had 10 interceptions in three years at Wisconsin despite not having the best combination of size and athleticism. It’ll be interesting to see if Edwards can step up as one of the primary two linebackers or if he’s suited to be more of a rotational role player.
Riley is in good position to make the Eagles’ roster in 2020 after originally joining the team via trade last September. The former Atlanta Falcons third-round pick finished the 2019 season as the Eagles’ special teams captain. He could very well reprise that role this year. There’s also some internal thought he could be a better fit for Philly’s defensive scheme than the Seattle-based system that he played in under Dan Quinn. The Eagles value Riley’s athleticism. He might be utilized in the old Kamu Grugier-Hill role (playing about a third of the defensive snaps) if he doesn’t carve out an ever larger one.
Brown comes to the Eagles on a minimum contract after logging 23 starts in 56 games played with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers. A film breakdown by my BGN Radio co-host Jimmy Kempski shows Brown really struggled in 2019. That sentiment lines up with what one Chargers writer told BGN about Brown’s poor tackling and such. Brown’s athleticism, game experience, and special teams ability could make him worth keeping around but he’s no lock to stick around. He’ll have to earn his spot on the team.
The Eagles selected Taylor at No. 103 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. It seems unlikely that the 21-year-old will be a meaningful contributor as a rookie. Taylor is already inexperienced to begin with and now he’s dealing with a shortened offseason as well. Taylor’s yet another one of those undersized but athletic linebackers that the Eagles cherish. His long-term potential is intriguing but he doesn’t figure to provide a lot of help as a short-term solution, save for special teams.
Bradley was taken 93 picks after Taylor in this year’s draft but the former might actually be ready to see the field sooner. Bradley isn’t as athletic as his fellow rookie linebacker but he is a little bigger and more experienced. Bradley projects to be a backup assuming he earns a spot on the roster. The Temple alumnus will also have to help out on special teams.
Singleton shone during the 2019 preseason. The Eagles kept the former CFL star on their practice squad before promoting him to the main roster. The unsettled nature of the Eagles’ linebacker corps gives Singleton a chance to earn a depth job ... if not more. But the potential lack of preseason games could hurt his chances to prove himself.
The Eagles paid Olson the lowest guarantee out of their 13 undrafted rookie free agent signings. Again, that the Eagles are thin at linebacker gives him at least a theoretical chance to stick around. But the odds are stacked against the Montana product.
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?
The Eagles are looking pretty thin at linebacker. Not only when it comes to starting talent but depth as well. It’s arguably their weakest position. This reality isn’t entirely by accident. The Eagles clearly just don’t value linebackers as highly as some other teams do.
The Eagles are really relying on their youth to step up at this spot. Look at this age breakdown:
Gerry — 25
Edwards — 23
Riley — 25
Brown — 26
Taylor — 21
Bradley — 23
Singleton — 26
Olson — 23
Brown and Singleton are the most senior options and they’re hardly locks to even make the team.
The sense here is that Gerry will log the most linebacker snaps in 2020. Edwards could be right behind him but don’t entirely rule out Riley stepping up into that spot. Brown is in the mix for rotational playing time. Barring injury, Taylor and Bradley are bound to mostly contribute on special teams.
WHO COULD BE A SURPRISE CUT?
Brown would be a noteworthy cut since the Eagles signed him relatively early in free agency. He could be the next veteran linebacker to fail to stick in Philly. Previously in that mold: Corey Nelson, L.J. Fort, Zach Brown.
Bradley would also be a notable cut since the Eagles used a pick on him but maybe he’s in practice squad consideration.
One can only wonder if the Eagles still might sign another veteran at this position.
On a scale of 1-5, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ linebacker position? (5 being the most.)
This poll is closed