How does the Philadelphia Eagles linebacker group stack up against the rest of the NFL? There’s no question it’s the biggest unknown on the defense, but it might shock you that PFF didn’t grade them lower.
Who are those “potential answers”?
Nate “White Snake” Gerry has the most to prove and the most money on the line as a potential recipient of a contract extension. The staff loves the guy and have praised his smarts and ability to play at multiple spots, but he’s got plenty to clean up.
“Gerry hasn’t been as effective in coverage as you’d expect to see from a college safety, and tackling has also been an issue given that he’s missed 17.8% of his attempts, ninth-worst in the league.” - Steve Palazzolo, PFF
Gerry’s a fast-to-flow ‘backer whose lack of post-snap processing get him out of position in coverage far too often. The tackling issues are possibly (hopefully) explained by a core muscle tear that he played with throughout 2019. If he can clean that up his overall game looks more promising.
Who else can step up and bolster the unit? Could I interest you in an athletically limited TJ Edwards?
“T.J. Edwards is the name to watch in this group... he earned a 77.6 overall grade in the preseason and an 83.4 overall mark on 122 regular-season and postseason snaps. Edwards is below average athletically, and there may be some coverage limitations, but he’s been a productive player since his freshman year at Wisconsin.” - Steve Palazzolo, PFF
Edwards is a throwback that thrives in the phone booth. The Eagles showed that they understood that by limiting his exposure in space and in coverage. He likely won’t have that luxury in 2020.
The rest is a hodgepodge group of cast-offs and rookie swings. Duke Riley never met expectations for the Falcons. Jatavis Brown flashed early but regressed hard. Third round selection Davion Taylor is athletic as all heck but has very limited experience in the box after playing the “star” position for Colorado last year. He has a long way to go. Late round rookie Shaun Bradley’s film was... an adventure.
On the plus side, the linebackers get to operate behind a stout defensive line. That’ll certainly help in the run game. Against the pass, the hope is that pressure from the front four will make life easier. In tandem with the pass rush, the addition of Darius Slay theoretically means the Eagles won’t have to blitz as much as they did on key money downs last year.
The litmus test for them will be Week 4 against the San Francisco 49ers. Kyle Shanahan is known to mercilessly pick on linebackers and the Eagles’ group will have to be avoid getting victimized. If they manage to hold up against that onslaught, it’s a promising sign that they aren’t the weakness many fear.
Even in the best case scenario this is probably a unit best kept hidden, which means the defensive line and secondary will have to be the heavy lifters.