The Philadelphia Eagles added to their thin linebacker corps last week by signing Eric Wilson to a one-year contract. Reunited with Jonathan Gannon and Nick Rallis, Wilson figures to be a starter in Philly.
In order to learn more about the Eagles’ newest defender, I thought it’d benefit BGN readers to get a Minnesota Vikings perspective on Wilson. I reached out to the excellent Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) of Daily Norseman and here’s what he had to share.
1 - Can you recap Wilson’s career with the Vikings? Which position(s) did he play?
Wilson’s career arc is actually pretty similar to his fellow Eagles teammate Anthony Harris. Like Harris, Wilson went undrafted and didn’t play much in his first season with the Vikings. He was a surprise inclusion on the 53-man roster and played exclusively special teams in 2017. Wilson started working his way into the defensive rotation as the third linebacker in base defense in 2018. He saw about 100 more defensive snaps in 2019, starting six games and racking up 62 tackles including three sacks. He looked poised for a similar role in 2020 until Anthony Barr went down for the season in Week 2. In three years, Wilson went from undrafted special teamer to every-down linebacker. He led the team in tackles and nabbed the first three interceptions of his career in his expanded role.
Before the 2020 season, the majority of his defensive snaps were at outside linebacker in Mike Zimmer’s base 4-3 defense. When he became an every-down linebacker, he and Eric Kendricks became pretty interchangeable as far as where they lined up. Wilson played a similar amount of snaps on each side of the formation last year.
2 - How do Vikings fans feel about the team not re-signing him? Are you surprised it took him this long to sign?
With how thin the Vikings are at linebacker after Kendricks and Barr, I think most Vikings fans would have welcomed Wilson back, especially at the price that the Eagles paid for him. The Vikings signed Nick Vigil for about $1.5 million less than Wilson got, which is just fine as long as Vigil isn’t asked to play every down like Wilson did in 2020. If Kendricks and Barr are healthy for most of the season, I don’t think Wilson will be missed a ton. However, if either starter misses significant time—Barr missed the final 14 games of the season while Kendricks missed the final five—then his absence will be felt more.
I’m pretty surprised that the market wasn’t stronger for Wilson. Most Vikings fans figured that Wilson had priced himself out of the Vikings re-signing him with his play in 2020. Wilson certainly has some shortcomings that we’ll get into in a bit, but I honestly thought he would find a new home much faster at a higher price than what he got from Philadelphia.
3 - What are Wilson’s strengths?
Wilson is an excellent athlete—his 9.48 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) put him near the top of the 2017 draft class. As a former safety, he’s very good in pass defense for a linebacker, with the ability to cover running backs and tight ends in both man coverage and zone. Wilson has a good nose for the ball and excels at closing in on routes to make sure short passes into space don’t turn into big plays. He has also proven to be extremely durable—Wilson hasn’t missed a single game through his first four seasons in the NFL.
Eric Wilson went undrafted as a LB in the 2017 draft class. He scored a 9.48 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 82 out of 1561 LB from 1987 to 2017. https://t.co/uE9WlSpeTd #RAS pic.twitter.com/sCvKuEMeej— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 17, 2021
4 - What are Wilson’s weaknesses?
Two words: run defense. Wilson’s size (6’1”, 230) and iffy tackling have always made him a liability in the run game, and that got him into a lot of trouble in 2020. Wilson’s weakness stopping the run showed both on film and in advanced metrics. Pro Football Focus gave Wilson a paltry 38.3 run defense grade and credited him with a team-high 20 missed tackles last year. He can get completely wiped out of plays against the run. While you can’t blame all of the Vikings’ woes stopping the run in 2020 on Wilson, it’s no coincidence that they got worse in that area when he was thrust into a larger role last season.
5 - Anything else to know about him off the field?
In my interactions with Wilson, he isn’t the most bombastic player I have covered by any means, but he was always very generous with his time and thoughtful with his interview answers. Teammates really seem to like him and root for him. I remember a Training Camp practice in 2018 where Wilson got a pick-six in a scrimmage. Kendricks and Barr both chased him down the sideline while whooping it up for their teammate’s success. Like fellow Viking-turned-Eagle Harris, Wilson doesn’t seem to be a rah-rah type of guy, but still earns respect of his teammates by the work he puts in. One other fun fact—apparently he skateboards in his free time! Alas, I have never witnessed it or discussed it with him, so maybe that’s something you can ask him about.