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2024 NFL Draft positions of need: Off-ball linebacker

A position that the Eagles have historically ignored in the draft is also one of need? Get outta here!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 North Carolina at Clemson Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every team has different needs during NFL Draft weekend and, as you may have surmised from being a football fan for longer than 30 seconds, it informs each team’s board. The Philadelphia Eagles are no different and I have taken the liberty of selecting five position groups that could use some reinforcements from the college ranks heading into the 2024 season.

The next group up is: inside linebacker.

The Eagles, under Howie Roseman, have not put an emphasis on the inside linebacker position, instead opting to build from the trenches and have a mean, talented defensive line. While this has produced many good teams for the Birds, completely disregarding one position group for years on end eventually catches up to you. The “catching up” was never more apparent than this past year when the Eagles had sub-replacement level production from the ILB position.

Heading into the offseason, Zach Cunningham, Shaun Bradley, Nicholas Morrow, and Shaq Leonard (who the Eagles signed during the year to try and bolster the position) are all unrestricted free agents. I’d be surprised if they brought Leonard back, but I can see them giving Cunningham and Morrow another chance. Bradley suffered a season-ending ACL injury during the preseason and it’s difficult to say what the Eagles might do with him.

Here are a trio of linebacker options (not just first round!) that the Eagles should consider when they are eventually on the clock. (All measurements are from player’s college bio)

Jeremiah Trotter Jr., junior, Clemson

Measurements: 6-foot-0 and 230 pounds

Career stats: 39 games (26 starts); 202 tackles (113 solo); 29.5 TFL; 13 sacks; 4 interceptions; 14 passes defended; 3 forced fumbles; 2 touchdowns

Bio: Trotter Jr. huh? I wonder if his father played ball too? You may already know this, but Trotter Jr.’s father, Jeremiah Trotter Sr., played 12 years in the NFL, many of which were with the Philadelphia Eagles. Trotter Jr. grew up in Philly and helped lead St. Joe’s Prep to two straight 6A state titles. He was one of the top players in the country as a senior and widely considered the best player in Pennsylvania. The star linebacker was named an All-American by multiple outlets as a sophomore and junior and was also named a Butkus Award finalist as a junior.

Scouting report: As a Hater, I’ve spent a lot of time watching Clemson games over the past few years, praying on Dabo Swinney’s downfall, and, as such, I’ve seen a bunch of Trotter Jr. play. He doesn’t possess ideal size for the inside linebacker position, but he makes up for that with his athletic ability and his play-analyzing ability. Much like his father, Trotter Jr. can lay the lumber on opposing ball carriers but he can also get swallowed up by bigger, athletic offensive linemen. However, his size also can play to his advantage as he is able to hide behind the first level of the defense and then, as if by magic, appear in the hole to make a stop. He’s also solid in pass coverage, which would greatly benefit Philadelphia’s defense, and reads QB’s eyes (watch the beginning of the highlight below and you’ll see a couple of picks that he gets just by following the quarterback) well. He’ll probably be a second or third round pick.

Highlights:

Cedric Gray, senior, North Carolina

Measurements: 6-foot-2.5 and 235 pounds

Career stats: 51 games (39 starts); 369 tackles (199 solo); 30 TFL; 8.5 sacks; 5 interceptions; 18 passes defended; 6 forced fumbles; 5 fumble recoveries

Bio: A native of North Carolina, Gray stayed home for college and ended up earning First Team All-ACC honors in both of his last two seasons while earning a couple of second team All-American nods as a junior and making it to the semifinals of the Butkus Award voting as a senior. He finished second in the ACC in tackles as a senior and was one of two players to record 120 or more stops. As a junior he won the William Fuller (who played three seasons with the Eagles in the 90s) Defensive MVP award at UNC and was also a team captain.

North Carolina v Pittsburgh Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Scouting report: I really like linebackers that always emerge from the bottom of piles because it means that they were sticking their nose in there and trying to make a play. Gray consistently finds himself around the ball and, more often than not, he ends up making a play on it. He moves well for a guy his size and is able to chase down running backs in the open field. Based on his highlights he’s, at worst, passable in coverage and he appears to have good knowledge of where the quarterback is going to throw the ball. I wouldn’t expect him to be a guy that is making a ton of plays in the backfield, but he also won’t be giving up huge plays by being out of position. Seems to be a fourth or fifth round guy, but I could see him moving up if he tests well.

Highlights:

Jontrey Hunter, redshirt senior, Georgia State

Measurements: 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds

Career stats: 42 games (33 starts); 225 tackles (122 solo); 21.5 TFL; 6 sacks; 3 interceptions; 11 passes defended; 7 forced fumbles; 3 fumble recoveries; 1 touchdown

Bio: A native of Tampa, Hunter spent his first five seasons at Georgia State as an outside linebacker/hybrid safety type before moving to inside linebacker for his last season. He earned Third Team All-Sun Belt last year while leading GSU in tackles with 96. He finished his career as the school leader in forced fumbles and sixth on the all-time GSU tackles list. He participated in the 2024 Senior Bowl as well where he impressed with his coverage abilities.

Scouting report: Hunter is a versatile prospect that could provide the Eagles defense with a number of skills that it currently lacks. His bio on the Georgia State website notes that he played OLB for his first five seasons and then ILB for his sixth year, but when watching his highlights you’ll notice that he would even line up in coverage with wide receivers, almost like a box safety or something similar. Due to that, his coverage instincts and technique are more advanced than you’d expect of an inside linebacker prospect. He’s a solid tackler but still has plenty to learn about the intricacies of the position since, you know, he’s only done it competitively for one season. Hunter is a player the Birds could get in the seventh round or as an UDFA if he continues to fly under the radar.

Highlights:

And, if you’re interested, here’s a seven and a half minute highlight tape of his game against LSU, the best team he played against all year.

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