After losing starting linebackers TJ Edwards and Kyzir White, I was anxious to see who the Eagles brought in. Nicholas Morrow has had an interesting career path up to this point and I enjoyed watching him for this piece. He’s quite a fun player! He is number 53 in all clips below.
The first number that stood out to me is the snaps played last year. Availability is a talent in itself and at a position like linebacker, it is important to have someone durable who can stay on the field at all times to help lead the defense. The rest of the numbers are not great overall, which probably tells the story as to why the Bears moved on from Morrow.
+ Played both MIKE and WILL last year. Played 99% of the snaps which shows he was trusted on all downs and was always available.
+ You can immediately see he is fast. His former safety background is obvious in his acceleration and movement skills. He can cover ground quickly and can get to short/screen passes quickly.
+ He was much better at taking on blocks than I expected him to be considering his size. He’s able to get off blocks and make plays in the backfield.
+ I know the data says the opposite, but I thought he was a pretty sure tackler in the games I watched. I have some thoughts on this later.
+ He looks like a pretty strong dude. He’s undersized but you will see offensive players (including Jalen Hurts!) bounce back off him and not gain any extra yards by falling forward.
+ He has the quickness and change of direction skills to avoid offensive linemen and still get to the running back.
+ He was trusted to carry receivers/tight ends down the seam (often in Tampa 2) and he looks athletic enough to do this comfortably.
+ He was fantastic against the Eagles last year, who were an elite offense with an elite running game. He was a key reason the Eagles averaged under 4 yards a carry.
- Chicago chose to prioritize other free agents (including TJ Edwards) over Morrow at linebacker which highlights that they have concerns and think he needed replacing.
- I didn’t see the obvious issue with missed tackles that the PFF data shows. But he does have an issue with taking bad angles and not getting good contact on players, which obviously still counts as a missed tackle.
- He can be quite aggressive in zone coverage which means he can be moved by a quarterback's eyes. I noticed this a few times on film and teams seemed to run a lot of Hi-Lo concepts to target him.
- Showed a lack of awareness when in zone coverage to receivers behind or around him at times.
- His size shows at times, especially in the open field. He has plays where he gets moved like a defensive back, not like a linebacker, and ends up on the ground.
I’ll probably end up being horribly wrong when he gets cut in training camp but I quite liked Morrow’s film. TJ Edwards is a better player and Morrow is unlikely to be anything special, but I think he’s a pretty good linebacker who has some decent traits.
I do have a few concerns about the Nakobe Dean and Morrow partnership if they end up starting together. In theory, having two really fast and undersized linebackers is perfect for the modern NFL and will help the Eagles’ defense against the pass. But, they are also going to have to rely on the defensive line (especially Jordan Davis) to plug some gaps and keep them as clean against the run as possible or the Eagles will come across as pretty lightweight in the box. I imagine teams who want to ‘establish the run’ with a power-heavy run game will look to test out Morrow and Dean a lot next year. Having a good run defense is a lot more complicated than having good linebackers but that of course does make a big difference.
Despite this, if Nakobe Dean develops as we hope and becomes a good starting linebacker, I think the Dean and Morrow partnership could be a pretty decent one. We know the Eagles do not value the linebacker position as a premium position and they were not going to bring back TJ Edwards due to his price, but I think Morrow can replace Kyzir White’s role in the defense and the Eagles may have saved themselves some money without losing too much production.
We just have to accept that Howie is going to rely on a lot of stopgaps at linebacker, and I think (and hope) Morrow will be able to be an average starter and not end up like Eric Wilson, Zach Brown, or ‘insert failed Eagles linebacker here’. I’m cautiously optimistic about Morrow, despite the very low cap number. I think if he is asked to start he will do a good enough job for the Eagles next season. But the Eagles are going to have to rely on Nakobe Dean to take a huge step forward, or the linebacker room will take a pretty big step back.