Howie Roseman has, on the surface, had another good off-season as the Eagles GM.
He has given Carson Wentz the ‘weapons’ that fans have clamoured for ever since the season ended, he has worked his magic on the cap again to be able to pull of moves for big names Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and LeGarrette Blount, and he has drafted players at positions of need, like defensive end, cornerback, wide receiver and running back.
But there is one position that has, by and large, been neglected since Roseman took back control of the team following Chip Kelly’s dismissal in 2015.
Jordan Hicks has been a revelation since being drafted in the 3rd-round in 2015, and Nigel Bradham has been better than many expected since signing a two-year-deal in the 2016 off-season, but other than those two, the Eagles’ linebacker group is incredibly weak.
The Eagles are reportedly high on Joe Walker, a 7th-round pick last season, and they may need him to contribute this season, or else Roseman could face serious backlash if either Hicks or Bradham miss time during the 2017 season.
But how is it that a 7th-round sophomore linebacker coming off a season-ending ACL injury could wind up starting for a play-off chasing team this season, without ever playing a snap in the NFL?
And exactly how is it that the Eagles let themselves get in this situation?
Defensive co-ordinator Jim Schwartz had to adapt to his lack of options at linebacker, often reverting to using nickel packages with three cornerbacks and two linebackers to combat the lack of depth.
But the Eagles aren’t exactly deep at cornerback either, and when Ron Brooks went down mid-way through the season after rupturing his right quadriceps tendon, Malcolm Jenkins had to move from safety to slot corner, a position that although he is familiar with, isn’t exactly the best use of his skill set.
The point is, the lack of linebacker depth had a negative impact on the whole defence, and that had an impact on the whole team, with the Eagles eventually finishing 7-9 and missing out on the play-offs.
It was expected that they would move on from Mychal Kendricks this off-season, with the former 2nd-round pick falling out of favour with Schwartz. Many cite his lack of trustworthiness in coverage and inconsistencies with his tackling as reasons why Kendricks can’t be trusted on the field for prolonged periods in Schwartz’s 4-3 defence.
Although Kendricks is still on the team, he isn’t expected to be in September, and aside from he, Hicks and Bradham, the Eagles have virtually nothing in the way of linebacker depth.
The only other linebackers on the roster are:
· Joe Walker, a sophomore 7th-round pick coming off an ACL injury.
· Nate Gerry, a rookie 5th-rounder who played safety in college but will transition to linebacker.
· Kamu Grugier-Hill, a sophomore 6th-round pick who was cut by the Patriots. He plays almost exclusively on special teams.
· Najee Goode, a 27-year-old career back-up who also plays special teams.
· Don Cherry, a sophomore UDFA.
· Steven Daniels, a sophomore 7th-round pick who was cut by the Redskins.
One of those players will have to step up and play an important role this season, or else Roseman’s failure to address the position will be scrutinised all year, and the player who has the most potential to come in and produce is Walker.
He was drafted in the 7th-round in 2016, and the Eagles liked what they saw in the former Oregon product before he went down with a torn ACL during a pre-season game against the Steelers in August, ending his season before it had even begun.
But now, a year on, Walker is back training with the team, and he could fill the role that will soon be vacated by Kendricks.
He is going to need to not only fill the role, but also prove he can be a productive NFL player, or else Roseman’s head could be on the chopping block next year for his failure to address the linebacker position.