Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Inside Linebackers

Philadelphia Eagles LB Mychal KendricksThis is the third in a series. Throughout the next week or two, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Eagles’ roster. Click here for yesterday’s piece on the cornerbacks and here for a breakdown of the safeties.

Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times Picayune provided a league-wide breakdown earlier this offseason to see how many teams used a 3-4 in 2012.

He found there were a total of 14 that ran a 3-4 or some kind of hybrid.

With the Eagles making the switch in 2013, it’s worth looking at the way those 3-4 teams constructed their rosters. And in the case of today’s post, how many linebackers they kept.

I took a look at all 14 rosters after initial cuts last summer and found that, on average, 3-4 teams kept 8.1 linebackers. The numbers ranged from as few as six (more “hybrid” teams) to as many as 10.

Today, we’ll tackle the Eagles’ inside linebackers and we’ll examine the outside LBs in the next post.

DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks should hold down the starting jobs. But there are certainly depth spots up for grabs.

The team signed Jason Phillips in free agency. They also traded for Emmanuel Acho and have Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews returning from last year’s squad. The Eagles didn’t use a draft pick on an inside linebacker, but they did sign undrafted free agent Jake Knott out of Iowa State.

Here’s a look at the inside linebackers on the roster:

Emmanuel Acho6-2240221/0
Jamar Chaney6-0242263/23
Mychal Kendricks6-0240221/14
Jake Knott6-2243220/0
Casey Matthews6-1240242/4
Jason Phillips6-1240274/2
DeMeco Ryans6-1247287/102

Pencil ’em in: Ryans, Kendricks.

In 2012, the secondary was a mess, and the defensive line never got its act together. But Ryans quietly had a very productive year and brought stability to the middle of the Eagles’ defense. According to team stats, he finished with 115 solo tackles and 16 tackles for loss. No Eagles player under Andy Reid (14 years) had a higher total in either category.

Ryans wasn’t perfect. He had some issues in coverage, and even against the run later in the year. But overall, he was really good, playing 1,014 out of a possible 1,015 snaps in the Eagles’ final 15 games, according to Pro Football Focus. There are questions about how Ryans fits in a 3-4, but as I wrote earlier this offseason, I think he’s going to be just fine.

Kendricks isn’t the biggest guy and at times has trouble getting off blocks. But my guess is Chip Kelly and Billy Davis will appreciate what they have in him. The second-year player has a versatile skill set, with the ability to play the run and, more importantly, cover. In other words, he’s not someone you have to worry about taking off the field in sub packages, giving the Eagles an advantage when opposing offenses push tempo. The new scheme could play to Kendricks’ strength and allow him to run free and attack the ball-carrier.

Barring injury, it would be a slight upset if Ryans and Kendricks aren’t the team’s starting inside linebackers to start the season.

Fighting for spots: Phillips, Matthews, Chaney, Knott, Acho.

There are plenty of things to take into consideration here: depth, upside and special teams.

Phillips is a player the Eagles targeted and signed in free agency. He led the Panthers with 16 special-teams tackles last year. There’s still plenty of time between now and the start of the season, but he would seem to have a good shot of making the 53-man roster.

Matthews obviously has a history with Kelly from his days at Oregon, but more importantly, he showed some special-teams chops last year. Matthews finished fourth on the team in special-teams points, behind Colt Anderson, Alex Henery and Akeem Jordan. His 14 special-teams tackles were second to only Jordan. However, he hasn’t shown much as a backup linebacker on defense.

Chaney has the most experience on defense out of this group. He provides versatility, but has not been productive. He’ll have to find some way to impress the coaches this offseason to earn a spot.

Knott is a player to watch. He has good size (6-2, 243) and was a productive college player, earning All-Big 12 honors as a senior. He has dealt with a shoulder injury, but played special teams in college and has a chance to stick.

Not a lot to go by with Acho. He didn’t see any game action last year, and the Eagles acquired him from Cleveland in the Dion Lewis trade.

We don’t know how many inside linebackers the Eagles plan on keeping. If the number is four, the five players in this group will be fighting for two spots. And it’s not out of the question that the Eagles add a player or two in the coming months. Either way, there will be plenty of competition and jobs to be won or lost between now and the start of the season.

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  • jjcraz

    Demeco Ryans is 23? I wish!

    • sdk152

      Whoops! Fixed. Thanks for the heads-up. -SK

      • Wilbert M.

        It’s not fixed. He’s still 23.

    • mrparabolic

      You don’t remember what a big deal it was when he came into the NFL at 16?

  • Ebrano

    Expecting big things from Kendricks this year… the 2012 draft class may prove to be one of our best ever

    • Richard Colton

      A lot needs to break right for that to happen. Foles would have to win & keep the starting QB job. Their other 2nd round pick will need to get on the field. Cox & Kendricks will have to take steps forward next year – not backwards or neutral. Boykin needs to beat out Poyer at nickel. Kelly needs to make the team.

      All of that could happen and is reasonable.

      • Tommy McCabe Jr

        Boykin can keep the nickel, Poyer is taking bum ass Williams’ spot.

  • ?

    I’m expecting a lot out of Kendricks, hopefully he does well.

  • JofreyRice

    Not a whole lot of proven depth if something were to happen to Demeco. Dansby’s out there, but he’s a little too good to be an insurance policy. Kinda slim pickings, but I like Knott’s long-term upside; would have preferred his fellow i-state ‘backer, whatshisname…Klein.

    • Richard Colton

      I was sure they would address this issue in the draft. The fact that caseymatthews has a real shot to make the 53 man roster is unnerving.

      • theycallmerob

        don’t rush to judgement before the smoothies kick in. I be his is flavored “strawberry-mango-Clay’s hair”

        • chloroformdreams

          I think they call that blend HGH

      • GEagle

        Almost as pissed about Kiko, as I am about Jordan…Kiko would have been sooo perfect. but you couldnt have taken him over Ertz or Bennie

  • cliff henny

    tough to know how many lbrs we’ll keep, lot depends on how Graham, cole and Curry are classified. wont be surprised if we’re on the high end range for amount of Lbrs, 9 or 10, since kelly wants more athletic team in general for special teams. JefreyRice is correct, not much behind Ryans and Kendricks, also Barwin either. those guys better stay healthy or this defense is going to really struggle, and i already think we’re going to see plenty of 38-35 games.

  • Bdawkbdawk

    This is when Casey Matthews becomes particularly valuable. If we keep 8 other linebackers, we can sneak in Matthews as our .1 of a linebacker and be consistent with the league average.

    • DMun


    • chris


  • Brent E. Sulecki

    Ryans Kendricks. Acho and Janey. Mathews bubble

    • Brent E. Sulecki

      sorry chaney

      • GEagle

        Phillips is going to make the team

  • ReggieKush

    Umm..so i was listening to “one clap” – randy moss.. is he available? Maybe a veteran leader for DJ, and the WR corp, team as a whole would help open up our offense to a greater level. We need more leadership on the offense during the games. And he could be for cheap

    • theycallmerob

      this entire offseason has been about changing culture- goodbye egos, hello team players. Moss is the last player the birds would bring into this locker room. And with 13 other WR on the roster, I doubt there’s a need.

      • JofreyRice

        Agreed, they’re going to have to establish some strong leaders, and a solid core of locker room guys before they can bring in talented guys that might be otherwise divisive.

        Personally, I think Randy Moss probably should have hung them up awhile ago, anyway. Don’t need him.

    • The Eagles are in dire need of a possession receiver who is not fearful of taking the big hit in traffic. We have enough flyers on the roster. What’s missing is a soft hands tough receiver who works in traffic.

      None of the current crop of receiver are willing to pay the tolls for playing between the hash marks and gain significant yards after a tough catch. .Moss is a flyer strictly an outside option.

      • Tommy McCabe Jr

        Avant hits the hashes no problem. Momah and Benn have the ability to work the middle also.

        • Wilbert M.

          Avant could be out. D-Jax, Mac and Benn should be in. Then you have Demaris, Momah, Cooper, Cunningham, Shepard, McNutt, etc., all fighting for spots. Chipper might not like slow possession receivers.

          • chloroformdreams

            I thought that Avant would be the odd man out as well, but after giving it some thought his blocking might be invaluable in the slot if Ertz is slow to the take and Benn doesn’t pan out (again).

  • TPZ-1

    Hoping that Kendricks makes a smooth & effective transition into ILB. I’ve read he doesn’t shed blocks well, and he’ll have to do A LOT more of it now..

    • GEagle

      I don’t know where you heard that, but I beg to difference…He will actually be used next year in a scheme that fits him much better than what he was asked to do last year…He will be in a scheme, where he plays behind a wall so he can fly around sideline to sideline and make plays( lateral movement is a strength of his)….I don’t think, I have ever, not even one time been concerned about Kendricks

      • usmcnole

        He played ilb in a 3-4 at cal

      • TPZ-1

        Please explain this “wall”…ILB in a base 3-4 is exposed to guards no? Being an R or LILB limits his lateral movement due to gap responsibility right?

        • illadelphia21

          @ TPZ-1: The wall in a standard 2 gap 3-4 is the nose taking on a guard and the center w/ the de’s taking on either a guard or tackle and an olb taking on the remaining tackle. Or it can change depending on what the opposing O set their blocking scheme to. Your D-linemen are 2 gapping trying to force double teams and holding their ground. So basically your d-linemen are taking on the O-lineman and keeping if MLB’s clean. In a 4-3 under you would want your predator going 1 on 1 w/ a tackle, your 3 tech DE playing a 1 gap role and penetrating, your DT going at the center, and your 5tech DE taking on the other guard and tackle, holding his ground. Leaving the SAM OLB free to rush or drop back. If the 3 tech DE is penetrating, this leaves a guard to engage the 2nd lvl on run plays and that’s where the MIKE MLB comes in, or your thumper, to take on the guard leaving the WILL MLB free to follow the ball and stay clean up until he attacks the ball carrier. Kendrick’s is a perfect fit for the WILL.

          • chloroformdreams

            I’ve been watching some tape of Kendricks at inside backer at cal. Gotta say that I’m finally drinking the kool aid, kid is gonna fly around. He seems more instinctive on the inside, ran by/through a lot of blocks.

      • TPZ-1

        Though I haven’t witnessed it, I’ve read in different publications he has trouble getting off of blocks..

  • Mathews and Cheney are at best warm bodies. Flatly, the Eagles have not had anyone to man a linebacker position since Seth Joyner. The position has been vacant since Joyner left Philly. Ryan fared pretty well in 2012. and seemed to be a soothing force for Kendrick..

    A lot of the disappointment with the linebackers was due to ineffective tackles playing in front of the linebackers. Ryan benefited because of the play of Cox last year. Cheney is playing out of position he simply is out maned on the outside at best he gives you depth at one of the interior positions in a 3-4 and none of the linebackers shed blockers well.

  • GEagle

    no worries, we aren’t done shopping yet lol…June 1st veterans will get cut, and that’s when we can add a player or two

  • I’ve been a big fan of Kendricks through his college career and obviously when he was drafted. I’ve even got his a black Eagles Kendricks jersey. I expect big things from him this year.

  • Explorer51

    Knott will be the sleeper of this group; he was a tackling machine his entire career, the only thing that dropped him in the draft was a late season shoulder injury. He’ll make it this year as a special teamer and then challenge for a starting role next year.