Eagles Wake-Up Call: A Linebacker To Watch

Eagles taking long look at West Virginia ILB Nick Kwiatkoski

USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles are taking every opportunity to check out West Virginia inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski during this pre-draft process.

They interviewed him at the Senior Bowl, and again at the Combine. Worked him out prior to his Pro Day Monday. And, according to a league source, brought him in for an official visit to the NovaCare Wednesday.

The 6-2, 243-pound Bethel Park, PA native led West Virginia in tackles over the last three seasons. He racked up 85 tackles this past year — 11.5 for a loss — along with four sacks in 2015. The former safety added three interceptions and five passes defensed en route to first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior.

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While Kwiatkoski played all three linebacker positions at the college level, he envisions himself in the middle in the pros.

“I feel like that’s where I fit best — the MIKE role,” he told Birds 24/7 recently. “Some teams have mentioned outside linebacker, but for the most part I’ve been hearing middle.

“I like to play physical and I feel like I have good instincts, and I think they are the two very big characteristics to play middle ‘backer. I feel like I bring a lot to the table, being able to communicate defenses and kind of just getting things set up on the defensive side of the ball.”

With DeMeco Ryans no longer on the roster, Jordan Hicks appears to be the favorite to man the middle linebacker spot for the Eagles this season with Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham projected to start on the outside. Jim Schwartz could use some depth at the position, though, and Kwiatkoski at a minimum could provide that early on while making an impact on special teams.

Here’s NFL.com‘s write-up on him:

STRENGTHS

Has production that has filled up stat sheet for three straight years. Finished last three seasons with 275 tackles. Former safety with a feel for what is developing around him. Had 10 passes defensed this season and two seasons with three interceptions. Good balance to maneuver around trash and get to the tackle. Tough play demeanor and technically sound tackler. Chest up tackler who drives through his target to finish. Gets downhill with timing as a blitzer. Has aggressiveness and nose for the ball to become a special teams performer.

WEAKNESSES

Scouts worry about his ability to match power at point of attack. Pad level is a little bit high and will run under blocks giving away his gap rather than leveraging it. Doesn’t have the combination of burst and instincts to stay off of blockers. Needs to improve hand usage rather than taking on with shoulder so often. Questionable sideline-to-sideline speed.

That sideline-to-sideline speed is the one thing teams have been checking into the most, per Kwiatkoski.

“I kind of showed that at the Combine: how do I get from the middle ‘backer spot to the sideline; how do I pursue the ball? That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve heard coaches talk about and want to see out of me,” he said.

According to Tony Pauline’s pro day notes, Kwiatkoski “participated in position drills [Monday] and looked terrific. He was quick, very explosive and moved well in both a straight line as well as laterally. There’s a belief by many scouts Kwiatkoski won’t make it past the fourth round as he has ‘checked off all the boxes.’ He’s got good character, was voted team captain and leaves it all on the field.”

He might not make it past Day 2. Mel Kiper mentioned him as one of the “prospects in play in the second round.” Others believe he is a solid third-round pick.

The Eagles hold the 77th and 79th selections in the third round. Based on the level of interest they’ve shown, it wouldn’t be surprising if they pulled the trigger on Kwiatkoski with one of those picks if he’s still on the board.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Josh zeroes in on Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley in his latest Draft Daily piece.

Keep up with the who the Eagles have been working out, and who have come to the NovaCare for visits in our Pre-Draft Tracker.

“Lurie has convinced everyone else in the organization: We have to find a franchise QB.” What They’re Saying

Josh re-visits his Top Ten Prospects piece to see what has changed in the last couple of weeks.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

In his latest mock draft, Mel Kiper has the Eagles taking Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner.

A steal at this point, Buckner would look pretty good on a defensive line with Fletcher Cox. Buckner has the ability to really control an offensive lineman and disrupt offenses, and his versatility makes him useful pretty much anywhere.

Jimmy Kempski identifies a shared characteristic of all the wide receiver prospects the Eagles have been looking into.

In a profile of Howie Roseman published about three weeks ago by Peter King of Sports Illustrated, a small, one-sentence nugget appeared 16 paragraphs into the piece:

What Roseman still wants to do is to find a receiver with deep speed.

The Eagles’ offseason actions so far seem to be backing up that point.

Two days after the Roseman profile was published, the Eagles signed speedy receiver Chris Givens to a one-year deal. Givens ran a 4.41 40 at the 2012 Combine and he has a 16.6 yards per catch average for his career.

During the pre-draft process, the Eagles have also reportedly either had meetings or have meetings scheduled with three speed receiver prospects:

COMING UP

Josh takes a look at Buckner to see if he would be a good fit in Philly.