Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Inside Linebackers
This 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:
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.