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It almost feels weird to say it:
The Eagles have … good linebackers.
This is not a typo.
We've lived through Barry Gardner, Levon Kirkland and Keith Adams.
We've endured Mark Simoneau, Matt McCoy and Dhani Jones.
We've survived Omar Gaither, Akeem Jordan and Chris Gocong.
Want us to keep going?
Joe Mays, Ernie Sims, Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle, Casey Matthews, Kiko Alonso, Nate Gerry, Zach Brown and Eric Wilson.
Eagles fans have watched so much hapless linebacker play over the years that it’s almost ingrained in their DNA. Just since 2000, the Eagles have used 47 different starting linebackers.
You don't need to do the math to realize they've had very little stability,. consistency or productivity during that span.
The Eagles have drafted linebackers, claimed linebackers, signed linebackers, traded for linebackers. All with very little success.
It’s easy to list the good ones.
Going back to the mid-1990s, Trott. Willie T. Carlos Emmons. DeMeco Ryans. Connor Barwin. And Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks played well in the 2017 Super Bowl season.
A handful of names over a quarter of a century.
And it’s not totally accurate that the Eagles haven’t made linebacker a priority. We all know they haven’t taken a linebacker in the first round since Jerry Robinson in 1979. But they’ve drafted eight linebackers in the second or third round just since 2000. Only two became regular starters – Kendricks and Jordan Hicks.
All of which brings us to this year.
The Eagles signed Haason Reddick, who will rush the passer from the SAM linebacker spot. They signed Kyzir White, who played at a Pro Bowl level last year for the Chargers. They used their 3rd-round pick on Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, who was projected not too long ago as a 1st-round pick.
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They’ve reshaped the linebacker position into one with speed, athleticism, physicality and talent.
“I think it is all about opportunities and when you talk about some of the guys that we've added, it's because of the opportunities that were put in front of us and based on their talent level, and we're excited about that,” Howie Roseman said. “We're excited about the team speed we added.”
Here's a look at the snap counts for the six Eagles linebackers who got at least 100 snaps last year:
720 … Alex Singleton
685 … T.J. Edwards
358 … Genard Avery
280 … Eric Wilson
250 … Davion Taylor
111 … Patrick Johnson
Of that group, Singleton is now with the Broncos, Avery is with the Steelers, and Wilson, who didn’t even make it through last season, is with the Texans.
Edwards, who played well last year, faces a likely dramatically reduced role in 2022, and Taylor, a 3rd-round pick in 2020, could be on the outside looking in as far as defensive snaps.
“I feel good about the talent that we added,” Roseman said. “We're a better football team than we were when we last took the field, and I say that with all due respect to where we were at that time, but I think we've gotten better.”
The reality is that the Eagles are always going to prioritize the two lines, and that means linebacker will never be as much of a priority as o-line and d-line.
But Roseman also said the Eagles aren’t trying to have lousy linebackers.
“I don't know if there's a perception that we go into draft meetings or free agency meetings and take the off-ball linebackers and say, ‘No thank you,’” Roseman said.
“For us, it's as much as possible keeping the main thing the main thing, and it's always going to be about making sure the [offensive line] and [defensive line] are really strong. And that's where it starts for us.
“After that, when there's opportunities to add or when the value is there (we’ll add linebackers), and I think you see that with Kyzir and certainly Nakobe here in the last few weeks. Those are really good football players that we think will add to our team on the field and to the culture of our team off the field.”