NFC East teams lacking at linebacker, but here’s how they rank

The NFC East may contain the NFC’s two best teams and once again could send three teams to the playoff field of seven. The Philadelphia Eagles made the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys had back-to-back 12-win seasons, and the Giants won a playoff game in head coach Brian Daboll’s first season. And if the Washington Commanders can figure out their QB position, they too could be a handful to reckon with.

These teams are formidable at nearly every position, but collectively the linebacker spot is the weakest position in the division. There isn’t a single All-Pro caliber player on any team going into 2023, and the recent draft picks haven’t lived up to high expectations so far in their young careers. Here are the linebacker unit rankings in the NFC East.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles linebackers have a ton of potential. Nakobe Dean was pegged as a first-round pick by draftniks due to his anticipation, ability in coverage, and athleticism to get to any area on the field.

Dean fell to Round 3 though and never really made an impact in 2022.  He played in a total of 34 defensive snaps and collected 13 tackles. Nicholas Morrow isn’t a superstar addition, but he could be a free-agent steal. While his PFF grades suggest he could be overrated with a run grade under 50 and a 54 grade overall, he provides plenty of production. In 2022 he put together an excellent season with 116 total tackles, 83 of them solo, and 11 for a loss.

The Eagles are elite at so many key positions, they elevate the play of the positions that they might not be the best at. They might have the lowest rated LB group now, but the unit could end up playing the best with the defensive line and cornerbacks they have protecting them.

New York Giants

In 2022, as a starter for the Indianapolis Colts, Bobby Okereke had 151 tackles, 99 being solo, and six tackles for a loss in replacing Shaq Leonard. He might not have made All-Pro because he didn’t have the turnover worthy plays, but had a comparable year nonetheless. If Okereke can bring that production to the Giants, then it could be an enormous upgrade for their defense.

Jarrad Davis was an up-and-coming star in 2017 and 2018 with 196 tackles, eight sacks, eight pass deflections, 14 tackles for a loss, and 14 QB hits. Injury issues cost him his job with the Detroit Lions, and he could never make it back to that point in 2018 again. If Davis can get anywhere close, then this New York team could have a really good starting LB unit with some young guys like Darrian Beavers and Micah McFadden to provide decent depth.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have a unique linebacker room due to the fact they regularly play a hybrid safety and their best edge rusher at linebacker, but in ranking these positions Jayron Kearse is a safety and Micah Parsons is an edge rusher. That leaves Dallas with a single reliable starter and then a ton of potential.

Damone Clark, Jabril Cox, DeMarvion Overshown, Devin Harper, Malik Jefferson, and Isaiah Land will all get the chance to be a breakout player next to Leighton Vander Esch next season. The problem is other than Clark, there is no way to rank any of the guys that could end up playing there. They just haven’t done it, and they can’t truly be ranked until they get some playing time.

Clak has the size, work ethic, and athleticism to end up being a star, but he played nearly 60% of the snaps last year with very average production. He had under 50 total tackles and less than 30 solo tackles, and he honestly looked lost at times without Vander Esch next to him. By the end of the year Clark could be the top linebacker in the division, but like Dean on the Eagles, he has to show his work translate on the field before he can be ranked higher than either starter on the Commanders.

When healthy, Vander Esch is an excellent player. He gets his young teammates in the right position, is long and athletic enough to be disruptive in coverage, is a capable blitzer at times, and in 801 total snaps only missed six tackles. Unlike Okereke or Morrow, Vander Esch isn’t learning a brand-new system and getting use to all new teammates, so he could improve even more going into season three with Dan Quinn.

Washington Commanders

The Commanders are the only team in the division with two known, starting-quality linebackers. Former first-round pick Jamin Davis is going into his third year and he didn’t disappoint in his second season.

Davis didn’t leave the field often, playing 85% of the snaps with over 100 tackles and nearly 50 stops. How he contributes to the pass defense as a blitzer as well as in coverage is where he stands out. On 37 pass rush attempts, Davis was able to sack the QB three times, with five QB hits, and nine pressures. He didn’t make big plays in coverage but held opposing quarterbacks to 63.5% completion percentage and only allowed a single score.

Cody Barton had his breakout year in Seattle last season. He had more starts in Year 4 than his first three seasons combined. Playing in nearly 900 defensive snaps and over 250 special teams stats. Barton was able to accumulate 136 total tackles, 84 of them were solo, but only four for a loss. Like Davis, Barton was a three-down LB who added a couple interceptions and two sacks, QB hits, and pressures in only 12 pass rush reps.

Washington is making sure all of their front seven guys are strengths. The defensive line protects the linebackers, both of those linebackers are able to play all three downs and they have both had 100 tackle seasons too. There’s not a ton of depth behind those two, but the Commanders at least have their two viable starters.

You can find Mike Crum on Twitter @cdpiglet or at Youtube on the Across the Cowboys Podcast.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire