NFL Draft 2021: Eagles continue adding on defense with 6th-round linebacker

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Reuben Frank
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Eagles continue adding on defense with 6th-round linebacker originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles added LSU hybrid linebacker-safety JaCoby Stevens with the 224th pick Saturday, their third 6th-round selection of the day.

Stevens, listed at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, made a name for himself as a junior playing mainly on the line of scrimmage, rushing the passer and stuffing the run. After his junior year he was considered a Day 2 prospect by many draft analysts and was even thought to be a candidate to go in the first round by some.

This past year, he played more of a deep safety role, he added some weight, his play suffered and his draft stock plunged.

For what it’s worth, the Eagles are calling the 22-year-old Stevens a linebacker and not a safety.

“Honestly I don’t have a preference,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day, my thing is about coming in and helping the team in any way possible. They have me come in and want me to play linebacker or they want me to play safety, regardless of where they want me to play, my job is to contribute to the Philadelphia Eagles defense, and that’s what I’m going to do to the best of my ability. What they label me as or where they see me playing, that’s my coaches’ and the front office’s job. For me, it’s just to come in and do the task they give me.”

Stevens is athletic enough that he began his college career as a wide receiver and caught a couple passes as a true freshman in the fall of 2017, including a 27-yarder against Tennessee-Chattanooga.

He moved to defense as a sophomore and became a starter late in the season and was a full-time starter and second-team All-SEC pick as a junior, helping LSU win the national championship.

Stevens finished his college career with 21 1/2 tackles for loss, 9 1/2 sacks, four interceptions, 15 pass breakups, four fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

Here’s what NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote about Stevens:

“Stevens is in a precarious position as either an undersized linebacker with just average toughness at the point of attack or an oversized safety lacking instincts and coverage speed. He played heavier in 2020 and simply didn't look as quick or as agile as he did in 2019. He displays some of the downhill run-defending characteristics teams will look for as a box safety but will need to lock in against tight ends to add legitimate coverage value. Determining his scheme fit and finding his optimal weight will be critical for him to have success on the next level.”

Where Stevens fits into the Eagles’ defensive plans is hard to say immediately because he has a limited skill set, but his strengths are along the line of scrimmage, covering backs out of the backfield and getting to the quarterback.

The Eagles have a mixed bag at linebacker, with free agent acquisition Eric Wilson, who had three sacks and three INTs last year for the Vikings in his first year as an NFL starter; Alex Singleton, who led the NFL in tackles over the last two months of the season; T.J. Edwards, who started 12 games last year; and two 2020 rookies, Davion Taylor and Genard Avery, who the Eagles traded a 4th-round pick to the Browns for a couple years ago, is expected to work at linebacker as well in camp.

Stevens is the first safety or linebacker the Eagles drafted this year. After going offense in the first two rounds with Devonta Smith and Landon Dickerson, six of the Eagles’ next seven players were defensive players - two defensive tackles, two edges, a corner and Stevens.