The Eagles' options at LB
Les Bowen and Jeff McLane caught up with Howie Roseman down at the Senior Bowl yesterday to get his thoughts on a variety of topics.
The Eagles' options at LB
One of them was the organization's issues with adequately addressing the linebacker position. In the interview, Roseman indicated that the Eagles wanted to make a move at linebacker last offseason (whether that was in free agency, through trade or in the draft), but it didn't work out.
Which brings us to this offseason.
The Eagles' defensive line is in good shape going into 2012. They may swap a couple of rotational guys, but my guess is the core (Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins) will stay in place.
Which position should the Eagles target first in the NFL draft?
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In the secondary, they have to make a decision on Asante Samuel and possibly add some depth, depending on how they view guys like Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes. And at safety, they have to decide whether Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Jaiquawn Jarrett can be above-average starters.
But linebacker is the one area where the Eagles have to get better.
One option would be the draft. Mike Mayock of NFL Network recently released his list of the top five prospects at each position. Here's who he has at linebacker:
1. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
2. Luke Kuechly, Boston College
3. Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
4. Zach Brown, North Carolina
5. Vontaze Burflct, Arizona State
Kuechly is the most common name I've seen linked to the Eagles at No. 15 in mock drafts. Both Brown and Burfict have been mentioned too.
Upshaw is considered a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. And Wes Bunting of the National Football Post praises Hightower's ability against the run, but thinks he's probably better suited for a 3-4.
The Eagles have not drafted a linebacker in the first round since 1979 (Jerry Robinson).
Below is a look at the nine linebackers who were named AP All Pros this past season (first and second teams), along with where they were drafted.
Of course, several of the names on the list (Hali, Ware, Suggs, Miller) are more hybrid DE/LB types.
But as you can see, seven of the nine linebackers on the list were first-round picks. The only two that were not were Bowman and Fletcher.
The Eagles have taken nine linebackers in the past five drafts: Casey Matthews (4th/2011); Brian Rolle (6th/2011); Greg Lloyd (7th/2011); Keenan Clayton (4th/2010); Jamar Chaney (7th/2010); Moise Fokou (7th/2009); Joe Mays (6th/2008); Andy Studebaker (6th, 2008); Stewart Bradley (3rd, 2007).
However, none of have been taken in the first two rounds and only one, Bradley, has been taken in the first three rounds.
The Eagles could instead (or additionally) opt to add a linebacker or two via free agency.
Rotoworld.com has a master list of players who will be available. There are some intriguing names like Atlanta's Curtis Lofton, who is only 25 years old and was fifth in the league with 147 tackles last season, according to NFL.com. He's also a team captain and seems like the kind of player Atlanta would want to hold on to.
Fletcher was the league's top tackler and earned an All-Pro nod for the first time in his career, but he turns 37 in May. Stephen Tulloch was a free agent last offseason, but only signed a one-year deal with the Lions. He played behind the wide-nine in both Detroit and Tennessee.
Unlike last year, the Eagles will be working with a "normal" offseason. And regardless of who's running the defense, Roseman and Andy Reid need to upgrade the talent at linebacker.