Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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

Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly could be an option for the Eagles with the 15th pick. (Reinhold Matay/AP)
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly could be an option for the Eagles with the 15th pick. (Reinhold Matay/AP)

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.

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.

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Which position should the Eagles target first in the NFL draft?
Linebacker
Defensive end
Secondary
Quarterback

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.

Linebacker Round Drafted
Patrick Willis 1st
Navorro Bowman 3rd
Derrick Johnson 1st
Brian Cushing 1st
London Fletcher Undrafted
Terrell Suggs 1st
DeMarcus Ware 1st
Tamba Hali 1st
Von Miller 1st

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.


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Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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