This year’s linebacker class is easily the thinnest in the draft. For me this is usually the case because it’s so tough to make it as an NFL linebacker, especially a 3 down linebacker. Size, speed, ability to change direction quickly, instincts and tackling are weighted heavily for these guys and the ones that are weak in any of those areas often get exposed at the next level.
For the Eagles perspective here, they don’t really need to draft a linebacker this year, but they could use a long-term replacement for Nigel Bradham as Jordan Hicks’ every down linebacker partner. For now, they have Hicks and Bradham on every down, Kendricks is their two-down outside linebacker. They also brought back Najee Goode for depth and Joe Walker hopes to recover fully from his ACL tear he suffered last season.
1) Reuben Foster/Alabama- Before the combine Foster was on his way to becoming a top 5 draft pick. Since being kicked out of the combine during the medical testing portion, Foster has seen his stock only plummet. But since I don’t have access to his team interviews, I’ll focus on his tape for now.
Foster is an ideal MIKE linebacker. He’s instinctive, athletic, he closes fast, he can drop back and he is an angry tackler. He stood out on a very talented Alabama defense. He’s a three down linebacker who plays downhill as well as he plays sideline to sideline and that is really rare.
2) Jarrad Davis/Florida- A step down from Foster for sure, but Davis will be a quality starting MIKE linebacker in this league for a long time. He finishes every play, sheds blocks and has good straight line speed. He doesn’t possess great change of direction skill, which makes him a liability in coverage, but he’s better serves playing near the line of scrimmage or attacking.
3) Haason Reddick/Temple- Reddick will probably be a great 3-4 edge rusher, but I’m not as high on him as a 4-3 linebacker. What would his role be? Can he develop into a true 4-3 outside linebacker or is he more of a versatile defensive end in that scheme? Reddick is an elite athlete who does well playing in space and rushing as a stand up linebacker. He’s too good of an athlete to discount altogether, but there is a clear difference between his fit in a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense.
4) Duke Riley/LSU- A good athlete at linebacker with NFL size. He’s quick enough to play outside and physical enough to play inside which I bet is what a lot of people in the Eagles building saw with Jordan Hicks back in 2015.
5) Blair Brown/Ohio- This kid first stood out to me while I was scouting Tarell Basham. He was always around the ball and was such a fluid athlete on tape. He’s gotten over looked because he has short arms and is only 5’11, but it’s less of an issue for him because he’s such a smart linebacker and he runs so well.
6) Alex Anzalone/Florida- A long and athletic linebacker that can play in any scheme on any down. He has had injury issues in the past and isn’t exactly a thumper in the run game, but he’s too physically gifted not to secure a key role on any defense.
7) Marquel Lee/Wake Forest- A long and physical downhill linebacker, ideal against the run but will be really limited in what he can do in nickel packages. The hope with Lee is that he can be a solid special teamer and develop some instincts and discipline on defense before earning a starting role. He’ll never be athletic enough to succeed without better awareness.
8) Jalen Reeves-Maybin/Tennessee- Projects as a WILL linebacker and good outside player in nickel. Not great size at around 225, but has great speed and can take on coverage duties against most backs and tight ends. I love his potential on special teams as well, he’s an outstanding tackler in the open field.
9) Kendell Beckwith/LSU- Will probably be more of a run stuffer than a 3-down player, but he’s an oustanding downhill thumper. He’ll have his value playing near the line of scrimmage and is comfortable dropping back in zone coverage.