Could The Eagles Be Targeting A Linebacker in Round 1?

Could this be the year the Eagles finally break the mold and draft a linebacker in the first round?

We’re starting to see more and more mock drafts project linebacker as a priority for the Eagles in round one. A week ago Todd McShay had the Eagles taking Patrick Queen at #21. A couple of days ago Daniel Jeremiah’s newest mock had the Eagles taking Kenneth Murray while Trevor Sikkema had the Eagles selecting Patrick Queen.

While linebacker is certainly a position of need, the Eagles haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round since 1979. Where is this information coming from? Do scouts know something we don’t? Here is a case for and case against for the Eagles selecting a linebacker in the first round.

THE CASE FOR:

  • Howie Roseman has said the team needs to add speed and playmaking to the roster. Could Howie have secretly been talking about the linebacker position? Nigel Bradham, who isn’t with the team anymore, certainly lost some steps during the previous season. The Eagles currently have Nathan Gerry, Alex Singleton and Jatavis Brown slotted to start next season. That’s not good enough.
  • Besides wide receiver, saying the linebacker position is in need for an upgrade would be an understatement. The Eagles are desperate for a leader in the middle of the defense who can fill gaps, support the run game but also cover tight ends.
  • If the top 3 wide receivers in Ruggs, Lamb and Jeudy are selected before 21, why settle for a lower rated prospect? There are some very talented linebacker prospects in this range including Isaiah Simmons, Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen that could be available. We’ll get to them in a little bit.
  • Malcolm Jenkins is no longer on the team. Jenkins provide incredible support and versatility filling in as linebacker during the previous seasons. Without Malcolm Jenkins’ experience and leadership, the Eagles truly need a leader in the middle of the field. Does the absence of Jenkins make the linebacker position more of a priority?
  • Jim Schwartz’s defense hasn’t exactly moved the needle forward in recent years. Could we finally see Schwartz and Howie add a playmaker in the middle of the field?
  • You always take best player available in the first round. With so many potential outside receivers available in the second round (Brandon Aiyuk, Jalen Reagor, Denzel Mims, etc), the Eagles could get a guy that stretches the field for Carson Wentz during day two of the draft.

THE CASE AGAINST:

  • In a season of more lows than highs, TJ Edwards made some considerable improvements last season. With further growth, Edwards could see himself become one of NFL’s breakout players in 2020.
  • The Eagles rarely expend elite resources on the linebacker position in the draft. The last first round linebacker drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles was Jerry Robinson during the 1979 NFL Draft.
  • In the last 10 years, the last time the Eagles drafted a linebacker in the top 3 rounds was Jordan Hicks (3rd round, 2015) and Mychal Kendricks (2nd round, 2012) The Eagles do not believe in spending high capital on linebacker in the draft.
  • Having an uber-talented linebacker is a luxury in Jim Schwartz’s defense. Howie Roseman believes that both sides of the lines take precedent in terms of salary cap space. The Eagles would likely select an offensive lineman in the top of the draft before linebacker.
  • Most importantly, the massive need for speed at wide receiver. The Eagles spent the majority of their focus on adding to the defense during Free Agency. All signs point to utilizing the draft to surround Carson Wentz with speed at wide receiver. The top 3 wide receivers in this class are as close of a “sure thing” as it gets. Knowing Howie Roseman’s draft history with taking wide receivers in the draft, doesn’t it make sense to move up and get one of Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy?

What will the Eagles do?

There are three very talented linebackers projected to go in the first round of the NFL Draft. How would they fit Jim Schwartz’s scheme? How do they project at the next level? What would they bring to the Philadelphia Eagles?

Isaiah Simmons: what would he bring to the Eagles?

For whatever reason, Isaiah Simmons has been slipping in the draft lately. Simmons is incredibly athletic and it would be a shock if he fell to the Eagles at 21. Most importantly here though, Isaiah Simmons played a hybrid safety/linebacker role with Clemson during the last two seasons. In fact, Clemson ran a nickel defense so this should make him an extremely attractive player to Jim Schwartz.

Speed? Check. Leadership and intelligence? Check. Be able to rush the the quarterback? Check. Ability to provide coverage in the middle of the field? Check. It’s beyond obvious that Isaiah Simmons is a perfect fit for Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 and nickel schemes. Simmons is a 4 down linebacker that really fits the mold of the modern NFL. The Eagles also love versatility and Simmons played safety, cornerback and linebacker at Clemson. How far does he fall?

Kenneth Murray: what would he bring to the Eagles?

Kenneth Murray has great size at 6’2 and 241 pounds. Murray is one of the most athletic prospects in the entire draft. Howie Roseman stated he wants speed and Murray has some of the best sideline to sideline speed in this class. Murray also shows the ability to get to the quarterback and play in coverage. He had 8.5 sacks the last two years and 6 pass deflections last season for Oklahoma. Murray also plays the linebacker position with an edge, which should make him an instant fan favorite with Eagles fans.

Malcolm Jenkins’ absence is going to be felt this season. Jenkins nearly played 100% of the snaps these last two years. Kenneth Murray played 90.5% of the defensive snaps the past three years while at Oklahoma. Without Jenkins, the Eagles need a leader on defense and Murray called plays on defense for the Sooners. Murray’s speed at linebacker make him a seamless fit for the Eagles.

Patrick Queen: what would he bring to the Eagles?

Patrick Queen projects as an inside linebacker and plays with high intelligence and most importantly, speed. He utilizes his quickness to fill gaps and is considered one of the best cover linebackers in the draft. Queen would bring an element the Eagles linebacking corps has sorely lacked recently, which is making plays in coverage. Patrick Queen has one of the highest ceilings in this year’s draft, which is shown by his elite quickness to not only get into the backfield but make plays down field.

The Philadelphia Eagles love versatility and this is a prospect that can play all over the field due to his speed and knack for always being around the ball. While he only had 3 sacks his junior season at LSU, Patrick Queen is very good at putting pressure on the quarterback. He has all the ability to play downfield, plug holes and rush the passer. I understand Jim Schwartz prefers to limit his pass rush to his front four, but Queen would certainly add some fire power to the front seven.

Here is our latest podcast of Party on Broad where we rank the top fits on offense for the Philadelphia Eagles. We will be recording and discussing our top fits on defense for the Birds in the near future.