INDIANAPOLIS — Howie Roseman’s aversion to early-round linebackers is well-established, but will it endure?
This week at the NFL Scouting Combine, Roseman acknowledged the team’s reluctance to use premium draft picks on the position. That reluctance predates Roseman — the team hasn’t taken a linebacker in the first round since 1979, and the last top-50 pick was Mychal Kendricks in 2012 — but there might be reason to believe that could change this year.
When asked if his philosophy has shifted at all about the position, Roseman said last year’s change in defensive coordinators from Jim Schwartz to current Jonathan Gannon has changed at least the way linebackers operate in the Eagles defense.
“There were three off-the-ball linebackers,” Roseman said of the Schwartz scheme. “The definition of what our linebackers are doing has changed with Coach Gannon, and again, we have to find players that fit our coaches’ scheme. That’s the most important thing, that we’re finding players that fit what we’re trying to do offensively, defensively, and on special teams.”
Gannon’s scheme primarily uses two deep safeties and asks linebackers to patrol a lot of ground in zone coverage. Gannon’s main two influences, Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus and former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, both had elite linebackers at the center of their schemes. Eberflus had All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard with the Colts, while Zimmer had All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks and Pro Bowler Anthony Barr.
The Eagles rotated linebackers deep into the season before eventually settling in with T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton as the primary ones. Genard Avery played the “SAM” linebacker role when the team was in base defensive packages, typically lining up near the line of scrimmage and rushing the passer most of the time. Davion Taylor, a third-round pick in 2020, was emerging as a steady part of the rotation before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 11.
Edwards, who joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2019, finished the season with 130 total tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, and 5 tackles for losses.
“Obviously T.J. had a heck of a year, a really good year,” Roseman said. “We have a bunch of other young players at the position, and we’ll just see what happens in free agency and the draft.”
Roseman said finding players that “fit” what the new coaching staff does will be a priority both in the draft and in free agency.
“Instead of having hypothetical situations, you have tape on that,” Roseman said. “You have film on that, and we can walk through, ‘Alright, this is what we thought about this guy, this is how he fits.’ That’s huge in terms of evaluating our own team, which is the first thing we have to do. We have to evaluate our own team.
“Then you talk about those picks, but it’s not just those picks. It’s utilizing the cap space on guys that fit our scheme, it’s utilizing the other draft picks on guys who fit our scheme. It’s if we make a trade, finding guys that fit what we are trying to do offensively and defensively and going from there.”
If Roseman is ready to snap the streak, there are a handful of first-round linebackers who would seemingly fit what Gannon asks of the position. Utah’s Devin Lloyd and Georgia’s Nakobe Dean are considered the top two in the class. Between the two, Lloyd is a bit better in coverage and faster, while Dean is better as a blitzer and stronger against the run. Considering Gannon called the second-lowest rate of blitzes in the league, Lloyd would seemingly be a better fit.
If Roseman keeps the streak alive, there are a handful of linebackers projected to go in the second round who could garner interest from the Eagles, including Alabama’s Christian Harris and Wyoming’s Chad Muma.
At the very least, Roseman said there won’t be a demerit given to every linebacker on his draft board.
“We’re grading linebackers just like we’re grading every other position,” he said.