3-Down LBs & Some Draft Talk

Posted: March 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 54 Comments »

First up, let’s talk about LBs and roles.  The Eagles began the 2011 season with this lineup:

Base – SAM Jamar Chaney … MLB Casey Matthews … WLB Moise Fokou

Nickel – Chaney , Matthews

Dime – Chaney

By the end of the season a lot of changes had taken place.  The LBs corps had initially been built around Jamar Chaney and the SAM position.  The struggles of some players and emergence of others led to a completely different use of players.  We think of the Nickel LBs at the end of the year as Casey Matthews and Keenan Clayton, but that isn’t totally true.

The NFL game has changed so much that the Nickel defense isn’t what it used to be.  Even the Nickel had 2 versions:  Nickel-run and Nickel-pass.

Teams now love to spread the field and run the ball.  They hope you go with undersized players.  On 2nd/4, you can have a team in a 3-WR set, but their goal is to run, not pass.  To counter this, the Eagles used Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle as the Nickel-run LBs.  Rolle played MLB in college and is a solid run defender.

The Nickel-pass LBs were Matthews and Keenan Clayton.  If the offense runs on 3rd/10, the hope is that Clayton will be good enough to keep them short of the chains.  You can live with a 6 or 7-yard run if that still results in a punt.

Clayton still isn’t a functional run defender.  He lacks the size and strength to hold his ground vs blockers.  He must be able to play in space and stay on the move.  Clayton does have good cover skills and he is the guy you want on the field in a lot of passing situations.

DeMeco Ryans is a 3-down LB.  You want him on the field in almost all sets.  There may be some dime packages where you pull him out and go with a player like Clayton.  Basically you want Ryans on the field most of the time, though.  You need him in the middle as a run defender so that if the offense tries to run on 3rd/4 or 3rd/9 he can be there to stuff it.  Ryans has okay coverage skills.  He isn’t a great athlete, but knows how to cover and has a great understanding of positional defense.  If a LB gets in the right spots, he can cover.  Sometimes that means keeping things in front of you so you can go make the tackle.  Other times that means staying between the QB and target so there is no open throwing lane.

If the Eagles add Kuechly at SAM, he and Ryans would be the Nickel-run defenders.  I think you would still want Clayton on the field in the Nickel-pass situations.  The problem is in today’s game the offense can go spread and get LBs put out in space.  I would rather have Clayton on Jimmy Graham than Kuechly if the Saints go spread and Graham is way out wide.  Kuechly would be an upgrade over Rolle in the Nickel-run unit.  Luke is a better run defender and is a highly instinctive pass defender.

I do think a strong offseason from Clayton is important to determining his future.  Can he ever be good enough vs the run to seriously challenge for a starting role?  Can he ever become a really good Nickel/Dime LB?  Clayton has shown flashes of ability, but has yet to do anything consistently well.  An offseason of LB coaching from Mike Caldwell and strength coaching from Barry Rubin will be critical for Clayton.

Teams can use TEs and matchup players like that creatively from base sets.  At that point specialty players like Clayton are out of the mix and you need your base personnel to be able to handle them as well as possible.  There is no way to hide pure run-stuffing LBs in the NFL anymore.  Guys must have basic cover skills no matter what.  Playing LB isn’t what it used to be.

* * * * *

Word broke yesterday that the Eagles are bringing DT Michael Brockers in for a visit.

Every year the Eagles bring in players to Philly that they have no intention of drafting.  The Eagles do this as a way of spreading mis-information and confusing the other 31 teams.  I happen to believe Brockers visit is one of those moves.

Brockers is a really talented young player.  Heck, it isn’t a sure thing that he will even be on the board at 15.  Most people have him pegged as a Top 10 guy.  Maybe the Eagles are interested.  I tend to think this is a smokescreen.

Brockers isn’t a pass rusher.  He is a big, 2-gap run stuffer.  LSU pulled him off the field on passing situations.  Brockers had a grand total of 2 sacks in his brief LSU career.  Jim Washburn loves pass rushers.  He teaches his guys to play the run on the way to the QB.  I can’t think of a more awkward combination than Washburn and Brockers.

For those who wonder about Albert Haynesworth…he was a gifted athlete at Tennessee.  Big Al was 6-6, 320 back then.  Brockers is 6-5, 322.  Al ran a 4.82 at his Pro Day.  Brockers ran 5.36 in Indy.  Gil Brandt says Big Al had a 39-inch VJ at his Pro Day.  That is mind blowing.  Brockers did 26.5 at the Combine.  Both are big guys, but Al was a substantially better athlete.

It is possible that Washburn sees a lot of raw potential in Brockers and does want him.  Brockers was a key player for LSU’s dominant defense this year and he is very talented.  I just think the fit is very weird and I’m not buying it.

The Eagles could do this for a couple of reasons.  They could be trying to hide which DTs they really do have strong interest in.  If they are linked to a bunch of DTs, then people won’t know which guy is the real target.  The other possibility is that the Eagles want to trade up into the Top 10.  In order to confuse people about who they want, the team is going to be linked with several Top 10 prospects.

The team has a few other visits scheduled.  I’ll talk about those players later on.


  • http://twitter.com/Bradley_Abraham Bradley Abraham

    Interesting as always. Clears up the nickle LB situation for me.

  • http://twitter.com/Will_i_am1226 Dubya

    I know Brockers isnt a pass rushing DT but it would be nice to get a player to hold up lineman so our LB don’t get exposed or wiped out on run plays.

    • TommyLawlor

      Antonio Dixon is a 6-3, 322 run stuffer. Mike Patterson is a much better run defender than people think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anders-Jensen/748307140 Anders Jensen

    Tommy, do you think the Eagles might go with only 3 safeties if Clayton develops as hoped (I remember he did a good job as lb/S tweener against Indy 2 years ago)?

    • TommyLawlor

      I think you need 4 Safeties at a minimum. I guess they could go with 3 + Clayton and have one on the P-Squad. I’d prefer 4.

    • Dave_King

      I’m assuming you’re worried about having enough roster spots for all the promising players on the Eagles. In which case, I think there shouldn’t be a problem with getting rid of talent.

      Offense (23): 3 QB, 3 RB, 3 TE (one can move in to FB if needed), 5 WR, 9 OL
      Defense (26): 5 DE, 5 DT, 6 LB, 4 S, 6 CB
      ST (4): Henery, Punter, Dorenbos, Colt

      I think that arrangement works out fine.

    • southjerzz

      Just wondering guys, how good is Clayton, and does he have upside to be a starter?

  • T_S_O_P

    I wonder how much of himself Caldwell sees in Clayton?

    • TommyLawlor

      Mike was a MLB in college so I think he was more of a pure LB. Clayton was a S/LB/athlete type even at OU.

      Ike Reese is the guy Clayton ought to emulate. Both lacked size, but had cover skills. Ike was a great STer. Clayton showed signs of being a STs star last year. Let’s hope he builds on that.

      • T_S_O_P

        Then Clayton is doing far better at this point in comparison to Ike in year 2.

    • brza

      I always remembered Caldwell as having a short, stocky build similar to Brian Rolle. But I just checked his stats on nfl.com and saw he was listed as 6’2″ 235. I guess it just seemed like that because we had Carlos Emmons at 6’5″ in the lineup back then.

  • NoDecaf

    Tommy, the standard Eagles draft playbook would have us moving down to acquire additional picks, this year or the next. In your opinion, can Andy Reid afford to stock pile when there is most certainly an impetus to have a complete, SB-challenge-ready, team yesterday? I’m thinking they stay put or move up. Thoughts?

    • TommyLawlor

      You play the board. If good players are there, no need to move around. If the choices aren’t guys you want, move back.

      I would like to have some extra picks in 2013 so the team can go after a QB if they want, but I’m only moving back if the board isn’t right. Hopefully we’ll get a 2013 pick for Asante.

      • Dave_King

        If we can get a third for Asante, I really think it’ll free us up to move up and down as we’d like. Imagine if we were able to land the following players in the draft: Kuechly (1st), Sanu (2nd, trade up with Asante’s pick + mid-to-late-rounders), Curry (2nd), Boykin (2nd), Wolfe (3rd), Russell Wilson + Rainey (mid-rounders). Those picks alone could fill out a lot of the small holes on our roster, and give us a lot of talent that can help us compete for years to come.

        If the team also managed to sign a SAM (Hawthorne would be my choice, looks like a poor man’s Kuechly who can also backup Ryans), then they could possibly take Cox in the 1st and not have to draft Wolfe (then they could trade back and get picks next year as well). If only some dream scenario like that could actually play out.

        What do you think? Are either of those scenarios remotely possible?

        • D3Keith

          It doesn’t seem completely far fetched, although I don’t know what the deal is with Hawthorne. I’d love to see the Eagles make that move now, especially if the price and/or market drops low enough.

          The way this is shaping up, in the wake of the Ryans deal and with Asante still sitting there as a trade chip, the draft almost can’t go wrong. ALMOST.

          • D3Keith

            no message

          • wee2424

            Lol please don’t jinx it

        • TommyLawlor

          Having three 2nd Rd picks and the 3rd Rder is unlikely, even with the Asante deal involved. Would be nice if it happened.

          Getting Cox in the 1st and loading up w/ future picks is a possibility.

          All of this depends on what the board looks like at the picks.

          • http://www.facebook.com/xbcsmith Brett Smith

            I wonder if the roster gets ripped up if AR doesn’t return next year. I guess stockpiling picks would help a new regime… not sure why I just thought about this. Maybe the pollen in NC is causing Negadelphia to drift south…

  • http://twitter.com/jeppevanee Jeppe van Ee

    Tommy,

    It is a very interesting read about our LBs and the way they line up and play in different allignments! To my very raw and untrained eye, that is very helpful in order to learn me more about the game, so thank you.

    It would be awesome, if you would do more of this, where you break our players down, and how they play in different sets.

  • GeorgeFleep

    i believe Tommy said he would emulate what a top 5 list of players at each position would be for the eagles on draft day but here is mine
    (okay its six) 1- Fletcher Cox 2- Derek Wolfe 3- Jared Crick 4- Akiem Hicks 5- Logan Harrell 6- Jaye Howard

  • RC5000

    Fletcher Cox put up a good 40, 3 cone drill, had 7.5 sacks in 24 games (not a lot) and had sacks in 3 games this year (really basically put up a great 1/2 season) according to the numbers I am looking at. But I’ve looked at a number of sites and they have him with a 26 vertical and 8-7 broad jump. Cox was a player I liked but I’m wondering if people are over valuing him based on a 40 time. I’m just saying…you look at some other guys like Wolfe, Reyes, Howard and some of the taller DEs like Chandler Jones, Cam Johnson, Jake Bequette and they put up significantly better verticals which you made a big point about with Brockers vs Haynesworth.

    Wolfe was more consistently productive than Cox and put up a better shuttle time (Cox had the best 3 cone drill of the DTs). Did the light bulb come on with Cox? Are there questions about his explosion and leap.

    Btw…Brockers, Cox, Worthy, Still and Poe are in similar ranges in terms of vertical leaps so are you making a case against drafting a DT there since they don’t have 39 inch verticals like Haynesworth? It’s an interesting question in light of all the DTs in the draft.

    • TommyLawlor

      I certainly don’t expect everyone to have a huge VJ. Cox is a pass rusher. Put on the MSU tape and he lives in the backfield. He is so athletic he played DE a lot. Teams had to double and triple team him.

      Brockers simply isn’t a pass rusher. I compared Brockers to Big Al simply because of the Washburn connection.

      Worthy is a penetrator, but not a great pass rusher. Poe is a freak of nature. Can’t really classify him.

      Cox didn’t post numbers like Wolfe, but you have to study the cases. Teams didn’t gameplan for Wolfe like they did Cox. Wolfe played on a team that was 26th in scoring. They had some leads and could then rush the QB. Cox played on a team that struggled to score. He didn’t have the same luxury. Cox is also a raw player. He needs work. Wolfe is a polished Senior.

      And so on. I love Wolfe to death, but Cox is a better prospect. This goes way beyond 40 times. This is based on tape study.

      • RC5000

        I would assume you thought Cox was the better prospect than Wolfe, my assumption was everyone had Cox as a first rounder and Wolfe as a late 2nd to 3rd rounder. As you had in your mock the Eagles taking Kuechly and Wolfe in the 3rd round. Cox I had as the best DT in the draft for the Eagles although he is not an elite DT like Haynesworth who you compared Brockers to but not Cox and the other DTs.

        As far as your comparison of Haynesworth and Brockers vertical leap, you brought it up as how Haynesworth had a great one and Brockers did not. I was pointing out that many of the DTs including Cox had similar verticals, nothing to get defensive about. You brought it up. You need to apply it to everyone when you are comparing measurables so I was bringing up facts. Again no need to get defensive. You obviously thought the vertical leap was applicable or you wouldn’t have brought it up.

        Brockers is raw, a run stopper. Cox is raw, more of a pass rusher and more upside than Brockers but as you said he has to work to get better.

        Wolfe is polished and you love him to death.

        • TommyLawlor

          I’m not being defensive about anything. Trying to keep the discussion from centering on any one stat or number. You can’t define a good player that way.

          My original point in mentioning Big Al’s VJ vs Brockers was simply to illustrate how different they are as big bodied DTs. Al was the athlete. Brockers the run stuffer. Simple as that.

          I’ve gone through the workout results of all these guys. Some great, some good, some not so good. Gotta know how to factor stuff like that in when grading players. Game tape is still the key. Cox has really impressive game tape. Reyes had a great Combine. Don’t think his tape comes close to Cox.

  • iskar36

    I know the Eagles do this every year (and I am sure many other teams do the same thing), but how much of an effect does bringing in a guy like Brockers really have on other teams trying to guess the next Eagles move? I know you don’t want to telegraph your plans for the draft, but if a guy is such an odd fit, won’t most teams realize that and recognize the visit as a smokescreen?

    • TommyLawlor

      Selling lies isn’t easy. Teams can see through some things. The goal is to do things that might be awkward, but still have some hint of possibly happening.

  • http://twitter.com/makarov__ Jim Reynolds

    I watched some draft prospect game summary videos last night. Here’s the ranking of DTs I came up with specifically for the Eagles:

    1. Fletcher Cox – Leads other candidates by a mile. He’s the guy I wouldn’t mind seeing the Eagles trade up to target.

    2. Jerel Worthy, Mich State – Watch some film of this guy and the thing that immediately jumps out at you is how quick off the ball he is. He does anticipate the snap count on occasion, but most of the time he just explodes off the snap.

    3. Devon Still, PSU – I think he’s very close to Worthy. I have no problem with the Eagles taking either of them at #15.

    4. Kendall Reyes, UConn – Reyes is the last DT I like the Eagles taking in round 1. I don’t see him high on mock boards, so he could be an option even if the Eagles trade down. I doubt he falls to mid second round.

    I’m with Tommy on Brockers – he’s not a pass rusher. Brockers could do very well in a 3-4 or even a conventional 4-3 DT role.

    Dontari Poe is way, way too big a risk to justify a 1st round pick. I think he’s more of a 3-4 player, regardless, but there’s nothing in his game tape (against CUSA opponents, as well) that screams this guy will be successful in the NFL. He was single blocked a lot and completely unremarkable. The former Eagles DE/LB from the Ray Rhodes era had a much more polished football resume entering the NFL than Poe.

    Lastly, I finally looked at some Kuechly tape and saw why Tommy and others are so high on him. The #1 thing – the guy is NEVER out of position. Even against a misdirection offense like Clemson’s he was always where he was supposed to be. He also seems to take the ideal route to the ball on every play. It’s really eerie how good he looks. He looks comfortable in coverage, and I won’t be upset if the Eagles draft Luke at #15.

    • D3Keith

      Jon Harris? Or Mike Mamula?

      Sad you can’t just say Ray Rhodes DL draft bust and we know which one you’re referring to.

      • http://twitter.com/makarov__ Jim Reynolds

        Mamula.

    • RC5000

      What are you willing to give up for Cox and do you pass up Kuechly? If he sticks out in your evaluation as being better by a mile than Worthy (a quick DT who can get to the QB and stop the run if his motor is going) and you want to take Worthy at 15, he’s gotta be a top 8-9 player. Teams have watched a lot more film than you. You would probably need to trade a 2nd round pick to move up 5-8 spots.

      • http://twitter.com/makarov__ Jim Reynolds

        Yeah, I think Cox is a top 10 player. No, I don’t think you give up a 2nd round pick, which is what it would take to move up. I think I’d settle for Worthy, Still or BPA, or Cox if he is still on the board.

        Personally, I’d rather have two 2nd round picks in this particular draft, than move up for Cox. I like Tommy’s approach in his mock of going after a WR and defensive secondary help in the 2nd round. All in all, I’d rather have those picks.

  • Zack Porges

    Tommy, been wondering about this and hoped you might have some thoughts: with tulloch signing for a reported 5 yrs 25 m, and lofton’s deal with the saints likely coming in around the same or lower, the eagles actually ended up adding a linebacker thats getting paid more yearly than the top 2 free agents. Do you think that means the eagles have a higher grade on ryans versus tulloch (who has proved he can play in the wide 9 effectively), lofton (a younger player with a longer possible shelf-life) and co, or that the eagles misjudged how low the linebacker market would drop? Would you rather have ryans with his achilles questions or either of those guys, money being equal?

    • Eric Weaver

      He may cost more this year but the Eagles owe him no guaranteed money. So they are making out in the long run.

      • Zack Porges

        Good point, but the $11m guaranteed reported in Tulloch’s new deal would only eclipse what we actually pay Ryans if we cut him before the 2013 season (or i suppose if we renegotiated his deal after this season). and seeing as the eagles doled out a high 4th and a 15 pick drop in the 3rd (not a boatload obv but not chump change either) I don’t envision this being a strong possibility. so it really seems to come back down to a question of whether the eagles prefer ryans to all other options or if they underestimated how cheaply they could sign the top free agent backers this year (especially considering that tulloch was rumored to be looking for a contract comparable to D’Qwell Jackson’s $42.5 million deal when free agency began)

        • PK_NZ

          11M plus whatever his base salary is…

          My guess is a bit of both. Maybe they thought the free agents would be getting a bit more, but also they wanted the leadership of Ryans as well and freedom to cut him without any cost…

    • nopain23

      Good question…

    • TommyLawlor

      Eagles wanted Ryans. Maybe they simply didn’t want Lofton, Tulloch, etc.

      Ryans will cost more this year, but the team isn’t tied to him long term.

      I also think you have to factor in leadership. Falcons let Lofton leave pretty easily. Titans let Tulloch leave. Lions were prepared to let him test the market. Texans dealt Ryans because of money. His teammates have raved about him. Have you heard anything like that with the other two?

  • Zack Porges

    Also, don’t know if anyone else has noticed this in their eagles trawling, but Joe Banner’s postings in the comments section of recent Philly.com eagles articles seem to be pretty good clues on when typically surprising eagles moves are coming. before last weekend and we finalized the ryans deal, he made some comments telling fans to trust the front office on their talent evaluation abilities on the lb situation (paraphrasing, and the comment was on their article on the eagles anticipating the cap in the years ahead). Aside from being a nice pat on the back for the FO, in retrospect it seems like a pretty telling sign that the deal was already in the works and imminent (which we obviously know now to be the case).

    • Dave_King

      Stupid question, but that’s not really Joe Banner… or is it?

  • Flyin

    I sure hope the Eagles hire you full time to keep you quiet from diagnosing there draft strategy to the competition.

    However, I like your strategy.

  • Adam Shaw

    Still waiting on that top 5 4-3 MLB there Tommy, just a reminder.

    Also I was wondering something last night.

    Let’s say the Eagles are on the clock, Cox and Kuechley are still on the board. The Eagles select Cox with the #15 pick. How far does Luke “slide”? Off the top of my head the only teams after us in the 1st round that run a 4-3 are Cincy(17 &22), Tennessee(20), Detroit(23), and NYG(32…ugh).

    If he makes it passed Detroit at 23 do Reid and Co. have to seriously think about trading back into the 1st to select him? I can’t see him going passed the Giants at #32, that seems to be the end of the line for a possible “slide”.

    • JJ_Cake

      I’d like to see Tommy address Luke even being available at #15. It seems Bill, Chiefs and Seahawks have been mentioned to be interested in him.

      What kind of chance do we really have at getting LK? Is he worth trading up to get?

      What’s your feeling about the Kendricks guy from Cal? He had the fastest time at the combine for LBs and has solid game tape. Is it worth taking Cox at 15 (assuming he’s available), then snagging Kendricks with a 2nd or 3rd pick?

      Or is it better to trade up and get LK, then get Wolfe?

      What’s your prefered LB / DT combo (that’s realistic for us)?

      Thanks Tommy

  • Atvcar

    Tommy… Nice article… Almost impossible to predict how he draft falls after #3… BPA or trade seems most likely…. And we’d all have better luck translating sand script than trying to figure Evergreen’s and AR’s draft grades

  • Cliff

    Looks like the NFL will be considering some interesting rule changes:

    * all replays controlled in the booth

    * replays on all change of possession plays

    * teams get 1 IR exemption each season

    * trade deadline moved back to week 8

  • http://twitter.com/EaglesEyeTwit Tom Jackson

    Good blurb…so much to take in…and I don’t know why, but your linebacker analysis always makes me hungry for a milkshake and a cigarette…I know…weird combination…

    • Cliff

      LMAOOOOOO

    • wee2424

      Just had the cigarette, but you made me hungry for a milkshake, or would it be thirsty for one?

  • GeorgeFleep

    So was the run nickel and pass nickel a development of eagles figuring need to utilize the nickel package more or the eagles realizing that they do not have the players at the right position or players still need to develop. Could there become a dime pass or dime run or is that just pointless since it is dime. I hope that Clayton could be the LB in dime and one of the two in nickel pass.While Mathews would be the LB in nickel run and backup MLB and WIL. While Rolle starting at WIL. I am assuming that Luke is off the board by the time eagles draft with eagles getting 2 LBs in draft. DT is just such a better value this year.

  • metaReign

    With Castillo, a former offensive coach, he should understand alot about offensive set up. With the Ryans trade, he can work through and find some logical ideas which broaden his schemes to cover designated areas. With the help of Caldwell and Bowles, they can position talents around Ryans and have flexibilities in the run and pass. I’m wondering, with that kind of flexibilities, Ryans could shift into SAM and whoever was in there shift to MIKE, that they can control certain play calling to mirror the offenses set up. It would be really solid if the secondary unit can gel together, the flexibility can help the players anticipate a general perceived execution, with Ryans experience on hand. With that in mind, we know a few teams resorts to no-huddle formations, the secondary doesn’t have to worry, because there won’t be anything to alternate as they’re flexible. The question is, do we have the talents to have the secondary to be as flexible as some defensive secondaries do, that Ryans can work with?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anders-Jensen/748307140 Anders Jensen

    Tommy, over at BGN, there is alot of talk about the visit of Trumaine Johnson. His production and size makes him intriguing prospect and seems like a CB we would target now that we are going for more big press CBs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1118400638 Patrick Clausen

    Tommy ::

    If the prospects we covet at 15 is gone and we trade down, which isn’t unlikely, how do you like Zach Brown at this point. Impressive athlete but we all know the tackling/runstopping and block shedding issues. I just can’t ignore that the guy seems to have put on some weight to get more physical and he has been tearing it up. Could Brown be a target at SAM for us?

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