I think most people agree that the biggest need for the Eagles is help at OLB. Unfortunately, many people are caught in the idea that change equals upgrade and that is absolutely not the case. Let’s review the situation and try to all get on the same page.
The Eagles have 2 OLB spots. The LOLB is called The Jack. Connor Barwin plays that role. His job is to rush the passer, cover TEs/RBs and set the edge on run plays. He isn’t going to rush the pass exclusively so he needs to be a true LB with well-rounded skills.
We haven’t heard an official name for the ROLB spot. Bill Davis previously called it The Predator so we’ll use that for now. This player is a pass rusher. He needs to be able to drop into coverage from time to time. He must be an effective run defender. But make no mistake…the ROLB needs to be the team’s best pass rusher. That’s his primary job.
Barwin does a good job as the LOLB. Trent Cole did a solid job as the ROLB. So what do the Eagles need?
The team could use an explosive edge rusher to take the ROLB job from Cole. Focus on the word “explosive”. Whenever we get into a discussion about OLB, people will list all kinds of players they want the Eagles to sign or acquire. Some wanted the Eagles to go get LaMarr Woodley. Huh? He totaled 9 sacks over the previous 2 seasons. He mainly played LOLB for the Steelers. He’s 29 and has missed 14 games over the last 3 seasons combined. How exactly is Woodley an upgrade on Trent Cole?
The goal is to get better at ROLB. Cole is still an effective starter. He had 8 sacks last year. Cole remains a great effort rusher. He will do everything in his power to get to the QB. Cole just doesn’t have the explosion off the ball to make offenses fear him. He will beat the LT from time to time, but not consistently. The Eagles need someone who can get the best of LTs on a regular basis.
I didn’t get fired up about any OLB in free agency because no one was clearly what the Eagles needed. Brian Orakpo was the closest, but the Skins tagged him and made that a moot point. Jason Worilds might have been worth rolling the dice on, but the Steelers kept him. Beyond that, the choices were less ideal. Now that all the top choices are gone (and Woodley as well), the Eagles have only a few odd choices to consider.
Or the team can just focus on the draft. There are a slew of players the Eagles could like in the first few rounds. Anthony Barr won’t make it to 22, but could fall to the 15 range and be someone to trade up for. Dee Ford could make sense at 22. Jeremiah Attaochu and Marcus Smith both make a lot of sense. Demarcus Lawrence, Chris Smith and Scott Crichton are all players that would make some sense. Chip Kelly recently went to the Mizzou Pro Day. Does he think Kony Ealy could be a 3-4 OLB?
There are plenty of mid-level and late round targets the Eagles could go for. I won’t even get into all those names at this point.
You never know how things will play out in the draft. It is possible the Eagles won’t find a stud pass rusher early on. They can get through the 2014 season with Cole and Barwin as the starters. The Eagles do need to fix the backup situation if they can’t find a starter.
Brandon Graham was the #3 OLB in 2013, but he only played 304 snaps on defense. Cole played more than 800. You might love Graham, but it sure appears the coaches don’t. I think the Eagles need to deal him or embrace him. Get the guy on the field more or find someone you do want to play. I would love nothing more than to see Graham become a star for the Eagles, but that just seems like wishful thinking at this point. He’s more of a 4-3 DE than an OLB. I think keeping him for 2013 would be a mistake unless the coaches feel he’s going to be different this year.
The backup to Barwin last year was Casey Matthews. Clearly that will change this year. UDFA Travis Long could win the job, but I’d sure like to see the Eagles bring in someone even better to challenge for that role.
So let’s summarize:
* The Eagles are looking for an explosive OLB to play the right side. He needs to be able to consistently beat LTs.
* The Eagles should deal Brandon Graham and find a new backup for ROLB. If they add a stud rusher, Cole could be the backup. Or the rookie could be the backup initially, until he takes the starting job from Cole.
* The Eagles need depth at LOLB. This doesn’t have to be an explosive rusher.
The Eagles don’t just need to sign any 3-4 OLB on the street. The point here is to find an upgrade for ROLB or depth for LOLB.
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A couple of rookies got mentioned in previous discussions.
* Kareem Martin was a 4-3 DE for UNC this year. He had a terrific workout at the Combine. I didn’t expect that kind of athleticism. Based on tape study, he looked like a 4-3 DE to me. I need to re-check after the Combine to see if I was missing something. I didn’t see him as 3-4 OLB material during the season.
* Kyle Van Noy is a player that confuses people. I love the guy…but not as an edge rusher. I think he could be a very good 3-4 ILB. He could be an effective backup OLB. I just don’t see him as an answer to the Eagles need for better pass rushers. His Combine workout was disappointing. He wasn’t nearly as athletic as I expected. He does have terrific instincts and is a true all-around LB.