More than a few of you have questioned all the talk about the Eagles adding an ILB, especially when talking about the early rounds. Does the 3-4 need a 1st or 2nd round pick playing in there? And what about Mychal Kendricks?
The 3-4 defense is built on LBs. They are the playmakers that make the defense truly come to life. OLBs are the key, but do not overlook the impact that ILBs can have in the scheme. Think about some of the best 3-4 defenses of the last 25 years.
SF – the Niners 3-4 has Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, a pair of stud ILBs.
LT’s Giants – Pepper Johnson and Harry Carson manned the middle.
90’s Steelers – Hardy Nickerson, Chad Brown, Levon Kirkland amd Earl Holmes all played ILB
2005 Steelers – James Farrior, Larry Foote
early 90’s Saints – Sam Mills, Vaughn Johnson
Some of those guys were early picks. Some of them were players who developed into being top players. But all of them were outstanding players.
The 3-4 LB must be able to play the run, cover and blitz. The 3-4 involves a lot of deception and player movement. There might be a zone blitz where the LILB goes after the QB. The RILB then might have to slide to his left and occupy that zone in coverage. On the next snap, the ROLB might rush and the RILB might have to go his area. On the next play he might be taking on an OG on an inside run and then the RILB might be blitzing on the next play.
3-4 ILBs cannot just be tacklers. They must make plays. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks last year combined for 8 sacks, 5 INTs and 2 FFs. Not bad for an inconsistent player and a guy who is losing a step. The scheme gave them chances and they made plays. Now imagine someone with the speed of Ryan Shazier or the skill set of Christian Jones playing in that defense. They could be even more productive.
If Kendricks had established himself as a consistent player, the Eagles would feel more comfortable about the ILB situation. But Kendricks is erratic. And Ryans is getting older. This would be an ideal time to add an ILB. The player could sit and learn for a year. You could mix him into the defense in some sub packages and give both Kendricks and Ryans some plays off. At the end of the year you re-visit the situation and figure out how to proceed.
The Eagles do have some interesting backups already on the roster. The coaches like Jake Knott quite a bit. They see him as an instinctive player who tackles well and has a nose for the ball. The question with him is speed. Is Knott fast enough to ever be a starter in the NFL?
Najee Goode impressed me quite a bit last year when he took over for Kendricks for a couple of games. He was a really good blitzer and did a good job of deflecting passes. Goode had a sack and 3 PDs in limited reps. The question with him is his ability to read plays, shed blocks and get to the ball. Goode has some Trotter to him. He loves to attack downhill and blow up OL. That is okay on some plays, but isn’t something you want to do every down in the 3-4.
We all fell in love with Emmanuel Acho last summer, but the coaches turned around and cut him, sending us the message that they didn’t feel the same way. I don’t know that there is one obvious area where he needs to improve. Acho must get better with his overall game.
The one thing the Eagles seem to be looking for the most is athletic ILBs.
Ryan Shazier – freak athlete
Telvin Smith – SS/LB tweener that can fly
Joran Tripp – very athletic workout
Christian Kirksey – good workout numbers
Nate Askew – former WR
The Eagles want speed in the middle of the defense. That was a problem last year and none of the current backup ILBs has very good speed.
Shazier should be a 1st round pick. I think Smith will go in the 3rd. I had Tripp as a mid-round guy, but Daniel Jeremiah recently said he didn’t think Tripp would make it to pick 86. That shocked me. Kirksey could go in the 3rd or 4th. Askew is a late rounder or priority free agent.
This isn’t a case where the Eagles 100 percent must get an ILB, but they clearly would like one, especially one that runs well and can play in space.
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There was a recent discussion about ILB size. We don’t know anything for a fact at this point, but I do think Chip Kelly would prefer an ILB that is 6-2 or above. Kendricks is short and you can see that affecting his ability to cover TEs in some situations. If you can get an ILB that is 6-3 or so and has long arms, he’ll just help in those coverage situations where length/height is needed.
I do not know if the Eagles have any interest in Chris Borland, who is 5114. That means 5-11 4/8. I round that up to 6–0 for simplicity, but the fact is that he’s short like Kendricks. The guy can play, but he’s not the fastest player in the world. Do you want an ILB that is just a shade under 6-0 and runs 4.78? It doesn’t seem like the Eagles do.