If there is one position on the Philadelphia Eagles that Andy Reid has yet been able to find a stud, it is linebacker. During his early years with the Eagles, the wide receiver position seemed to be Reid’s achilles heel. He finally figured that out and has had decent-to-very good WR’s since 2004. However, he has yet been able to accomplish that same feat with linebackers. It’s hard to tell if it’s due to bad talent judgement or if the position is more of an afterthought for him. The truth is probably a combination of the two.
In most cases, the best way to find a good linebacker is by drafting one. This is evidenced by looking at the list I have compiled that comprises 25 of the NFL’s best linebackers that have entered the league since 1999, Reid’s 1st year as head coach. My goal was to see what rounds in the draft these players were taken and compare that to how many Reid has taken in the same rounds. This, of course, was to get an idea of whether or not Reid should emphasize drafting a linebacker earlier in order to land a good prospect.
Many fans feel that Reid has a philosophy that linebackers aren’t important to the team’s overall success and he can just simply “plug and play” them. This thought certainly has merit when you consider the fact that Reid has never fielded the same 3 starting linebackers for 2 consecutive years. It is the ultimate revolving door position on the Eagles. I’m not sure what Reid’s reluctance is on emphasizing this postion as one of importance because often linebackers are the heart and soul of a defense. When you think of a fiery emotional leader of a defense it’s usually a linebacker. But, let’s take a look at my list (player, round, and year drafted) and compare it to what Reid has done.
*Note – I have excluded outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme that are considered a “rush linebacker” (aka, no Demarcus Wares or Clay Mathews types on the list). There are too many differences between them and what the Eagles look for from a LB in a 4-3. LB’s drafted in 2010 were also excluded due to only 1 year in league. I have included some inside LB’s that play in a 3-4 because they are more similar to 4-3 linebackers. And lastly, please note that I am not saying these are the best 25 linebackers of the past 12 years, but they are a pretty good sample of the top ones to enter the league during that time frame.
Lawrence Timmons, 1st, 2007
Patrick Willis, 1st, 2007
Derrick Johnson, 1st, 2005
Chad Greenway, 1st, 2006
Brian Urlacher, 1st, 2000
Keith Bulluck, 1st, 2000
DJ Williams, 1st, 2004
Al Wilson, 1st, 1999
Jerod Mayo, 1st, 2008
Brian Cushing, 1st, 2009
Jon Beason, 1st, 2007
Jonathan Vilma, 1st, 2004
Julian Peterson, 1st, 2000
E.J. Henderson, 2nd, 2003
Paul Posluszny, 2nd, 2007
James Laurinaitis, 2nd, 2009
DeMeco Ryans, 2nd, 2006
David Harris, 2nd, 2007
Karlos Dansby, 2nd, 2004
Lofa Tatupu, 2nd, 2005
Lance Briggs, 3rd, 2003
Stephen Tulloch, 4th, 2006
James Harrison, UDFA, 2002 (OLB in a 3-4 but is not purely a rush LB)
Bart Scott, UDFA, 2002
London Fletcher, UDFA, 1999
That makes 13 drafted in round 1, 7 in round 2, 1 each in the 3rd and 4th, and 3 that were undrafted.
Andy Reid has drafted a total of 16 linebackers in his 13 drafts. He has taken 0 in the 1st round, 3 in the 2nd (Barry Gardner, Quintin Caver, Matt McCoy), 2 in the 3rd (Stew Bradley, Chris Gocong), and 11 in rounds 4 – 7 (with the most notable being Moise Fokou, Jamar Chaney, Omar Gaither, and hopefully Casey Mathews). With the exceptions of Bradley and Fokou, Reid has a brutal history of drafted LB’s. They have been mostly busts but we still have a few hopefuls (Chaney, Clayton, Mathews, Rolle, Lloyd).
As one may have logically concluded anyway, this is tangible proof that in order to better your chances for landing a top notch linebacker, you should draft one in the 1st round. This is especially true if, as in Reid’s case, you have proven you don’t have an eye for talent at this position where you can unearth some diamonds past the 3rd round. Though Reid isn’t the only Eagles coach to never select a linebacker in the 1st round, he has coached this team the longest and therefore has bypassed drafting one far more often than anyone else.
Reid has also tried his hand at trading for, or signing, linebackers (free agents) to plug in but hasn’t been successful going that route either. The likes of Ernie Sims, Takeo Spikes, Dhani Jones, Keith Adams, Nate Wayne, Mark Simoneau, Shawn Barber, and Levon Kirkland all had a very short shelf life with the Eagles.
At what point should Reid realize this shortcoming and take the plunge by drafting a 1st round linebacker? Granted, there are always varying circumstances that could dictate drafting other positions but at some point you just have to take a shot. Previously I wrote about our defense needing an identity. Well, this falls directly into that realm since linebackers are naturally leaders of a defense. They are usually the squad’s captain, call the plays in the huddle (or relay them from the coaches), and make sure everyone is lined up properly.
In essence, they are the QB of the defense. Since Reid puts such a high priority on the QB position, why not put a higher priority on one for your defense? It would seem to make sense given that our defense is in dire need of field general.
Maybe we’ll get lucky and someone out of Stewart Bradley, Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou, Casey Mathews, Brian Rolle, or Greg Lloyd will fulfill this role. But if history is any indication, don’t hold your breath.