TYLER ASTON is a contributor at Eagles Rewind. You can follow him on twitter @Astonia67.
The Eagles are in the market for some young backup linebackers. This makes more sense than brining in an over the hill vet on what is effectively a rebuilding team. Najee Goode will be a free agent next year. Joe Walker looked good in the first preseason game but has far from locked up a long term spot. The team gave Myke Tavarres a ton of signing bonus money and he will almost certainly at least make the practice squad, but plays WILL (same position as Goode) and is making a big jump in competition and transitioning positions. Deonte Skinner may make the team but hasn’t exactly been lighting things up during the preseason. Quinten Gause is probably more of a practice squad guy, and bless his heart but I don’t think Don Cherry is going to make it.
Despite all the handwringing about the state of the position, in looking around the league for this post, the birds are probably middle of the pack in terms of overall linebacker depth. The Eagles are most likely in the market for a SAM or MIKE Linebacker. Let’s take a look at some potential options.
LJ Fort: 6’0, 232lbs, 26 years old, STEELERS
Jordan Zumwalt: 6’4, 235lbs, 24 years old, STEELERS
Tyler Matakevich: 6’1, 235lbs, 23 years old, STEELERS
In my opinion the Steelers have the best overall LB depth in the league right now. One or more of these players will be available. Fort played college ball at Northern Iowa but and played a decent chunk for the Browns back in 2012. Has been bouncing around the league since then trying to find a home. Fort has had a very strong showing in Steelers camp and is turning some heads.
Zumwalt was a guy who flashed every time you watched UCLA in 2013. Every game he had a monster hit or bigtime run stuff that made you sit up and pay attention. Considering that UCLA team also had Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Myles Jack, that is no small feat. The downside is his overall game tape was much more mixed. While he would flash a big play you often wondered about his football IQ. He’s yet to be healthy in the NFL, but has the raw talent. Bit of a project but perhaps a fire and brimstone DC like Schwartz could help him.
Matakevich is the local star. He was the driving force behind Temple’s strong defense last year. Extremely productive college player with high football IQ. He’s a bit small and not terribly athletic which is why he was selected in the seventh round and not where his stat line would have you guess. He’s probably never going to be a starter but for a team like the Eagles having a savvy capable backup MIKE backer to provide insurance for Hicks certainly helps.
Marquis Flowers: 6’3, 250lbs, 24 years old, BENGALS
Flowers started his college career at Arizona as a S. Eventually moved to SAM Linebacker. Came into the league at 6’2 231lbs, but has since grown into that frame. Ran a 4.51 at his pro day. Made the Bengals roster in 2014 and would have last year if not an injury in the final preseason game. The Bengals have a good track record of developing linebacking talent. He seems to have done well this preseason and the Bengals like him, however he just seems to be caught up in a numbers game. Flowers has good size and athleticism to be a modern NFL SAM backer and cover linebackers.
Shaq Petteway: 5’11, 230lbs, 22 years old, CHARGERS
Petteway doesn’t really fit a need for the Eagles, he projects as an undersized WILL in the birds scheme. I bring him up however because the Eagles seemed to like him in the predraft process, and worked him out as a fullback. He stands no chance at making the Chargers roster as a 34 OLB as he’s about 3 inches and 25 pounds from being an undersized pass rusher. Petteway would more be a guy that the birds sign to the practice squad and tinker with at fullback and maybe some defense on the side.
John Timu: 6’0, 245lbs, 23 years old, BEARS
Timu was a two time captain at Washington on units that featured Marcus Peters, Kikaha, Danny Shelton, and Shaq Thompson. Timu started 3 games at the end of last season for the Bears but after heavy investment at the position in the offseason may be on the outside looking in. Timu is the kind of player you look for in a backup MIKE, maybe not the flashiest player but everytime you watch his tape you walk away going “that sumbitch can play football”.
Paul Worrilow: 6’0, 230lbs, 26 years old, FALCONS
Worrilow is the most established player on this list. If the Eagles want a more established player to provide insurance for Hicks, this should be the target not a player in his 30s. He has 230 career tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 INTs. Worrilow was a UDFA from Delaware back in 2013 and because the Falcons were so devoid of talent on defense he became a starter almost immediately and has remained in the lineup. He’s stuffed the stat sheet and has been solid but struggles with missed tackles and basically being the front 7’s best player for 3 years. The Falcons finally invested in the position during the offseason, and seem to be trying to transition him to a backup role this season. Worrilow is basically Atlanta’s LB version of what Nate Allen was to the Eagles, a solid if unspectacular starter but much maligned due to surrounding circumstances. He’s a local guy and could probably use a change of scenery. He’s not going to be cut, but a late conditional and a fringe Eagles roster player could be enough to get Atlanta to part with him.
Jared Norris: 6’1, 240lbs, 23 years old, PANTHERS
Brian Blechen: 6’2, 230lbs, 24 years old, PANTHERS
Jeremy Cash: 6’0, 215lbs, 23 years old, PANTHERS
The Panthers are the one team who could challenge the Steelers for best overall LB depth. Each of these three guys are interesting in their own unique ways. All were team captains, all are high football IQ guys, two were college teammates of Eric Rowe. Norris is the thumper. He’s your classic ILB/MIKE, and was my favorite UDFA at the position this year. Norris should never be a full time starter but has enough of the tools that he should be able to overcome his lack of elite athleticism.
Blechen was on and off the practice squad for Carolina last year, as they were converting him from a jumbo safety to an LB. I noticed Blechen while watching Rowe’s college tape. This S/LB tweener kept flashing. 2 hours later I had built a shrine and sworn my allegiance to him. It was weird. Blechen probably should never play on defense but could become a special teams standout. The Eagles have Maragos at DB, and Braman at DL. The Linebacking room needs a hair on fire special teams standout.
Cash was a college star at Duke. He’s just a weird projection to the NFL. He’s a box safety who didn’t run super fast. 10 years ago he would have been a top 40 pick but he went undrafted. The NFL is starting to find ways to get these types of players on the field in nickel sets, but they simply aren’t as desirable as they once were. Cash could eventually become a starter but if the Eagles brought in Cash they would have to design a role for him, perhaps in the 3-3-5 nickel sets they have been tinkering with during training camp.