Dick Butkus and … Nate Gerry.
Lawrence Taylor and … Joe Mays.
Derrick Brooks and … Ernie Sims.
Junior Seau and … Casey Matthews.
You get the point.
One of these things is not like the other. You have a list of Pro Football Hall of Fame linebackers. And you have a list of linebackers who started for the Eagles under general manager Howie Roseman.
Oddly, the Eagles haven’t prioritized this position this century, a position some consider a chief reason behind many dominant defenses.
The Eagles appeared to consider linebackers radioactive. They didn’t sign a big-name veteran who dominated opposing offenses. And they were criticized for their decisions.
Brother, has that changed.
DEAN COULD BE THE REAL DEAL
The Eagles drafted Nakobe Dean, of Georgia, with their third-round pick, 83rd overall. Experts think Dean could be the steal of the draft after his dominating performance on a national-champion Bulldogs team.
Dean was thought to be a first-round pick.
Dean reportedly dropped in the draft because of a pectoral injury. Dean did not have surgery to repair the injury, reportedly triggering concern among NFL teams.
“That was the thing that was so surprising and mind-boggling,” Dean said to the Philly media after the draft. “I went to doctors, got second opinions and everything, and nobody said I should have surgery. Nobody had told me I had to have surgery.”
Don’t think the selection of Dean as the Eagles grabbing damaged goods. Think of it as maybe taking a chance on a potential impact player right in the middle of their defense.
Dean is a bit undersized at 5-foot-11, 231 pounds. If you watched Georgia last season, you saw Dean’s speed and his relentless pursuit. He went sideline-to-sideline making tackles. He always seemed to be in the opponent’s backfield making tackles for losses.
“Nakobe is a high, high football character, highly intelligent, versatile, production was obviously through the roof,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said recently.
In the sixth round, the Eagles selected another linebacker, Kyron Johnson, of Kansas, who is touted as a potential special-teams star.
FREE AGENTS SHOULD HAVE IMPACT
The Eagles signed free-agent linebackers Haason Reddick and Kyzir White a month before the draft. They are expected to start along with T.J. Edwards, with Davion Taylor in the mix.
Clearly, the Eagles’ priorities have changed.
“We’re always looking to add really good football players that are versatile, and there are a lot of reasons behind that, one being scheme. One being it’s a match-up driven league, so we’re looking to accentuate some of our matchups,” Gannon said about the Eagles’ new defensive players.
Reddick gets after the quarterback, something the Eagles desperately need. He had 23.5 sacks the past two seasons. The Eagles only had 29 sacks last season, 31st in a 32-team league.
“He’s obviously very, very smart, very intelligent, high football character, very good skill set, versatile player, and it’s our job to deploy him and to affect the game, to accentuate his skill set,” Gannon said about Reddick, native of Camden, N.J., who played at Haddon Heights High and Temple University.
Reddick received the key to the city of Camden last month.
DRAFTING LINEBACKERS A HIT OR MISS
Seventy-four linebackers were drafted in the first two rounds in the 10-year period between 2013 and 2022. The Eagles selected *one* of them.
He was 2014 first-rounder Marcus Smith, who is considered a colossal first-round failure. Smith started zero games out of 37 in his three-year Eagles career. Maybe he scared the Eagles away from picking a linebacker so high.
Here are the 11 linebackers drafted by the Eagles since 2010. Nearly half were sixth- or seventh-round picks:
2020: Davion Taylor, 3rd round
2020: Shaun Bradley, 6th round
2016: Joe Walker, 7th round
2015: Jordan Hicks, 3rd round
2014: Marcus Smith, 1st round
2012: Mychal Kendricks, 2nd round
2011: Casey Matthews, 4th round
2011: Brian Rolle, 6th round
2011: Greg Lloyd, 7th round
2010: Keenan Clayton, 4th round
2010: Jamar Chaney, 7th round
Taylor started seven games the last two seasons. Bradley started one game in two seasons. Hicks has enjoyed a solid career. He played four seasons with the Eagles and the past three with the Arizona Cardinals.
Kendricks was probably the Eagles’ best linebacker draft pick. He played nine productive seasons, six with the Eagles. He was on the Eagles’ Super Bowl-winning team.
Casey Matthews was the wrong Matthews. He started 15 of 64 games in a four-year Eagles and NFL career. He was not Clay Matthews, his big brother and potential Hall of Famer.
Some good linebackers were drafted, but not Von Miller. Or Khalil Mack.
The closest the Eagles came to free-agent success at linebacker was Nigel Bradham. He was signed as a free agent after four years with the Bills. Bradham was here for four years, including the Super Bowl-winning team. He started 58 games and was a solid contributor.
The Eagles *have* employed legendary linebackers, including Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, five-time Pro Bowler Bill Bergey and two-time All-Pro Seth Joyner. Jeremiah Trotter made four Pro Bowls. Byron Evans played eight seasons with Philadelphia, on the great defenses led by Reggie White and Jerome Brown.
Linebackers are disruptive. Linebackers make plays. Linebackers dominate offenses.
Linebackers are cool. Glad to see the Eagles have joined the party.