While many paint Philadelphia as a blue-collar town with hard-working people, it’s a city known for brains and skill. “Eds and meds”, universities and healthcare, are two big portions of the economy and local pride. But who would you put on a list of the best Eagles linebackers?
Linebackers are kinda like Philly. Yeah, they’re tough as steel but they gotta be smart. They’re often calling plays on defense, diagnosing formations, and working on the fly. We’ve had a few good ones with the Philadelphia Eagles.
This article will attempt to objectively rank the team’s top linebackers with some reasoning. We’ll continue to use our greatest Eagles of all-time methodology of stats, accomplishments, and noteworthy play in key games and seasons. Of course, we don’t expect this list to be universally adopted and hope we can help bridge some generation gaps.
Bradham joined the Eagles in 2016 after four seasons in Buffalo. He made an immediate impact with 102 tackles, 10 TFL, and two sacks. The following year, he had a career-high eight passes defended, along with 88 tackles and his lone TD, as the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
In 2018, Bradham collected 97 tackles and had another two sacks. After injuries cut short his 2019 season, Bradham went to Denver, where he lasted just one game. He does not have a contract currently for 2021.
The Eagles drafted Robinson out of Minnesota in the eighth round in the 1952 draft. He played both ways, as a center and outside linebacker. He recovered at least one fumble in each of his first four seasons as an Eagle.
In 1954, he had four interceptions while playing all 12 games and made his first Pro Bowl. He made a second the following season. Despite playing 11 games in 1956, it would be his last with the Eagles and the NFL. While he didn’t have a notably long career, he was named to the franchise’s 75th anniversary team.
The Eagles selected Kendricks in 2012 out of Cal-Berkeley. He had a strong rookie campaign with 75 total tackles and a sack. He followed that up with a dominant 2013 campaign, collecting 106 tackles, four fumble recoveries, and three interceptions, all career highs. He did so well he got a shout-out on Twitter from Rihanna in the offseason (that might not have been so much about his play…)
The next two seasons saw the consistent play on the outside in the 3-4 formation. Both years were 80-plus tackles, including a career-high 10 tackles for loss in 2014. Numbers dropped after injuries limited him to eight starts in 2016. However, he came back and played well in 2017, helping the Eagles win the Super Bowl, and putting him on the list at #8 as one of the best Eagles linebackers.
After winning Super Bowl 52, he signed with Seattle and played for two years. Following just one game last year with Washington (and that bizarre insider trading conviction), he got hurt this year in 49ers camp. Curious to see if his career is over.
How good were the Eagles defenses in the 80s and 90s? Go find anyone who claimed to have been at the “Bodybag Game” (it was a full house that night but hundreds of thousands will brag they were there), and ask if they remember him. Half might.
Philly drafted Evans in the fourth round of the 1987 draft after he earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors at Arizona. He had an INT as a rookie during the strike-shortened year then started five games at middle linebacker in 1988.
1989 was the year he made a major impact. Tackles weren’t formally kept before 1994, and the years they were they were compiled as combined (solo and assists). Evans led the league with 184 tackles in 1989, to go with three fumble recoveries, two sacks, and two picks. This would start a five-year run of triple-digit tackle seasons for him.
There were a lot of big names on those defensive rosters in those years. Evans contributed to a team that just locked down opponents on both ends, swarming passers and confounding receivers. In 1992, he had a career-high four INTs and 175 combined tackles.
After not missing a game in five straight years, Evans played only 21 combined games between 1993 and 1994. Surprisingly, after leaving the Eagles following the 94 season, he never played another game in the NFL.
Baughan was one of the Eagles’ best defenders in the 1960s. The team drafted in the second round of the 1960 draft after he won Southeastern Conference lineman of the Year at Georgia Tech (GT helped form the SEC in 1932 but left in 1964). Baughan was also drafted by Oakland in the inaugural AFL draft but chose to play in the NFL.
Baughan made an immediate impact on a team that won a world title. He started all 12 games and had three interceptions. The season would end with him making the Pro Bowl, something he did every season of the 1960s but one (1962).
Baughan was a mainstay on the early 60s teams. He started every game his first five seasons in Philly and recorded at least one takeaway each year. The only year he didn’t pick off a pass was 1964, when he (somewhat unofficially) recorded six sacks and received an All-Pro designation.
After missing two games in 1965, Baughan saw the team struggling and wanted out of town. The Eagles traded him to the Rams, where he made four more Pro Bowls and was all-Pro in 1969. He left football after 1970 but came back at age 36 in 1974 to play for his former coach George Allen, who was now the boss in Washington.
While Baughan’s career do not have the formal stats of some on this list, he was a tremendous pro in the days before the merger and probably should be considered for Canton. The team that drafted him did induct him to the franchise’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
William Thomas joined the Eagles through the 1991 draft. He joined a tremendously talented defense and became one of the best Eagles linebackers in franchise history and, one of the team’s most noteworthy contributors of defense for a decade.
Thomas played the right position linebacker in the 4-3 scheme. After his rookie year, he collected 94 tackles and two INTs. The following year, he set career highs with 107 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Beginning in 1993, he started every game in four straight seasons.
Thomas collected six more sacks in 1994. He made his first of two straight Pro Bowls in 1995, intercepting seven passes that season. He finished the decade in Philadelphia before leaving for Oakland in 2000, playing two years with the Raiders. He finished his career with the second-most sacks amongst Eagles linebackers.
Trotter might have one of the best Eagles’ nicknames of all time in “The Axeman”. But he is also one of the most popular Eagles to ever play, and you can’t create a best Eagles linebackers list without putting this man somewhere near the top!
The Eagles drafted Trotter out of Stephen F. Austin in Texas in 1998. In his second season, he started all 16 games and became the team’s middle linebacker. That year he recorded a career-high 123 tackles.
Trotter made his first Pro Bowl in 2000 with 123 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, and a pick-six. This was also his lone all-Pro nomination. He followed that up with career highs in TFLs (14) and sacks (3.5), with the third season eclipsing 100+ tackles.
Despite making a second Pro Bowl, the Eagles could not re-sign him, even with the franchise tag. Trotter signed with Washington on a seven-year, $36 million deal. He lasted all of two years in DC.
The Eagles re-signed Trotter to a veteran minimum deal in 2004, and Trotter regained his prominence on the defense. He worked his way back into the starting lineup, picking up 12 TFLs and a return to the Pro Bowl. Philly dominated that season and Trotter’s return was part of a season that brought the team to the Super Bowl.
2005 was not a great year for the defending NFC champs. It didn’t start well. Before the first whistle, they were without their starting middle linebacker after Trotter got ejected for fighting Kevin Mathis in warm-ups. The Eagles lost to Atlanta but Trotter wound up making the Pro Bowl with 102 solo tackles, a career-high, and 11 tackles for loss.
After 113 tackles in 2006, Trotter would leave Philly and sign with Tampa. That lasted one year. He retired after 2007 but was lured back by Andy Reid in 2009 to help a depleted roster. He finished his career with 696 combined tackles in 116 career games in midnight green and will always be known as one of the best Eagles linebackers in the history of this franchise.
In the mid-70s, the Eagles were not a good team. They needed a spark to reverse a decade-plus of mediocrity. To kickstart the turnaround, who would have guessed signing a linebacker from Cincinnati would do the trick.
Bill Bergey made the final AFL All-Star game as a rookie in 1969. After a few seasons with the Bengals, he dipped his toe in the World Football League pool and planned to play there when his contract with the Bengals expired. That never happened, and the Bengals traded him to Philadelphia for three picks, including two first-rounders.
Joining Philly in 1974, Bergey recorded five picks and 3.5 sacks on his way to his first NFL Pro Bowl appearance and All-Pro selection. He was again an All-Pro in 75, leading the league with six fumble recoveries. However, he would return to the Pro Bowl three straight seasons, beginning in 1976.
Bergey was more than a dominant middle linebacker. He was one of the best Eagles linebackers because he was a major catalyst to the franchise’s resurgence.
He had multiple interceptions every season until 1979 when injuries limited him to three games. His final season in Philly was the 1980 Super Bowl season, starting every game. He has remained a fixture around the team and his son Jake managed to win championships as members of the Philadelphia Wings.
Imagine having to pass block against the Reggie White-led defenses Philly could run out. There were some excellent pass rushers up front, and then there were a couple of really good linebackers who could get to the QB.
Seth Joyner was an eighth-round pick in 1986 out of UTEP. After a quiet rookie year, he switched from right to left linebacker and became a major contributor. 1988 was the first of six straight seasons with over 100 combined tackles. He had 136 that year, a career-high, to go with four picks.
Joyner tallied a career-high 7.5 sacks in 1990, a year before making his first Pro Bowl with 110 tackles, 6.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumbles recoveries with two returns for scores, and three INTs. He made another Pro Bowl in 1993 before leaving the team for Arizona, as did many of his standout teammates when free agency started. He made his third and final Pro Bowl with the Cardinals, where he spent three seasons before rejoining White in Green Bay for a year and winning Super Bowl XXXIII with the Broncos.
Of the members of the 20 sack/20 INT club, Joyner’s 52.5 career sacks are second all-time behind Raiders’ legend Ted Hendricks. The 37 sacks he collected in kelly green puts Joyner atop that list of Eagles’ linebackers
1. Chuck Bednarik
Chuck Bednarik wasn’t just one of the best Eagles linebackers… he was THE BEST linebacker and one of the best players of all time.
was tough and imposed his physical will on opponents. We know this. He leveled Frank Gifford which knocked out the Giants star and swung the 1960 season, which Bednarik ended by tackling Green Bay’s Jim Taylor and sitting on him while the clock ran out in the championship game.
Bednarik made a franchise record of eight Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams. He did so with more than just brute violence. He had six interceptions in 1953, a career-high. He recovered four fumbles in 53 and 54. He played all three linebacker positions in his tenure.
For all the game’s evolution and the talented players that came along, Bednarik is without peer in Eagles history. While his statistical accomplishments may be lost to the ages (as they weren’t kept as meticulously as today), his presence on teams good and bad seems to transcend those records.