Jordan Hicks – Hicks was outstanding this season in his first full time starting role in the NFL coupled with being the captain of the Eagles defense. Jim Schwartz relied heavily on Hicks throughout the season and he did not disappoint. Injury concerns surrounded Hicks heading into the 2016 campaign, but he quieted those rumblings by starting in all 16 games. This was especially helpful considering the lack of linebacker depth behind him. Pro Football Focus graded Hicks as the 5th best linebacker in the league tied with Sean Lee. Hicks only ranked behind the Bears Jerrell Freeman in terms of coverage grade for linebackers in the entire league according to PFF. In a league where passing attempts will only increase by the year this is huge for the Eagles defense moving forward. There are numerous question marks related to the future of the Eagles defense. I feel pretty confident in stating that Jordan Hicks will not be one of those question marks anytime in the near future. Hicks is a cornerstone on this defense as well as this football team.
Nigel Bradham – Bradham was a pleasant surprise at linebacker this season as a free agent addition from the Bills. The 27 year old joined teammate Jordan Hicks in the top ten amongst graded linebackers per Pro Football Focus. PFF graded Bradham as the 9th best linebacker for the season. He formed one of the best linebacker pairs in the league with Hicks especially since many offenses are shifting to three wide receiver sets forcing linebackers to hold up in coverage. The Eagles got a steal by signing Bradham to a two year, $7 million deal. At the same time, Bradham will be entering the final year of his contract this upcoming season forcing the Eagles front office to make another difficult decision. The Eagles defense has been subpar for years at the linebacker position. Do they really want to take another step back in 2018 by removing Bradham from the mix?
Mychal Kendricks – Once a promising young linebacker drafted in the 2nd round by the Eagles, Kendricks is all but the forgotten man on the Eagles defense. He saw his snaps drastically decline in 2016 as Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks were the nickel linebackers. Even when teams were in a base offense set Kendricks rarely made an impact or hit on any splash plays. Injuries have always been a negative on his ledger, but in recent season his tackling has become problematic as well. It appears Kendricks excelled earlier on in his career relying on his talent rather than understanding his role on the defense. Unfortunately, Chip Kelly did us another favor by signing him to an extension before the 2015 season. Kendricks has three seasons left on his deal carrying a dead cap hit which makes his outright release unlikely. Howie Roseman is known for his love of player trades especially during the offseason. It would benefit both parties involved for Kendricks to be wearing another uniform come Week 1 2017.
Outside of the starters the Eagles defense needs to find solid depth at the position. Bradham and Hicks make for a reliable pair, however behind those two lies uncertainty. Stephen Tulloch is not likely to return as he was merely an insurance policy for Hicks. Najee Goode is a decent special teams player, but he’s never been tested with regular snaps as a starter. Rookie Joe Walker appeared to be a lock for the 53 man until he tore his ACL against the Steelers. We’ll see how Walker bounces back in 2017. The draft as with many positions on this Eagles roster will benefit from depth additions.
Sources: profootballfocus.com and spotrac.com
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