In part five of our Philadelphia Eagles training camp preview, we focused on the defensive line, which will have a couple of new faces joining it and who could play an integral role in the team’s success this season.
The Eagles are set to open training camp on Wednesday, so why not wrap up our position previews by talking about their linebacker unit.
Philadelphia’s linebacker group is in a state of flux, after seeing Paul Worrilow go down with a season-ending injury and Mychal Kendricks being released in the offseason.
1. Jordan Hicks – If it was not for his nagging injury history, you could make the case that Jordan Hicks is the best linebacker on the Eagles. However, that is not the case at all.
Hicks suffered a ruptured Achilles against the Washington Redskins in late October, effectively ending his 2017 season. It was the second time in three years that he suffered a season-ending injury, but luckily the Eagles were able to prevail without him.
When Hicks does play, however, he is a playmaker at middle linebacker.
In three seasons with the Eagles, Hicks has amassed 163 total tackles, 14 pass deflections, seven interceptions, five forced fumbles, two sacks, and a forced fumble.
In fact, his best season came in 2016, when he played and started in all 16 games. Coincidentally, he had a career year with 86 total tackles, 11 pass deflections, five interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack.
For the Eagles’ defense to have success this season, they will need Hicks to stay injury free for all 16 games. He also has a financial incentive to stay healthy as Hicks in the final year of his rookie deal.
2. Nigel Bradham – Without Hicks on the field last season, Bradham was the Eagles’ best linebacker by far.
The Eagles signed Bradham as a free agent back in 2016 to a modest two-year, $7 million deal.
Bradham outplayed his initial contract with Philadelphia and got rewarded with a new deal this offseason. The Eagles could not afford to lose Bradham in free agency and re-signed him to a five-year, $40 million contract.
It was a smart signing for both parties as Bradham received some financial security for his efforts, while the Eagles maintained one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL.
The former Buffalo Bills linebacker deserved the extension as he essentially played Hicks’ role in Jim Schwartz’s defense.
Last season, Bradham flourished as the Eagles’ middle linebacker, making the correct calls, and being a stout defender in their two-linebacker set. He had 88 total tackles, eight pass deflections, a sack, and a fumble recovery, which was returned for a touchdown.
However, when the Eagles take the field on Sept. 6 against the Atlanta Falcons to open up the regular season, they will be without the 28-year-old linebacker. Bradham will be serving a one-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, stemming from an incident that happened in 2016.
3. Corey Nelson – Nelson could be the team’s starting third linebacker when they begin the season against Atlanta. Before joining the Eagles on a one-year deal, Nelson spent the first four years of his career with the Denver Broncos.
With Denver, the 6-foot-1 Nelson was a special teams maven and played on passing downs. Nelson played in all 16 games with Denver for three consecutive seasons, before suffering a torn biceps injury last season.
However, the former seventh-round pick’s best season happened in 2016, where he started in six games and racked up 61 total tackles and five pass deflections.
According to Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post, Nelson joined the Eagles because he wanted a larger role. Even though the Broncos reportedly matched Philadelphia’s offer.
The gamble could ultimately pay off for Nelson, but he will have to beat out the likes of Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry for the starting gig.