In Part III of this series, we'll look at the inside linebackers the Eagles spoke with after Senior Bowl practices. For a list of all the players the Eagles spoke with (as well as a review of the corners), you can go here. A review of the safeties can be found here.
Inside linebacker is an interesting position to watch for the Eagles this offseason. DeMeco Ryans seemingly had a solid season for the Eagles at ILB, but was he leaving plays on the field? In the 3-4, the linebackers are expected to make more impact plays than linebackers in a 4-3. Ryans is a smart player and a respected leader, but would a more athletic player make more plays in Billy Davis' defense? The Eagles will have to weigh that when they consider the future of the ILB position.
Complicating matters for Ryans is that he's scheduled to make $6,900,000 in 2014. There's almost no way he'll see that amount in full. If/when the Eagles ask Ryans to take a pay cut, how much will they insist on, and will Ryans be receptive to the idea?
The Eagles were busy chatting up inside linebackers after Senior Bowl practices. Here's who they spoke with:
• Lamin Barrow, ILB, LSU (6'1, 229)
Dating back to 2003, the number 18 at LSU has been worn by the player who best represents what it means to be an LSU Tiger on and off the field. In 2012, that honor went to Bennie Logan, who the Eagles drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. The number 18 went to Barrow during the 2013 season.
There's nothing flashy about Barrow's game. He makes a lot of tackles, always seems to be in the right position, and he doesn't overrun plays. However, there's also nothing flashy about his statistics. In his entire career at LSU, Barrow had no INTs, 1 forced fumble, and 1.5 sacks.
In the 2013 draft, 8 LSU defenders were drafted in the first 5 rounds, and 6 in the first 3 rounds.
With so many playmakers on one defense, it is understandable that Barrow was a bit overshadowed in 2012. In 2013, it was expected that Barrow could emerge as an impact player. While he played good team football, Barrow did not make impact plays. The Eagles will like that Barrow is a high character guy. They probably won't like his size or production.
• Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin (5'11, 245)
Doing a swami bit on NFL Network, draft analyst Mike Mayock predicted, "Chris Borland from the University of Wisconsin will start 16 games and be the Kiko Alonso of next year’s class."
Watch the 1:21 mark of the video below. Borland is an ILB, and look at this inside spin move he puts on Ohio State's RT. Then after Braxton Miller is flushed from the pocket, watch Borland chase him down an make an ankle tackle from behind. Same thing at the 4:11 mark. Great outside spin on the RB, flushes the QB, then hustles in pursuit. And rushing the passer isn't even supposed to be his thing.
And then finally, at the 8:21 mark, watch him stand up 235 pound RB Carlos Hyde at the goal line. Really, just watch this entire video. Borland is in on almost every play:
Borland has excellent quickness, and attacks downhill, but not in a reckless way. When he diagnoses a play, he hits it with authority. If the offense hasn't yet tipped their hand, Borland stays patient. He's just a really fun prospect to watch, and if you want to see more of him, check out DraftBreakdown.com's Chris Borland library, which includes 7 games.
But alas, from the Eagles' perspective, if they were to draft Borland, they'd have two ILBs who are are shorter than 6'0, and obviously, that is not ideal.
• Jonathan Brown, ILB, Illinois (6'1, 224)
Brown looks like he has some athleticism, but he doesn't have the same savvy as Barrow or Borland. Check out the 6:06 mark below. First, Brown bites on the play action. Then, when he realizes the QB still has the ball, Brown changes direction and flows toward the QB's bootleg. When the QB looks back to his left, Brown then turns his body completely around and tries to chase the other way, and he runs into the umpire. No anticipation at all.
Brown may run well at the combine, but he needs some polish as an ILB.
• Christian Jones, ILB, Florida State (6'3, 234)
There isn't a lot not to like about Christian Jones. He has good size, he can run, he can cover, he can tackle, and he can rush the passer.
Let's just start with his combination of size of speed. Here's Florida State's game against Clemson in 2012. There are two really impressive plays by Jones in this game. First, look at the 5:14 mark. Sammy Watkins is a potential top 10 pick in this draft, and Clemson somehow gets him matched up 1-on-1 against Jones. Maybe a better throw would have been completed, but watch Jones run nearly stride for stride with Watkins. That is about the best you can hope for from a 234 pound linebacker covering an elite WR. And then at the 6:25 mark, look at the closing speed as the WR crosses Jones' face, and Jones has to accelerate to undercut the pass and knock it down. This is tremendous for a player his size.
The downside of Jones' game shows up in the above video as well. Jones doesn't always play his assignment closely, and that can lead to big plays for the offense. At the 2:52 mark, it appears as though Jones was out of position, as explained by color analyst Kirk Herbstreit. At the 4:17 mark, Clemson's gadget play works for a long TD because Jones loses his man (Andre Ellington).
At the Senior Bowl, Jones was by far and away the best pass rusher in 1-on-1 drills among the ILBs in attendance. His versatility in that regard is where Jones becomes really intriguing as a potential target for the Eagles. In the 2nd half of the season, Florida State started lining up Jones at DE, and he looked the part. Watch the below game against NC State. Jones transitions seamlessly from rushing the passer from a 3-point stance on one play, to covering the seam from a LB spot on the next. This is extremely impressive versatility:
Jones is a player the Eagles could put on the field, and just leave him there for the entire game. With two highly athletic linebackers in Jones and Kendricks, Billy Davis would be free to show a lot of exotic looks, using his ILBs in all kinds of assorted roles.
The Eagles gave Jones plenty of attention after Senior Bowl practices. He could be a legitimate player of interest in the first two rounds.
Disclaimer: To note, by the time the Eagles whittle down their draft board to around 150+ players, they will speak with just about every prospect. Still, it is interesting to see who the scouts and assistant coaches spend some extra time with after practices, as it shows at least some level of extra interest.