In the days leading up to the start of the 2015 NFL Draft, what are the biggest questions that need to be answered at each position? In our #EaglesDraft Position Preview series, we explore how each position changed since the start of free agency and how the draft could impact the shape of the roster. Today, we look closely at the inside linebackers ...
The Look Before Free Agency: The Eagles signed Brad Jones, a veteran from the Green Bay Packers, to add experience at both inside linebacker and on special teams before the start of free agency. Still, there was a significant question that had to be answered - what was the status of DeMeco Ryans, the Mufasa of the Eagles' defense. Ryans missed the second half of the 2014 season with a ruptured Achilles, which happened ironically in his return to Houston.
The question was not only whether or not Ryans would be healthy for the start of 2015, but did the Eagles want him back? The Eagles' inside linebacker corps was ravaged by injuries in 2014. Najee Goode was lost for the season after the opener. Mychal Kendricks missed four games due to an injury. First-round pick Marcus Smith moved inside because of the injuries. Casey Matthews was also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. He was called upon to start 11 games for the Eagles this past season.
After Free Agency: Have the Eagles turned the inside linebacker position into one of the team's strengths heading into 2015? Ryans said that he expects to be on the field for Training Camp. The Eagles rewarded him with a contract extension after head coach Chip Kelly emphatically stated that Ryans was a part of the team's plans for 2015. On the first day of free agency, the Eagles made two blockbuster trades – one of them acquired Kiko Alonso from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for running back LeSean McCoy.
Alonso did not play after suffering a knee injury last season, but was one of the best rookie defensive players in the entire league in 2013. Alonso had 159 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Alonso was named to multiple All-Rookie teams. The Eagles essentially have three starting inside linebackers with Alonso, Ryans and Mychal Kendricks and the injuries last season proved that depth is essential. Goode is also healthy and was expected to be the top reserve before the injury, so that's another go-to option along with Emmanuel Acho who garnered some starting experience last season. Matthews signed with the Vikings and Smith will move back to his natural outside linebacker post this upcoming season.
Kelly said that improving the inside linebacker depth was a priority this season and the Eagles have turned it into one of the top strengths on the entire team by adding Alonso and Jones and welcoming the return of Goode and Ryans.
As we approach the NFL Draft, here's a look at the inside linebackers on the Eagles' roster ...