Philadelphia Eagles News

Lawlor: Who will be a surprise impact player in 2019?

The focus in April and May is on adding the best college players. The Eagles had a strong draft class and will be adding some good undrafted free agents as well. Howie Roseman didn't stop there. He's also made some good pro personnel moves in the last couple of weeks.

The Eagles re-signed Tim Jernigan. They traded for defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway. They added safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Blake Countess. The team signed veteran linebacker Zach Brown on Friday.

The starting defensive tackles are Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson. Jernigan's return is fantastic. He can be a good starter, but at the very least provides great depth. That is a tremendous trio of players on the inside.

Ridgeway is a player the Eagles have had their eyes on for a couple of years. He will compete with Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector. All of those guys could be good role players. The Eagles now have six defensive tackles they feel good about going into the next phase of the offseason. That might be the best group of defensive tackles in the entire league.

Linebacker and safety may not quite be as set.

Jordan Hicks was the starting middle linebacker the past few seasons so his departure in free agency raised the question of who would replace him. Paul Worrilow was the front-runner for a bit. The Eagles signed L.J. Fort to give him a chance to compete for the role. Nathan Gerry saw some snaps at middle linebacker for the Eagles last year.

The addition of Brown gives the Eagles a productive, experienced inside linebacker to add to the mix. He has 74 career starts. Worrilow does have 52 career starts, but he hasn't started 10 or more games since 2015 and he's coming off an ACL injury. Gerry is a converted safety still learning how to play linebacker. Fort is a special teams ace and role player trying to show that he is capable of being a good starter.

There is now a variety of backgrounds, ages, and skill sets competing for the middle linebacker job. Brown has the best résumé. Gerry is the best athlete. Fort is coming off the best year of his career. Worrilow has the most experience of playing in the 4-3 defense and should know the playbook well since he's in his second year with the Eagles.

When you don't have a clear-cut starter at a spot, you need competition. The players will push each other. They all want to start, especially for a winning team like the Eagles. If the players don't handle spring and summer competition well, that isn't someone you would want to start for you in the fall.

Doug Pederson really stressed competition with the 2017 team, and we all know how that season turned out. Players were competing for starting jobs and playing time, but also just for the sake of being the best at whatever the team was doing each day. Pederson had them compete in the weight room, on the practice field, and in games.

That mentality served the players and the overall team well. Think about Patrick Robinson. He was signed in late March 2017. The Eagles gave him the veteran minimum. Robinson was a talented player who had been a first-round pick, but did not play up to that potential early in his career. The Eagles gave him a chance.

Robinson struggled early on, but got better as the summer went along. The Eagles moved Robinson into the nickel position and things clicked. He had a great season and made one of the signature plays in Eagles history, with his pick-six in the NFC Championship Game. Robinson got a big contract in free agency last offseason. Robinson embraced the opportunity he was given and made the most of it.

The Eagles hope that competition will bring out the best in the linebackers and make the overall position better for the team.

The additions at safety were more about depth than competition. The Eagles have good starters in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. That's one of the better safety duos in the league.

McLeod got hurt last year and his absence really hurt the team. Corey Graham was up and down. Rookie Avonte Maddox learned on the fly and showed a lot of promise. Tre Sullivan improved as the season went along.

The Eagles knew they needed better depth this year. They signed Andrew Sendejo, a player with 58 career starts. Jim Schwartz loves to use three-safety sets on defense. Jenkins, McLeod, and Sendejo give him three talented veterans to work with on the field.

Sullivan is back for another season. Rather than counting on his improvement, the Eagles wanted more young players in the mix. Countess was the Eagles' sixth-round pick in 2016. He ended up going to the Rams and playing for three years. He started four games, but was an important role player for them. Countess could be an ideal fourth safety for the Eagles.

Igwebuike played for two teams as a rookie in 2018, but didn't get on the field much. He is here to compete for a job and to push those above him. Deiondre' Hall is back for his second season with the Eagles. He's going to have a full offseason with the team so he should know the scheme well and be ready to really push the players around him.

There are going to be some interesting battles as the Eagles try to figure out how things are going to shake out at linebacker and safety. There are holdovers from last year, guys coming off injury, and some new faces all competing for jobs and playing time. There is depth and competition.

In a fantasy world, everyone would stay healthy and all players would play well. Reality is very different. Guys get hurt. Some players struggle. All you can do is find as many good players as possible and then have them battle it out.

Veteran Patrick Robinson emerged in the Super Bowl season. It was young linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and rookie defensive back Avonte Maddox last year. It will be interesting to see who emerges this year.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. You can also find his work at where he is the site's editor.

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