For Eagles fans that I’ve talked to, the position of worry seems to have seamlessly migrated from cornerback to right tackle since free agency began. Even with promising training camp play by new addition Ryan Harris, there still appears to be more concern directed at that spot than anywhere else.
Yet I hear very little worry about another every-down position that seems even more tenuous: linebacker.
Perhaps people are dissatisfied with the position but have resigned themselves to mediocrity, given the lack of resources that the Eagles have put into it in the Andy Reid era. But I get the sense that there is actually a lot of positive thinking about linebacker, where the Eagles are set to start a 4th round rookie, a sophomore 7th round pick who started less than a handful of games in 2010, and a third year 7th rounder who has done little of note during his time in Philly.
Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, and Moise Fokou are young and promising, and I understand the optimism. But then you look at the stats and you have to wonder.
64 linebackers were drafted between the 3rd and 5th rounds over the last five NFL drafts. Exactly zero of them started a full season their rookie year. Only three players even managed to start more than six games, and the player who started the most was former Eagle Chris Gocong, with 12 games. That doesn’t inspire confidence in Matthews.
Here’s a depressing stat for you: out of all the rookie to third-year linebackers drafted in the 3rd through 7th rounds playing in the NFL during the last five years, their combined Pro Bowl appearances is one. How about another? The Eagles are set to start two former 7th round picks. No linebacker drafted in the final round in the last ten years has ever made a Pro Bowl - in any year of his career.
None of this proves anything about the three guys the Eagles have lined up to start. Maybe they can buck the trend. Maybe the scouts have found three diamonds in the rough. But all the linebackers who came before them say that the ceiling is pretty low. No one should realistically hope for Pro Bowl seasons from these guys, nor should anyone even count on Casey Matthews to start the whole season - and who is his backup?
At best, temper your expectations. They could be average or above average linebackers, although that seems like an optimistic result right now, not a statistical likelihood. At worst, be prepared (yet again?) for linebacker to be the weakest link on the Eagles defense.