Akeem Jordan, The Forgotten Man?

John Breitenbach wrote a post on BGN about the underrated abilities of Akeem Jordan. He goes through all the phases of the game with Pro Football Focus stats and includes nice game shots. Here’s his final analysis:

I’m not trying to make Jordan out to be some sort of superstar but it’s a shame he receives such little respect from Eagle fans. He was undrafted (and went to a tiny school) but he’s worked his way to become at the very least a serviceable NFL starter. At just 26, who’s to say he won’t get better? If you’re looking for someone to challenge Kendricks for the strongside spot, pay less attention to Jamar Chaney, and more to #56.

I’m not going to make Breitenbach’s argument into a straw man; it’s a reasonable and measured conclusion. Maybe Jordan is better than we think. However, I think there are three main rebuttal points:

  1. Jordan isn’t as good in coverage as those numbers illustrate. Breitenbach places Jordan’s coverage stats (09-11) side-by-side with Lance Briggs, and Jordan looks good. Certainly his completion percentage is lower (and therefore better). But, for one thing, Breitenbach doesn’t mention that the sample sizes are quite different. Jordan had only 372 coverage snaps during those three seasons, compared to 607 for Briggs just last year. When you look at targets per coverage snap (i.e. how often he was picked on), Jordan suddenly looks subpar.
  2. I don’t think there’s much evidence, based on Breitenbach’s numbers, that tackling is one of Jordan’s “greatest strengths.” He missed 9.2% of his tackles from 09-11, which would have been good enough for 20th last year among 4-3 outside linebackers with at least 25% of their team’s snaps. That actually does make him one of the better tacklers on the Eagles LB corps, but that’s not a whole lot to brag about.
  3. Finally, the most damning evidence against Jordan is simply that he hasn’t been able to hold a starting job—even when his competition has been so bad. Breitenbach mentions the atrocious Ernie Sims. Moise Fokou, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney… the list goes on and on of the guys coaches played before Jordan. He got more snaps after Fokou was benched, then placed on injured reserve in the last month of 2011, but that wasn’t a vote of confidence as much as Plan Z.

Jordan is a great special teams player and he’s fine as a backup. But I doubt any good defense considers Akeem for a starting role.

A Reason for Optimism on the Young Linebackers

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Since the Football Outsiders Almanac was released, I haven’t had a chance to really delve into some of its more interesting conclusions.  The first of these gives me, the down-on-our-linebackers poster boy, a reason for optimism.

That reason: the Eagles linebackers were much worse in 2010 than I realized. 

First of all, the linebackers took a huge step back in coverage. In 2009, when stalwarts Chris Gocong, Akeem Jordan, and a resurrected Jeremiah Trotter all received extensive playing time, the Eagles were ninth in the league covering tight ends and a middling 16th covering running backs out of the backfield. Last year, those dropped to 19th and 31st, respectively. 

If you remember, coverage was supposed to be a strength of the 2010 group. Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims were expected to be every down backers. Yet Bradley was still a step slow from injury and Sims from general bone-headedness.

Their run-stuffing skills also suffered. In 2009, the Eagles ranked sixth in the NFL in defensive second level rushing yards, those five to ten yards after the line of scrimmage that the linebackers should generally be responsible for. Last season, that rank dropped to 23rd.

So the linebackers were bad. Why does this give me hope? Because I went into this offseason thinking that the linebackers weren’t a big problem. The Eagles coaches, supported by Football Outsiders, realized that wasn’t true. The linebackers were bad and needed to be majorly shaken up. While I wanted the team to bring back Bradley, it seems clear now that he probably wasn’t worth the money. And, obviously, good riddance to Sims.

Maybe optimism is the wrong word. We still don’t know if this group of youngsters will be any better than last year’s stiffs. But at least now I at least understand and support the Eagles rationale for making a change.

Photo from Getty.

Which Eagles Free Agents Will Be Back in 2011?

Jerome Harrison Philadelphia Eagles Free Agent 2011

The Eagles have 15 players who just became free agents. Some of them will return, but most will probably move on. Who will still be around when training camp starts later this week? Let’s break down their chances, from least likely to most likely:

0% — Antoine Harris, Bobby McCray, Reggie Wells: Who? I bet there aren’t more than a handful of fans who even remembered these guys were still on the team. I certainly forgot.

5% — Ernie Sims, Ellis Hobbs: Both short term rentals were acquired for middle round draft picks, and neither worked out. No reason to bring them back unless you really can’t find anyone else.

10% — Quintin Mikell, David Akers: Q had a good run here, and he still plays at a high level. But you just don’t draft two safeties in the second round and then give a soon-to-be 31-year-old a new contract. His leadership will be missed. Similar situation for Akers. Can’t last once your successor comes along.

20% — Max Jean-Gilles, Nick Cole, Omar Gaither, Akeem Jordan, Dimitri Patterson: Five young guys who each could return in the right circumstance as a backup and special team contributor, but their spots have already been filled by younger players with more upside. Time to move on.

35% — Jerome Harrison: Coming to the Eagles midway through the season, Harrison provided a spark on offense and was a huge boost over the previous backup running back, Mike Bell. I wouldn’t mind having him back, and neither would the Eagles, but I wonder if there are better fits out there for both parties. Harrison certainly would like a chance to start, if he can find the right opportunity.

60% — Stewart Bradley: With the rest of the linebacker corps young and unproven, the Eagles need at least one veteran presence. Bradley would be the logical choice, even for a one year contract. And yet the Eagles don’t seem all that interested in bringing #55 back. He might command more from another team on the open market, and there are other stopgap solutions (the only type of linebacker Andy Reid has ever seen) all over free agency.

85% — Sav Rocca: 2010 was quite possibly the Aussie’s best year yet as a punter. With no other plan in place, it would be surprising to see the Eagles let him walk.

Let me know if you disagree. And, as updates come flying in on Tuesday, join me in the comment section to sound off on the latest rumors and news.

Photo from Getty.

2011 Eagles Offseason Guide: Linebacker

Stewart Bradley Philadelphia Eagles Linebackers 2011

This is the seventh in a series of posts breaking down the Eagles position by position in advance of the upcoming draft and (hopefully) free agency. We’ve already looked at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, and defensive line. Today we’ll examine the linebackers.

2010 Recap: Stewart Bradley returned to middle linebacker after missing all of 2009 with a knee injury, but didn’t display the same explosive form he showed in the NFC Championship Game run in 2008. Pro Football Focus grades showed that he improved as the year went on, but Bradley hurt his elbow in week 14 and missed the rest of the year. New addition Ernie Sims was highly touted after the Eagles traded a fifth round pick for the former Lion, but had more of an impact hitting his teammates too hard in practice than he ever had in a game. Moise Fokou took over for Akeem Jordan at strongside linebacker and did alright. He certainly wasn’t anything special, but there weren’t many problems either. The brightest spot was seventh round pick Jamar Chaney, who started in place of Bradley over the last few games and performed better than anyone expected. Jordan, Omar Gaither, and fourth round pick Keenan Clayton mostly contributed on special teams.

Who’s Leaving: The team declined to offer restricted free agent tenders to Sims, Gaither, or Jordan, signalling that they don’t want any of them back. Bradley, who has four years of experience, was tendered at the second-round level, meaning any team who wanted to sign him under the current rules would have to send the Eagles a pick in that round. Presumably Bradley will be back in midnight green next season. He deserves a shot to show he can improve in year two after his ACL tear.

2011 Depth Chart: The likely starters are Fokou at strongside, Bradley in the middle, and Chaney on the weak side. Clayton would need a big jump in year two to win a job over one of the other three. That leaves two or three more back up spots, which will likely be filled in the draft of free agency. The team already signed one competitor, Rashad Jeanty, a veteran back up and special teams player with the Bengals in 2009 before a fractured tibula caused him to miss all of last season.

Potential Additions: Eagles have never drafted a linebacker higher than the second round in the Andy Reid era, and both of those picks were busts. Furthermore, the team has only drafted one linebacker as high as the fourth round since 2007, despite constant turnover at the position. Thus, unless new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has a completely opposite philosophy from his predecessors, I don’t expect the Eagles to draft any highly-ranked linebackers. They will likely draft one or two more in the mid-to-late rounds, along with a free agent or two who can give at least token competition to the starters.

Future Outlook: The Eagles don’t have any old linebackers. That means there’s a lot of potential, but not much guaranteed. Maybe Chaney, Fokou, and Clayton are the future of the Eagles linebacker corps, or maybe none of them have the talent to make it long term. Bradley’s been around for four seasons and is still a question mark. Most likely, until the front office changes priorities and chooses to focus more resources (money, high draft picks) on the position, it will remain a question mark every year.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Knocked Out: Breaking Down the Eagles Defense

*The defense went with a big 3-4 look, with three down lineman and two stand-up rushers. Akeem Jordan dropped into coverage, and Ernie Sims and Nate Allen blitzed. Impossible to figure out which LBs were going to blitz, especially with Allen tacked on to that. Rodgers threw the ball into triple coverage for the pick. Here’s hoping we see that look again.

*Stewart Bradley has the speed to peel off and run with JerMichael Finley. That’s what makes hims so versatile. But he just can’t run into Finley when the ball’s in the air.

*Juqua Parker’s not dead yet, huh? Putting big pressure on opposite Trent Cole on multiple occasions. Three sacks in the first 16 minutes of the game…

Anatomy of a Play: Bernard Scott's 6-Yard TD Run

The Eagles preseason game against Cincinnati on Friday night didn’t quite go as planned. The Eagles had problems on offense — in multiple areas — and failed to stop the Bengals’ own offense on multiple occasions.

One of the worst moments for the Eagles’ first-team defense came in second quarter, when they couldn’t stop a 6-yard touchdown by running back Bernard Scott.

You can see the whole play here, but let’s break it down frame by frame to see what happened:

Eagles at Bengals: The Big Question

Friday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals is only the Eagles’ second preseason game, but it figures to tell us a lot more about the team. After steamrolling Jacksonville’s first team in limited action last week, this time the Eagles starters will play most or all of the first half, as they work toward opening day less than a month from now. The biggest question mark for this scrimmage:

How will the starting defense do against stronger competition?

The Plight of Moise Fokou

Competition is good. But handing a young player a job based on his potential, lauding him constantly, and then yanking the job away before he’s had adequate time to learn or show his best is folly. Especially now when the team is throwing him into a completely different situation as a “joker” (the linebacker-defensive end hybrid position).