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.

Where They Stop, Nobody Knows

Sheil Kapadia describes the latest movement in Linebacker Musical Chairs™. At least Ryans is back as a three-down player again:

When Juan Castillo asked for the first-team nickel defense, Chaney was the man called on to go in alongside DeMeco Ryans. Up until today, Brian Rolle had been occupying that spot at Lehigh. And in the spring, it was rookie Mychal Kendricks.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Chaney said, when I asked him if he expected to be part of that package for the next few days. “I just do what they tell me to do. Whether I’m out there with the twos or the ones, I just go out there and do my best. My job is just to make the decision hard on them.”

(Note that I resisted excerpting just the first part of Chaney’s quote.)

DeMeco Ryans, Two-Down Linebacker?

DeMeco Ryans

I was surprised last week to hear that, at least initially, DeMeco Ryans wasn’t playing as a three-down linebacker. In practices, he was coming out in the nickel formation for Jamar Chaney, an inconsistent player at best.

What happened to the versatile Pro Bowler that we were promised when Ryans was brought in from Houston? I wonder if Reid and company were ever being truthful whether said those things. Although Ryans was undervalued in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme, indications were that he was taken off the field on passing downs partially because he had lost a step after his 2010 Achillies injury.

I went back to look at the stats, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, and I didn’t find any smoking gun. Here are the numbers:

You can clearly see the effect of taking Ryans out of the game on passing downs. His total snaps decreased substantially from his last healthy season (2009) and the percentage of pass snaps he was in for, as a portion of his playing time, declined by a rather large 10 percent. But that just tells us what we already know: that Houston didn’t trust Ryans as much in pass coverage.

Was that concern warranted? That’s harder to tell. On one hand, Ryans was targeted more in pass coverage than in any other year from 2008 on. That may suggest that players he was supposed to cover we’re open more often. The total yards per catch average against him was also the highest on recorded, meaning he gave up bigger plays. On the other hand, the completion percentage of players he covered moved in the opposite direction.

It remains to be seen whether Ryans is actually a coverage liability in the Eagles defense. But the ramifications from this move will be large. Obviously, on the field it’s not ideal. Having to sub out the middle linebacker removes flexibility and creates match-up issues that opponents can exploit. It also raises questions about about both the Ryans’ long term future with the Eagles and the team’s overall linebacker strategy.

As a two-down player in an increasingly pass-heavy NFL, Ryans would be much less valuable—especially at his salary. Perhaps his acquisition wasn’t the sea change in linebacker policy that we thought. After all, a fourth round pick for Ryans isn’t as different as we would like from the fifth round pick it took to get Ernie “Shark in the Water” Sims. His salary jumps to $6.6 million in 2013, and continues at basically that level through 2015. It seem unlikely he would make that much in Philly as a two-down player.

Let me stress, finally, that Ryans can still be a major upgrade at linebacker in 2012—even if he does have to come out on passing downs. Just having a reliable veteran leader in the middle to plug some of the gaping run holes would be a big deal. We just may have to temper our expectations for Ryans beyond that role.

Photo from Getty.

Let’s Talk Linebacker

Jimmy Kempski noted the depth chart in the first practices of the year, and linebacker sticks out as a place of concern:

  • 1st team: Kendricks (SAM) – Ryans (MIKE) – Rolle (WILL)
  • 2nd team: Jordan (SAM) – Matthews (MIKE) – Chaney (WILL)
  • Nickel: Kendricks – Chaney

Now, this could be nothing. Perhaps this lineup is just the warm-up lap. But I’m definitely surprised that Ryans wasn’t taking snaps in the nickel defense. If the trend holds up, it suggests that maybe the Eagles’ big offseason acquisition is only going to be a two-down player. Not encouraging. It reminds me of this.

* * *

I agree with the overall sentiment in this BGN post by Eliott Shorr-Parks. Mychal Kendricks should be more talented and more prepared than Casey Matthews, but I worry that the Eagles are once again giving too much responsibility too quickly to a rookie.

That said, I have no idea how Shorr-Parks can write this with a straight face:

Going into Lehigh last season, there was little question that the teams best linebacker was Chaney. Chaney played great late in his rookie season, and despite having some bad games, was still arguably the teams best linebacker last year as well.

First of all, I definitely raised questions about Chaney last offseason, when everyone was quoting Brian Baldinger’s idiot comments. Second, I don’t think Chaney was the best linebacker last year—and even if he was, it’s not really an achievement I’d put up on the wall.

Chaney finished the season with 92 tackles, but more importantly 3 interceptions. Some of the picks were easy ones, but given how hard it has been for Eagle linebackers to create turnovers over the past few years, the fact is he made the plays.

"Some of the picks were easy ones"? He only had three.

Expectations should be even higher for Chaney this year, as he will have a year under his belt in Juan Castillo’s system. Chaney was the teams middle linebacker at the end of 2010, and was moved to the strong side during camp last year. While he was eventually moved back to middle linebacker in Week 4 because of the play of Casey Matthews, he still has more experience at the position than Kendricks does. It makes more sense to slide Chaney back in as the strong side linebacker than it does to appoint Kendricks the starter now.

Why would anyone have high expectations for Chaney this year, let along higher than 2011? It makes about as much sense “to slide Chaney back in as the stronge side linebacker” as it does to slide Juan Castillo back in as the defensive coordinator. Because that would be… wait, what’s that again?

Chaney is a hard worker, one of the best athletes on the defense and deserves to be on the field.

I cannot confirm that a single word in that sentence is accurate.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Linebacker

Linebackers Eagles

What the Eagles did: I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse group of NFL linebackers than the ones the Eagles employed last year. The position was an incompetent game of musical chairs. If the defense has any hope of rebounding from that, they’ll have to get a major upgrade from their two newcomers.

DeMeco Ryans comes to the middle of the defense with lots of hype. He was a two-time Pro Bowler in a 4-3 defense in Houston, and will certainly be a huge upgrade. Simply having an experienced veteran leader and sure tackler in the middle will boost the Eagles defense significantly. The question of whether he can return to his elite pre-injury self does remain, though.

The second newcomer upon whom much relies is second round pick Mychal Kendricks. The former Cal star has already been slotted in at the strongside linebacker spot, and so far in minicamps the reports have been nothing but positive. There’s a definite danger in projecting Kendricks to start as a rookie, as Eagles fans know all too well. Still, his pedigree is significantly higher than Casey Matthews — and any other current linebacker on the squad not named Ryans.

After that, all we have is a host of unreliable youngsters — the same players who played so poorly last season. As long as the two newcomers work out, this won’t be too much of a problem. Surely one of the bunch can be adequate enough in the weakside job.

The frontrunner for that spot seems to be Jamar Chaney, a player the Eagles coaches must love, because he’s shown next to nothing on the field. Chaney has the athleticism to be a great linebacker, but he’s a poor tackler and worse at finding the ball-carrier in the first place. A strong coach might be able to get something out of him, but Mike Caldwell and Juan Castillo probably aren’t the men for that job.

Brian Rolle is the opposite of Chaney, smaller but smarter and a better tackler to boot. He held the weakside job last year and was the most consistent of any of the young players. Still, I don’t know that many people would hold Rolle’s overall performance in particularly high esteem. He didn’t embarrass himself, as some of the others did, but judging from his frame and rookie play, Rolle’s ceiling is not particularly high. In the long run, he would be best suited for a backup and special teams role.

Next comes Casey Matthews, who was unfairly thrown into the fire at middle linebacker last year. To my eyes, though, his play improved when he returned later in the season, and reports this year say he put on significant weight, from 230 lb. up to the 250 lb. range. That raises questions about whether he has become too big to compete on the weakside, although getting the best three linebackers on the field should always be the priority. Matthews, despite his disastrous rookie season, seems to have the most upside between him, Rolle, and Chaney.

Finally, there’s Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, and Akeem Jordan. Clayton, the LB-safety tweener, has shown nothing in two years that justifies keeping him around (plus he just had sports hernia surgery). Fokou played so poorly last year that he took only seven defensive snaps after week nine and none after week twelve. Jordan filled in at strongside linebacker in his place, proving that he could at least be an adequate stopgap. His best play comes out on special teams, though, as the latest Football Outsiders report details.

What I would have done: On paper, if everything goes right, this linebacker corps can be solid. The problem is, everything doesn’t always go as planned. With some luck, Kendricks will grab hold of the strongside job and prove his worth. But it’s just as likely the rookie will need time to adjust to the faster professional game. And while Ryans has all the talent, he’ll need to prove he can rebound from last season’s down year with the Texans. If anything goes wrong with either or both of the Eagles newcomers, you’re immediately back to where you were in 2011.

With that in mind, I would have been more aggressive in trying to add one or two more potential veterans and backups. Someone like Dan Connor would have made a nice Plan B, or even a lesser free agent. Chaney, Matthews, and Rolle should have to fight to make ther roster, let alone the starting 11.

Way-too-early prediction: I think Clayton gets cut, barring some miraculous display of talent we have so far missed. The fact that he barely found the field last year was not a good sign. Fokou’s fall from grace doesn’t bode well for him either. Greg Lloyd, the middle linebacker prospect drafted in the seventh round last year, and the other camp bodies are at best practice squad fodder. Unless one of the other guys can show their worth there, Jordan could retain his roster spot based solely on his special team play.

As to the rest, I’m optimistic but realistic about both newcomers. I don’t expect either to set the world on fire, just hopefully be above average. The trio of Rolle, Chaney, and Matthews will be where the competition lies during training camp. I’m anxious to see which, if any, can prove their worth.

Photo from Getty.

Notes on the Rest of the 2012 Eagles Draft

Vinny Curry Marshall Philadelphia Eagles

The NFL draft is now in the books, and by almost all accounts the Eagles did little to complain about. Here are my miscellaneous thoughts on what happened on days two and three:

  • Watch the Vinny Curry interviews, then watch them again and again. His Eagles fandom is clearly as raw as yours and mine, and it’s awesome to see the excitement one of us would undoubtedly have, had we the talent to end up playing for our hometown team.

  • Nick Foles, the big reach. There has been serious quarterback inflation in the last two drafts, something which will be the focus of my post tomorrow. Until then, just consider that Nick Foles was the seventh quarterback selected, at pick 88 overall. Mike Kafka was the fifth off the board in 2010, at pick 122. A round and a half earlier, for a worse quarterback? Maybe. (Also, I’m 95 percent convinced that Russell Wilson was the real target.)

  • The Eagles have drafted defensive players with 9 of their last 11 first, second, and third round picks. So far, the results have been atrocious. Let’s hope this last batch can turn things around.

  • After complaining in recent years that the Eagles had become too safe in the late rounds and undrafted free agency, I certainly can’t complain about the wave of longshot, troubled players the Eagles snagged this time around. I actually like the strategy, especially at running back, where the team took a major athlete with limited production and questionable work ethic (Bryce Brown) and a productive talent who was taken off seemingly everyone’s draft board due to injuries (Chris Polk). Especially at running back, which other than pass protection is relatively easy to pick up, one of these longshots could pay off. A veteran back up would still be nice, though.

  • There are some other interesting names on the UDFA list. Kentucky punter Ryan Tydlacka should give Chas Henry some much needed competition. Another long snapper is a shot across reliable Jon Dorenbos’s bow. And not one but two fullbacks means we’ll have a healthy fight for one of the most marginalized positions on the team.

  • Please direct all your “steal” or “reach” designations here.

  • Two things granted: Brandon Boykin had great college production and the slot corner role is becoming more and more important. That said, I’m a little hesitant about drafting a guy whose size has made every draft expert who has looked at him say, “what a great nickel back.” In some ways, this pick was the opposite of the Curtis Marsh selection last year, when the Eagles went for physicality over refined performance. It will be interesting to watch which pick turns out better for the Birds going forward.

  • There’s a lot riding on Mychal Kendricks being Andy Reid’s first successful second round linebacker — and the results need to show right away. Under no circumstance should more than one of last year’s linebackers start in 2012. Right now Brian Rolle has the inside track on keeping his weakside job, but Casey Matthews could push him there, after ending last season on a relative high note.

  • My draft predictions weren’t half bad, if I do say so myself.

Photo from Getty.

My 2012 Eagles Draft Predictions

Danny Watkins Eagles NFL Draft

Last year at this time I made eight predictions about what the Eagles would do in the draft. Some of them were more conservative than others, and I missed on one of my biggest guesses — saying that the team wouldn’t draft at their assigned first round spot. Still, I managed to get six of eight correct, and predicted the general thrust of the draft rather well (linebacker and offensive line, not defensive line).

So I’m back again for another round of likely folly. Here are my predictions for what we will see over the next few days.

  1. Carpet-bombing the defense: early and often. Big picture: all the talented young players are on offense. You can quibble with this if you want, since there’s no reason to give up already on guys like Brandon Graham or Nate Allen. Still, the defense needs more playmakers going forward, and the only way to do that is to spend at least three out of the Eagles first four picks on defensive players. I expect the team to come out of the draft with as many as half their picks going toward the front seven.

  2. No rookie running back, no safety. Unless the Eagles fall in love with one prospect, I just don’t see much benefit in adding another young running back or safety. Both positions have a single open back up job and that spot really needs to be filled with a veteran whose only responsibility is to fill in this year if something goes wrong. Instead, watch out for an Ellis Hobbs-type trade for a marginalized veteran player.

  3. One offensive lineman, maximum. Last year the Eagles snatched up three interior linemen to build out Howard Mudd’s new blocking scheme. If not for Jason Peters’s injury, I’m not sure they would have bothered drafting even one this year, but a long term project at tackle now makes sense.

  4. Chad Hall 2.0. Andy Reid loves the multidimensional ability that Hall brings to the offense so much that he’s willing to overlook his complete lack of NFL-caliber skills. I think the Eagles will draft someone like Florida’s Chris Rainey to return kicks and serve as a speedier x-factor on offense. Best case scenario, the team also gets its long-term replacement for Jason Avant with this guy.

  5. Choir boys. Howie Roseman made some comments to reporters recently in which he seemed to flirt with the idea of taking more character risks. His actions over the last two drafts say otherwise. I expect the Eagles’ fascination with captains, seniors, and consistent, big-school performers to continue (e.g. no Vontaze Burfict).

  6. Michael Vick is still safe. With few good quarterback options in this draft and the whole organization focused on getting Vick back on track in 2012, there’s no good case to reach for a quarterback of the future. Trent Edwards is tremendously uninspiring, but his competition is likely to be either a late round flier (Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore) or a veteran to be pursued later.

  7. Surprise neglect of cornerback early on. With Asante Samuel gone, there’s plenty of room to go after Dre Kirkpartrick or another cover guy in the first round. But of the Eagles defensive spots, cornerback still has the most options. The team is heavily committed to Nnamdi Asomugha over the next few years and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a likely candidate for a contract extension. Curtis Marsh is the wildcard. He made no impact in 2011, but was always considered a project with all the skills. Todd Bowles may not need another youngster.

  8. At least ten rookies. Last year one of my failed predictions was that the Eagles wouldn’t use all of their picks. But of course, they love drafting players and will probably end up trading back to add picks at least once.

I’m not making a prediction for the first round, although I already laid out what I think the Eagles are thinking (Peter King shoutout). Fletcher Cox is the potential trade-up candidate, Luke Kuechly the likely front-runner if they stay at 15 overall. Barring that I’m less sure, although a versatile pass rusher like Melvin Ingram makes the most sense of the remaining players.

Photo from Getty.

Guessing the Eagles Draft Plans: A, B, and C

Andrew Luck
Robert Griffin III
Matt Kalil
Trent Richardson
Justin Blackmon
Morris Claiborne
Ryan Tannehill

Looking at mock drafts from around the web, the above seven players have emerged as consensus locks for the top eight picks. Collectively, draft experts would be surprised to see any of them drop beyond the Dolphins, who seem poised to select Tannehill.

If you take these mocks to heart, only one player from the “next tier” of prospects will be selected in the top eight (most likely by Jacksonville). Which player that is depends on who you read. Could be Melvin Ingram or Fletcher Cox or Stephen Gilmore.

But even putting aside that one spot, consensus like this on seven of the top eight picks is rare. Which, as I said the other day, makes it (slightly) easier to guess what the Eagles will be looking at when the draft comes to its first turn at the ninth overall pick.

To me, that’s the critical juncture for the Eagles. As of right now, operating on nothing but rumors and logical conjecture, I would bet the Eagles wish list — assuming the draft turns out this way — looks something like this:

Plan A: Fletcher Cox. Defensive tackle makes the most sense of any position and Cox is tailor-made for the Washburn’s scheme. The fact that they paraded Dontari Poe around and kept the Cox workout under the radar also suggests that something is going on. In order to get their top choice, however, the Eagles will likely have to trade up, perhaps as high as ninth overall.

Plan B: Luke Kuechly. Jacksonville or Carolina could easily spoil the plan for Cox, in which case the next logical player is KEEK-ly. The linebacker would be an immediate upgrade on the strongside and a long term solution in the middle after he apprentices next to DeMeco Ryans. Some mocks have him going in the 11-12 range, but given the reception 4-3 linebackers have received in the free agent market, that may be overstated. 

Plan C: Grab bag. Not sure that I see the Eagles trading up for Kuechly, but if he’s taken before they come up, everything breaks wide open. At that point you’re really talking about the “best available defensive player,” who is probably someone like Quinton Coples or Dre Kirkpatrick. 

That’s how I expect the Eagles to approach the draft from their perch at 15 overall. I would be surprised to see Cox selected in the 12-14 range without the Eagles moving up to snag him first. Failing that, I would be surprised to them pass on Kuechly if he were available at 15.

But then again, I could be completely wrong. What do you think?

Looking at 2013 and the Eagles Draft Options

Andy Reid Philadelphia Eagles

One if the most common mistakes that fans make is assuming that the Eagles will draft a player because of immediate need. That rarely happens. Most of the time, the team papers over current roster flaws with free agent signings and trades, acquiring DeMeco Ryans being a prime example.

You should never expect even a first round pick to contribute much in their rookie year. If you end up with a quick starter, great. But relying on guys like Danny Watkins right away will disappoint you early and often.

The question of what position is ripe to be drafted early has more to do, in my opinion, with looking a year or two down the road. Where are the aging veterans? Where are the likely holes in the team a year from now? Let’s take a look at the 2013 roster as it looks right now:

QB: Michael Vick, Mike Kafka
RB: Dion Lewis, Stanley Havili
WR: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper
TE: Brent Celek, Clay Harbor
OT: Jason Peters, Todd Herremans
OG/C: Danny Watkins, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, J. Vandervelde, M. Gibson
DE: Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham, Philip Hunt
DT: Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins
LB: DeMeco Ryans, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton, Brian Rolle
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, Curtis Marsh
S: Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Kurt Coleman

With the notable exception of LeSean McCoy, every Eagles offensive starter and most of the backups are signed through the next two seasons. That’s great for the team, since the offensive unit has been much more consistently good than the defense over the last few years. There’s no reason to sit on that and not draft anyone, perhaps more OL and WR depth, but there’s no major need at any of these positions.

Defense is a different story entirely; there you are more likely to need guys than not. Defensive end is probably in the best spot going forward, with two Pro Bowl starters and two players with potential already lined up. The rest is a real crap shoot.

There are only two defensive tackles signed through 2013 (although Tommy’s presumably camped out on Derek Landri’s lawn right now). Both Jenkins and Patterson are starters, but they are getting up in age, too. At linebacker there are five players but it’s tough to trust any of them, with the possible exception of Ryans. Cornerback really only has Asomugha and Marsh, with Samuel packing his bags. And safety brings us three youngsters, none of whom have proven they can be above average starters.

With all that said, I think it would be justifiable to draft any defensive position, outside of DE, in the first round. There are a couple more factors to keep your eye on as we get closer to the draft. First, will Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie get a contract extension? I already discussed this at length, but some movement there could allow the Eagles to delay drafting another corner in the first round. Second, what do the Eagles do at outside linebacker? If they obtain another starter there, they could pass on Luke Kuechly and take a flier on a second or third round LB instead.

If the Eagles take action on both of those counts, odds are that the team will be picking among the deep class of defensive tackles with pick #15.

Photo from Getty.

Buying Low or Selling High?

Rivers McCown:

I guess that really depends on if the Ryans we saw last season is the Ryans we get going forward in terms of his speed. I kinda feel like with this trade, the Eagles thought they were buying low on a player that they thought could rebound a bit, and the Texans were operating under the “give up a player one year too early rather than one year too late” axiom. I think with what Philly has invested in him, they might as well give it a go and see what happens. But I’d make sure I had a good backup plan on the roster if I were them.

Jimmy Kempski has a great Q&A with McCown, a Texans fan and Football Outsiders writer, about his impressions of DeMeco Ryans.

Tackling: Eagles Linebackers vs. DeMeco Ryans

DeMeco Ryans Tackle

If you’re like me, you haven’t seen many Texans games and you don’t know much about DeMeco Ryans other than by his reputation. Some folks study by watching game film, and I highly recommend you read up for that perspective. My habit is to reach for the stats.

The stats, of course, are incomplete. This is especially true when trying to quantifying the production of a middle linebacker. With defensive linemen you can look at sacks. With corners you can look at interceptions and yards per attempt against. But middle linebackers are tough.

Largely we look at tackles to tell us about our linebackers, but that’s by far from a perfect statistic. Tackles are influenced by the broader scheme, the intricacies that make even 4-3 defenses different, and the performance of players in front and behind the defense’s middle management.

Still, it’s all we have, so we might as well use it up. Jimmy Kempski, that mustachoed maven of the NFC East, wrote a post yesterday in which he pulled “Snaps Per Tackle” from 25 inside linebackers last season.

To take what he’s done one step further, and give it a more Eagles-bent, I used similar data from Pro Football Focus. However, I only looked at snaps and tackles in the run game. Below you can find the middle linebacker performance of both Eagles linebackers and Ryans since 2008:

Eagles Linebackers DeMeco Ryans Tackling Stats

Because of all the factors involved (as well as inevitable inconsistencies in the original data), I wouldn’t blow any one of these numbers out of proportion. Tackles, missed tackles, and stops all together can give us a interesting look at production.

Examining the Eagles stats first though, it looks like stop percentage may be the most relevant stat of the bunch. Tackle percentages are all over the map, and missed tackles can depend so much on just a few plays. But stops — not tackles for a loss, but prevention of a “positive” play — seem to correspond to what our eyes tell us is a good linebacker play. For example, both Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews scored very poorly in 2011 by this measure, while Chaney’s moments of glory at the end of 2010 account for his high marks then.

Looking just at Ryans’s stats, it’s obvious that he had a down year in 2011. Not only did the new 3-4 scheme limit his playing time, but he was less productive across the board on a per snap basis. Ryans’s stop percentage dropped dramatically last year, and is the lowest figure on among all players listed above. Prior to his 2010 achilles injury though, he posted solid, if not spectacular numbers. Missed tackles were really his only run defense problem in 2008-2009.

At the end of the day, the numbers suggest some cause for worry, especially about his most recent performance. However, if Ryans can return to his pre-injury performance in a 4-3 scheme, the Eagles have found a very solid middle linebacker going forward.

Photo from Getty.

A Real Linebacker? No Way!

DeMeco Ryans

It’s a year too late, but let’s not spoil the fun. The Eagles finally have a real linebacker. It’s a miracle.

The trade yesterday for Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans is everything the Eagles needed and more. In fact, it’s a master stroke by the front office. While the best free agent linebackers have zero Pro Bowls between them, Howie Roseman and company went out and acquired a two-time Pro Bowler for basically the same money and the equivalent of a late third round pick.

There are obvious caveats to the deal, starting with why the Texans would be willing to trade the 27-year-old Ryans. The decision to move him probably amounts to three factors. First, Ryans was going to cost upwards of $6 million a year for the foreseeable future, and the Texans are not in great salary cap shape. Second, the linebacker’s production fell in 2011 playing in Houston’s new 3-4 scheme. Instead of playing virtually every defensive snap, he only was on the field 58 percent of the time last year (according to PFF).

With the Eagles’ salary cap wizardry and 4-3 scheme, neither of those should be a problem here. The only remaining question is whether he’s lost a step following achilles surgery in 2010. Ryans played all 16 games last season, but many observers called it a down year for him. Hopefully the injury won’t be a factor going forward.

Even with that potential drawback, getting Ryans is a big win for the Eagles. He instantly becomes the most talented linebacker in this city, probably since Jeremiah Trotter first left in 2002. And he doesn’t have to return to Pro Bowl strength in order to make a huge impact in the middle of the Eagles defense.

Moreover, Ryans was a team captain and by all accounts a tremendous leader. The Eagles have had problems in that area too, but it seems likely that the team has found it’s vocal defensive signal-caller for the foreseeable future.

Photo from Getty. Video h/t BGN.

phonz3 Called It: Eagles Trade for DeMeco Ryans

Philadelphia Eagles message board:

You heard it here first. We’re trading for DeMeco Ryans
Started by phonz3, Monday, 08:32 PM

I’m in awe. As Jay Glazer would say, MAJOR SCOOPAGE!

(Credit Michael Kivland and the guy for the find.)

No Top Linebacker for the Eagles

Jeff McLane:

In other words, there hasn’t been a rush as the price tag for linebackers steadily drops. But it probably won’t dip low enough for the Eagles to be interested in either Lofton or Tulloch, according to NFL sources.

This is, frankly, stunning to me. I assumed the Eagles were simply waiting for the price to drop, a strategy that seemed to be working. But McLane’s connection to Howie Roseman has been solid, so it’s hard to take this as anything but an advance warning for Eagles fans.

Supposedly the team was interested in bringing back Joe Mays. The second tier of LBs also includes 90-year-old London Fletcher and Jameel McLain of the Ravens. A cheap purchase like that would either confirm the Eagles’ long term disinterest in the position, or suggest that Luke Kuechly’s arrival is imminent.