The wretchedness of the Philadelphia Eagles 2011 group of linebackers has been well documented to this point. The group was a revolving door of mediocrity. The switch to a wide 9 defensive scheme under new defensive line coach Jim Washburn was a great idea in theory, but the team unfortunately did not have the personnel to adapt to that particular scheme. The group of undersized, inexperienced linebackers that Andy Reid hoped would get up to speed quickly, failed miserably to do so. Despite the appalling at the linebacker position, the Eagles were surprisingly sufficient against the run and on defense as a whole. The group ranked right in the middle of the NFL in rushing yards allowed with 112.6 per game, 10th in points per game at 20.5 and 8th in total yards allowed at 324.9. With that being said, the group had some major breakdowns at key times, and let opposing running backs frequently have they way with them (see: Lynch, Marshawn A.K.A. BEAST MODE)
Andy Reid has a penchant for drafting linemen in the first round with 7 of his 11 career first round picks (2 OL and 5 DL). The team recently re-signed some of the members of its defensive line group from 2011, but the possibility is always there that Reid will look to the trenches in the first round, once again. However, even though the team recently traded for linebacker DeMeco Ryans, I feel that they still need to look to Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly with their first round pick in the 2012 draft. Kuechly is not likely to be available with the Eagles 15th overall pick, considering the fact he is all widely considered to be the best overall and most professional-ready linebacker in the draft.
Kuechly, a 6’3” 237 pound junior left Boston College with a handful of awards. In 2011, the tackling machine won the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker), Lombardi Award (nation’s top lineman / linebacker), Lott IMPACT Trophy (Defensive IMPACT player of the year) and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (nation’s top defensive player). All this from a player who did not move to middle linebacker until the beginning of his sophomore season. Many experts have him going as early as the 11th pick, so the Eagles would have to move up if they want Kuechly. Luckily for Philadelphia, they have quite a few draft picks with which to barter.
In 2011 alone, Kuechly had 191 tackles, 102 of which were sole, averaging almost 16 per game. In addition to his 2011 stats, he finished his 3 year college career with 532 total tackles. Kuechly is an incredibly intelligent player with a huge motor, and based on his stats, obviously has a nose for the ball. One huge benefit he has for the Eagles is the fact that he is great in pass coverage, something that has been the Achilles heel of the Philly defense for several years. In addition, he beefed up for the combine, coming in at 242, about 5 pounds more than his 2011 playing weight. That gives him about 10 pounds on the Eagles starting middle linebacker in 2011, Casey Matthews, and puts him about 5 below DeMeco Ryans.
Kuechly put up above average numbers at the combine, as well. He ran a 4.58 40 yard dash, which, for his size, indicates that he will be able to get sideline to sideline without any problem. His 38 inch vertical leap is going to be nightmarish for opposing quarterbacks, as it will allow him to play bigger than his actual size and clog up throwing lanes. The extra bulk he put on before the combine is going to give him the power to get off of blocks and get to the ball carrier.
Many people are saying that because of the DeMeco Ryans signing the Eagles should not go after Kuechly. I disagree. Linebacker has been a huge position of need for this club for quite some time, and because of that, they need to go after this kid. While Ryans is still relatively young, giving Kuechly some time to get acclimated to the pro game is only going to serve him well, even though he probably has the skills to come in and contribute immediately. Given Andy Reid’s somewhat curious draft day history, anything is possible.