The Philadelphia Eagles revamped their linebacker group this offseason, starting with the addition of Zach Brown in May and the signing of L.J. Fort on the second day of free agency. Brown and Fort are the new additions to the Eagles’ linebacker group and both have experience playing the middle, but Eagles’ linebackers coach Ken Flajole hinted at a familiar face at that position this year.
“We know what Nigel Bradham brings to our organization,” Flajole said (via Mike Kaye of NJ.com). “He’s been a very productive guy. He’s filled in for Jordan [Hicks] when Jordan was hurt in the previous two years, so we know Nigel can slip in there. I don’t know if that’s his most natural position but it may be the best thing for our football team. We’ll just have to see.”
Bradham skipped the voluntary portion of minicamp, so it will be interesting to see how the Eagles line up on Day One of mandatory minicamp. Based on experience in the Eagles defense, Bradham would be the front-runner to take over the middle linebacker job.
Bradham didn’t have an interception and a forced fumble last season, but finished with 87 tackles, two sacks, and four pass breakups. Bradham played 399 snaps at inside linebacker last season, 37.5 percent of the 1,064 total snaps he played. That could be the same percentage in 2019, especially with Fort and Brown specifying in different areas.
The Eagles could also turn to Fort to replace Hicks in coverage, as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz indicated a few weeks back. In 12 games in his final season with the Eagles, Hicks had 91 tackles, three sacks, five pass deflections, a fumble recovery and six quarterback hits. Opposing quarterbacks had a 112.3 passer rating when targeting Hicks.
Fort’s numbers are slightly better in coverage. He allowed 21 catches for 197 yards last season as opposing quarterbacks had a 98.2 passer rating when targeting him. His coverage improved in the final three regular season games, being targeted just four times but allowing two catches.
Fort was also ranked 10th amongst linebackers against the run, finishing with a grade of 81.3. While Hicks improved against the run, his numbers were the same as Fort…but the Eagles were able to get a player that performed better than Hicks at a much cheaper rate.