Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

2024 Eagles draft prospects: Will the Birds get help at linebacker?

The Eagles' linebacking corps did not perform well last season, but a number of draft prospects could help fill a need.

Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. returns an interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. returns an interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)Read moreJacob Kupferman / AP

After a year of shaky linebacker play, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has already begun reworking the position group in the first few weeks of free agency with two additions.

Could they add another next month?

Devin White and Oren Burks, both of whom signed one-year deals, figure to shore up the linebacking corps going into next season and push 2022 third-round pick Nakobe Dean. Aside from Dean, who missed most of last season with two different foot injuries, the Eagles’ long-term prospects at the position are sparse.

» READ MORE: Eagles’ Howie Roseman defends his team-building philosophy at linebacker and has belief in Nakobe Dean

Here’s a breakdown of this year’s linebacker class and who could make sense for the Eagles next month:

The top guys

Edgerrin Cooper

Cooper is a long, explosive athlete with good instincts and playmaking ability from the off-ball linebacker position. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder had 17 tackles for losses, eight sacks, two pass breakups, and two forced fumbles at the center of Texas A&M’s defense last year and was a consensus All-American as a result. Cooper’s long speed and range in coverage were confirmed at the NFL scouting combine, where he ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash and measured in with 34-inch arms (95th percentile for his position).

Cooper has the traits to be an every-down linebacker in most systems, including the Eagles’. He’s physical against the run on early downs and has the length and change-of-direction skills to hold up in coverage in known-pass situations.

Cooper has a good chance at being the first linebacker off the board because of his production, physical traits, and durability. His instincts will need to continue to develop, something that makes him more likely to go early on Day 2 rather than sneaking into the first round.

» READ MORE: Edgerrin Cooper? Marshawn Kneeland? Eagles doing NFL combine homework on edge rushers, linebackers

Junior Colson

After three seasons at the center of one of college football’s best defenses, Colson is expected to be one of the first off-ball linebackers off the board with a remarkable story. The 6-2, 238-pounder out of Michigan is a Haitian native who immigrated to the United States after his father died when he was a child. He started playing football as a teenager and developed into a stout run defender with sideline-to-sideline range and the instincts and athleticism to excel in coverage.

Colson has ideal speed and stays under control in pursuit of ballcarriers, making him a reliable but physical tackler. He had 101 total tackles in 2022 and finished last season with 95. He didn’t make as many impact plays as some of the other linebacker prospects — he finished his career without a single interception or forced fumble — but his steadiness as a three-down linebacker will be his main selling point.

Colson didn’t do athletic testing at the combine or at Michigan’s pro day because of a hamstring injury, but he should be a Day 2 pick with a chance to be the first linebacker off the board.

Jeremiah Trotter Jr.

The son of a former Eagles great and a St. Joseph’s Prep graduate, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. is a modern off-ball linebacker with the instincts to match his pedigree.

Although he’s 6-foot, 228 pounds without high-level athletic testing, Trotter was a multi-year starter at Clemson because of his technique and play recognition and was a tone-setter during his career. He made plenty of impact plays last year, racking up 15 tackles for losses, 5½ sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

Trotter’s size, compounded by having only 25th-percentile arm length, means he won’t fit into every defense and will likely go at some point on Day 2. Still, he projects as an every-down linebacker with a track record of production and has the requisite instincts and feel for the game at a position where that often proves to matter above all else.

» READ MORE: Legacy LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr., drawing upon his father’s influence, meets with the Eagles at NFL combine

The wild card

Payton Wilson

Along with Cooper, Wilson sits atop this year’s class of linebacker prospects because of his athleticism and college production. The N.C. State star had 138 tackles, including 17½ for losses, six sacks, three interceptions, and one forced fumble last season, winning the Bednarik Award as college football’s best linebacker. Even at 6-4, 233 pounds, he’s explosive and fluid in coverage, evidenced by his six PBUs last year, and comes downhill against the run with force and reliability when wrapping up.

Wilson’s athletic testing is just as impressive; he ran a 4.43 in the 40, which is 97th percentile for his position. The question marks come when looking at his other measurables, his injury history, and his age: He’ll turn 24 before the draft. Despite his height, Wilson’s 30½-inch arm length is eighth percentile for his position and his wingspan isn’t much better at 29th percentile. Wilson has suffered two major knee injuries and missed almost all of his redshirt sophomore season with a shoulder injury as well.

If Wilson’s medical tests come back clean for enough teams, he’s talented enough to be the first linebacker off the board. That’s a big if, though.

The sleepers

Cedric Gray

Gray was one of the Eagles’ selections in my first stab at a mock draft last week because he’s an intriguing prospect with extensive starting experience and production, along with ideal testing numbers. The Butkus Award semifinalist out of North Carolina had 121 total tackles, five sacks, one interception, four PBUs, and two forced fumbles last year and was a standout at the Senior Bowl.

Gray’s athletic testing was solid across the board and his 10-foot broad jump clears the benchmark the Eagles have mostly stuck to. At 6-1½, 234 pounds, he can take on blocks against the run while also having the necessary explosiveness and long speed to cover running backs and tight ends with credibility.

» READ MORE: The NFL combine is a numbers game. These are the ones the Eagles seem to care about.

He’ll need to cut down on the missed tackles and improve his feel for the NFL game, but Gray figures to be a mid-round prospect with legitimate upside to be an every-down Will linebacker who can stay on the field as the lone second-level defender in a dime package.

Marist Liufau

Liufau sits outside the first wave of high-upside linebacker prospects, but he has a physical profile that would suggest he’s capable of taking a leap in the NFL.

A two-year starter at Notre Dame, Liufau totaled 44 tackles last season, including six for losses while recording three sacks, one forced fumble, and two PBUs. He measured in at 6-2, 234 at the combine but has 34¼-inch arms, which matches his athletic profile closely to that of former Colts All-Pro Shaquille Leonard, who spent part of last season with the Eagles. Leonard wasn’t the only off-ball linebacker the Eagles brought in with noteworthy arm length last year, either. Zach Cunningham, who signed with the team in training camp and played well when healthy, has 34⅜-inch arms.

Liufau profiles more as a thumper at this point rather than an every-down linebacker with coverage chops, which makes him more of a middle-round prospect rather than someone expected to go early on Day 2. If the Eagles feel good about Dean’s potential to be a coverage linebacker in sub packages, Liufau could be an ideal running mate down the road if White is truly a one-year rental.