May 7, 2012, 3:10 PM EDT
It began with a simple observation: the Eagles’ projected starting linebackers are short. Turns out, they may be the shortest in the NFL when the regular season kicks off in September.
Jimmy Kempski of Blogging the bEast rounded up preliminary depth charts for every 4-3 defense around the league, and compiled the total height of each club’s starting linebackers. Not so surprisingly, the trio of DeMeco Ryans (6-1), second-round draft pick Mychal Kendricks (5-11), and Brian Rolle (5-10) took the dubious honor of being the shortest combination by a healthy margin.
Together the Birds added up to 214 inches, three less than the next-closest group, the Detroit Lions. The tallest were the New York Giants at 226, a difference of one whole foot. 18 teams currently utilize the 4-3 as their base defense, half of them measuring heights between 220 and 223.
Jimmy K’s concern is the Eagles might be giving up too much size to tight ends, the majority of whom are 6-4 or taller. It’s a fair point, although only four starting linebackers are at least as tall, which seems to put almost every linebacker at a handicap to some degree.
The most common sizes are between 6-1 and 6-2, the range Ryans falls into. However, Philadelphia is the only organization with two penciled starters under six feet.
How much it really matters is debatable. Opposing offenses undoubtedly gain some advantage in the passing game when their tight end has the size and athleticism to go above the defense, but stingy coverage can cancel that to some extent. Plus, who’s to say a bigger linebacker can even run with a receiver? A player with that kind of ability is probably already lining up at tight end.
Additionally, there is a decent chance Kendricks and/or Rolle are not the starters this season. Kendricks is a rookie, and while he’ll have every opportunity to earn a starting gig, nothing is definite. Entering his second season, Rolle also faces competition from the likes of Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Keenan Clayton, and Moise Fokou, all of whom are 6-0 or taller. At the very least, there will most likely be varying situational packages.
Replacing either Kendricks or Rolle adds another two-to-three inches, which still puts the Eagles at the bottom, but more in line with the rest of the spectrum.
Is this something we should worry about? Looking at Jimmy’s list, I’m not seeing a direct correlation between good linebacking units and bad based on height. Match-up problems certainly exist, but which teams did fare well against the likes of a Jimmy Graham last season? Very few. Great players come up with great plays, and sometimes there’s nothing a defense can do to stop them.
The real question is whether or not the Eagles have improved the position, and for now the answer appears to be yes. Whether or not height will become an issue remains to be seen.
>> Height of LB’s [bEast]
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