We’re almost done with our position group breakdown of the Washington Commanders opponents in the NFC East. Today, the one I have been dreading. The linebackers.
Commanders: Ranking the NFC East linebackers for 2022
1. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys had some big names at linebacker last year in Keanu Neal and Jaylon Smith. They are now gone. Dallas brought in Minnesota veteran Anthony Barr to replace Neal. I suspect his best days are behind him. (I’m content that the Commanders did not blow big money on him.) They still have the relatively young and talented Leighton Vander Esch, who was finally able to play a full season in 2021. If he has put his neck and shoulder issues behind him and can regain the form he showed as a rookie back in 2018, that would really help bolster the defense. But “middle linebacker” and “neck issue” are phrases you never want to see linked.
But none of that may matter very much. They have Micah Parsons. By the end of this season, he may be recognized as the best player on any team in the division. His game is still growing, but he is already an elite pass rusher. His physical tools allow him to play in coverage and play the run at a very high level. Parsons’ presence in Dallas last season was transformative, and I suspect that will continue in 2022.
Dallas is slowly adding some young depth with the recent drafting of Jabril Cox and Devin Harper. They can develop over time. One of the best things about having a player like Parsons is that you don’t have to rush your rebuild.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
A couple years ago, wide receiver and linebacker were the two weakest areas on the Eagles roster. We’ve already examined how they have rebooted the receivers. They are in the process of doing the same thing with the linebackers, though without the splashy names.
Alex Singleton, Eric Wilson, Genard Avery, and Davion Taylor – all players who logged some time for the Eagles in 2021 – are all gone. (Wilson was jettisoned around mid-season last year; Taylor has been re-signed to the practice squad.) The only returning linebacker of any significance is TJ Edwards, who has shown steady improvement throughout his career. He is coming off his best season in 2021.
They brought in Kyzir White, the Chargers leading tackler in 2021, and paid big money to pass rusher Haasan Reddick. Reddick has to prove his breakout in 2020 was no fluke, and I remain unconvinced as of now. But that is a solid group of young veterans – a significant upgrade from what they had a couple year ago.
The Eagles also snatched up rookie Nakobe Dean as a value pick in the 3rd round of the 2022 draft. A lot of Commanders fans wanted Washington to take the undersized tackling machine from Georgia. He should fit in well with Philly. They prefer smaller, quicker backers.