Philadelphia Eagles: Is Jatavis Brown just L.J. Fort 2.0?

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

After days of anticipation, the Philadelphia Eagles have finally signed a linebacker in ex-Charger Jatavis Brown, but is he just L.J. Fort 2.0?

After days and days and days of anticipation, the Philadelphia Eagles have finally addressed their barren linebacking cupboard with a free agency signing.

Phew, thank goodness. Who did Howie Roseman get? Cory Littleton? Blake Martinez? Clay Matthews? Did he reacquire Jordan Hicks via trade, or sign Temple legend Tyler Matakevich away from the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Try Jatavis Brown.

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What? You aren’t familiar with the University of Akron product Jatavis Brown? You must not have watched much of the Los Angeles Chargers my friends.

All jokes aside, Brown entered the league as the 175th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and was a steady contributor for the Chargers over the entirety of his rookie deal. Though he never started more than ten games in a regular-season – not that the Chargers made any playoff appearance over his tenure –  Brown appeared in 56 games over his tenure in San Diego/Los Angeles as a do-it-all swing linebacker.

After finding initial success as an inside linebacker in John Pagano‘s 3-4 scheme, where he led the team in tackles at 79, Brown transitioned outside to weakside linebacker in Anthony Lynn/Gus Bradley‘s 4-3 scheme. This transition went smoothly enough, as Brown still played roughly 55 percent of the then-LA Chargers’ defensive snaps in 2017 and 2018, but in 2019 everything changed.

Despite receiving high praise from Lynn in 2018 for his versatility to play middle linebacker, weakside linebacker, and even in the nickel and dime sub-packages (as per Dave Spadaro), Brown was leapfrogged on the depth chart by 2018 fourth-round pick Kyzir White and 2019 fourth-round pick Drue Tranquill, leading to only 92 defensive snaps in what would ultimately go down as an underwhelming contract year.

On paper, Brown fits pretty well into the mold of what a team like the Eagles are looking for in a modern linebacker for this new era of pass-happy football: He’s 4.4 fast, built like a safety at 5-foot-11, 221 pounds, and a tackling machine in the open field.

Brown is also a solid special teamer, a role he took on more or less full time after having his defensive playing time cut down considerably in his contract year.

Who does that sound like? L.J. Fort, 2019’s low-risk, high-reward undersized linebacker/special teams ace.

Now to be fair, locking up Fort on a three-year deal worth $5.5 million was and still is a bargain, even though he didn’t ultimately pan out. Had he panned out, the Eagles wouldn’t be looking for a partner for Nathan Gerry in the middle of their defense now, or next month in the 2020 NFL Draft.

But here’s the thing, Fort was never going to work out because the Eagles never gave him a chance to.

After failing to break the starting lineup even during training camp, Fort appeared in four games with zero defensive snaps before being unceremoniously waived to make room for Orlando Scandrick‘s disastrous tenure in the City of Brotherly Love. From there, Fort signed a two-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens a few weeks later – ironically enough, the team the Eagles held joint practices with during training camp – and started eight games down the stretch for the eventual AFC North champions.

That can’t happen again.

Next. Will Parks’ one-year deal is the steal of free agency. dark

Could Fort have filled the same role for the Eagles down the stretch after the release of Zach Brown and Nigel Bradham landed on IR? Who’s to say. But unless the Philadelphia Eagles decided to exclusively play dime defense with Nathan Gerry as their lone linebacker on the field, Jim Schwartz is going to have to find at least one more linebacker to start in 2020. Whether that’s Duke Riley, T.J. Edwards, or some future draft pick is anyone’s guess, but hopefully Jatavis Brown actually gets a chance to see the field before hitting the open market once more.