Will Parks could be the Philadelphia Eagles’ secret weapon at ‘will’ linebacker.
The Philadelphia Eagles have a problem.
Okay, technically they have like a ton of problems ranging from small to season altering, but if you were to ask fans in the 215 what their beloved Birds’ biggest issue is, one would all but surely take up the priority of the votes: Linebackers.
Yes, in a move literally no one saw coming, the Eagles’ motley crew of developmental draft prospects, college safeties, undrafted free agents, and external castoffs have somehow underperformed against pretty much every other linebacking corps in the NFL.
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Hm… I wonder if it’s because the combined payroll of all six of the team’s linebackers, $3.8 million, is less than 34-year-old Sean Lee is making this year on injured reserve for the Cowboys? Just a thought.
While the Eagles, at least in theory, could go out and trade for the best available linebacker on the open market – say my fellow UCLA Bruin Myles Jack – if you’ve been watching this team as long as I have, you know this isn’t Howie Roseman’s style. No, whether it’s because of Jim Schwartz’s preference, or some mysterious analytics advantage the general public isn’t privy to, when the Eagles make a midseason trade for a splashy, name-brand playmaker at a glamour position like running back or wide receiver.
But hey, it’s cool. The Eagles actually have a secret weapon who could revolutionize the middle of their defensive front at some point in the next 21 days.
Only here’s the thing: He doesn’t play linebacker.
The third safety given a contract by Roseman and company during the free agency window, Will Parks returned to his hometown over one a one-year, $1.48 million deal over more lucrative offers to fill a do-it-all box role in the Eagles’ defense. While many assumed that would look a lot like Malcolm Jenkins’ usage under Schwartz, in actuality, it’s far more likely Parks will enter his first professional game in midnight green lined up at weakside linebacker in non-base defensive packages.
Is playing a 194-pound safety at linebacker a tad unconventional? Could it impact that team’s ability to defend the run? Oh, you’d best believe it, but riddle me this; would you rather the Eagles have a safety taking on a running back between the tackles or a linebacker covering a slot receiver in an empty set? Based on the reaction to Nathan Gerry’s coverage woes on Chase Claypool’s Week 5 touchdown, I think I know the answer.
In 2018, Parks’ best season as a pro, the Arizona Wildcats product played a hybrid, quasi linebacker role that led Pro Football Focus to declare the then-25-year-old a darkhorse breakout candidate for the 2019 season. Obviously that didn’t happen, as Parks had a less-involved role in Vic Fangio’s system, but there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t still muck it up in the middle of the field when facing off against three, four, or even five receiver sets.
Through the first month and change of the 2020 NFL season, the Eagles have had one heck of a time trying to slow down big, fast pass-catchers lined up in the slot. Whether that player is a true tight end like Tyler Higbee, a hybrid player like Claypool, or a freak of nature like George Kittle, the Eagles’ current crop of safeties is just too small and their linebackers are too slow to keep these players in front of them. While Parks isn’t some magic bullet Isaiah Simmons-type who can cover literally anyone, he isn’t all that undersized compared to the modern-day prototype for an NFL weakside linebacker; many of whom actually started out their careers as strong safeties in college.
Look, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Howie Roseman will go out and trade a king’s ransom for a premier linebacker off a bad team like Eric Kendricks or Myles Jack and finally commit appropriate assets to the inside of the defense? I mean he probably won’t but hey, who knows? If not, the eventual return of Will Parks could be a much less heralded move that still moves the needles in a positive way for the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense, as his size, speed, and all-around swag could revolutionize the Eagles’ sub-package defensive fronts with some much-needed coverage skills in the middle of the field as a ‘will’ linebacker.