Monday, May 23, 2011
Posted: 10 a.m.By Reuben Frank
In the second installment of this summers Most Overrated and Underrated Eagles of all Time, we take a look at linebackers. Not easy, because the Eagles havent had many linebackers -- at least in recent years -- whove been rated at all. Heres what we came up with. The results may surprise you.
Next Monday: Offensive linemen.
Hall of Famers on his right, all-pros on his left, perennial Pro Bowl picks behind him. Byron Evans biggest mistake was playing on a defense jammed with some of the most gifted players of his generation.
When youre surrounded by Eric Allen, Seth Joyner and Reggie White, and your job isnt to compile stats, its easy to be forgotten. But Byron Evans affectionately known here as B&E was the heart of those incredible Eagles defenses of the late 1980s.
He didnt pile up sacks like Reggie. He didnt shut down tight ends like Seth. He didnt fly across the field and obliterate wideouts who dared venture across the middle like Wes and Andre. And he didnt make historic interceptions like E.A. All he did was effectively stuff running backs and clog up the middle, which let all the other guys roam around and make all those big plays.
And unlike teammates like Jerome Brown, Allen and Joyner, who had ebullient personalities, Byron was very, very quiet. He was the one guy on that defense that preferred to let his play do the talking.
Evans spent his entire eight-year career with the Eagles, and it actually took him a couple years to earn Buddy Ryans trust. His first couple years, Buddy benched him for Mike Reichenbach, who was slower and less athletic but had a terrific understanding of Ryans 46 defense. But once Evans picked things up, he was a force until injuries cut his career short.
From 1988 through 1993, Evans averaged 122 tackles per season. Five of those six teams won at least 10 games, and four of them reached the playoffs. In Evans first five years as a starter, the Eagles never ranked worse than seventh in the NFL in rush defense first twice, fifth once, sixth once and seventh once. Evans was athletic enough as an inside linebacker to make 13 interceptions over the years, including four in 1992, one of which he returned 43 yards.
Yet despite all this, Evans played in virtual anonymity on one of the greatest defenses ever assembled. Because the offense was so inconsistent, the Eagles won just one playoff game during B&Es stay in Philly that wild-card game in New Orleans in 1992. And because of all the legendary players surrounding him, Evans was overlooked every year by the Pro Bowl voters. Evans might be the greatest Eagle to never make a Pro Bowl team.
Byron Evans was just as important to the historic Eagles defense of the late 1980s and early 1990s as White, Joyner, Allen, Clyde Simmons and all the rest. Even if nobody realized it outside a few hardcore fans in Philly.
How can a player who made the Eagles all-time team be underrated? Because Seth Joyner should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and hes never even been nominated. Joyner is one of the greatest outside linebackers in NFL history, and nobody realizes it.
Heres the list of players in NFL history with 50 or more sacks and 20 or more interceptions in a career: Seth Joyner.
Yep, thats the entire list.
Joyner finished his brilliant career with 52 sacks and 24 interceptions and nobody else whos played this game has done that. In fact, only 21 other linebackers in NFL history have had half as many INTs and half as many sacks as Joyner in a career.
Of all the players in history with 50 or more sacks, only Junior Seau (18) and Clay Matthews (16) are within 10 interceptions of Joyner. And get this: Of all the players in NFL history with 24 or more interceptions, nobody is within 15 sacks of Joyner. In fact, his former teammate William Thomas is the only player whos close (37 sacks, 27 interceptions).
Joyner might be the best eighth-round pick in NFL history. He wasnt just a great Eagle. Hes one of the greatest outside linebackers to play the game, and judging by his unparalleled production, he should be enshrined in Canton.
OK, I know what youre thinking: Dhani Jones, underrated? Roob has officially lost his mind.
Not really. Heres the thing about Dhani Jones: He wasnt very good, but he wasnt nearly as bad as you remember.
First of all, Jones played out of position his three years with the Eagles. He never should have been a strong-side linebacker. Hes a capable middle linebacker but cant cover tight ends and never claimed that he could. But since the Eagles had Jeremiah Trotter in his prime in the middle, Jones stayed outside.
Consider this: Jones did start for a Super Bowl team that had the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL and two years later started on another playoff team before leaving for the Bengals, where he moved to his natural middle linebacker spot and started on another playoff team in 2009.
Is he a great linebacker? Nah. During his years here, he was just another in a long line of average strong-side linebackers. But was he the worst player Eagles in history? Not at all.
Lets be honest. The real reason we despise Dhani Jones is because of his personality. The ridiculous bow-tie, the stupid banjo routine, the faux high-brow Travel Channel reality show. That stuff might play in New York, Cincinnati or L.A., but it doesnt play in Philly. We just want our athletes to work hard, hustle and be themselves. Jones worked hard and hustled, but he tried way too hard to make himself into some sort of personality to ever be popular in these parts.
So Dhani makes the list, not because he was a great player by any means, but because the real reasons he made us sick had nothing to do with the way he played football.
Bill Romanowski was a madman, a crazed lunatic who would demolish anything in his way, then bull his way through the remains until he found his next victim.
Unfortunately, that was just off the field.
Romo had the attitude and the personality and the image of some mythical old-school linebacker. He would do anything to anybody anywhere at anytime.
Remember when he was ejected from an Eagles-Cards game for kicking Larry Centers in the head? Love that atty-tood but, hey, how about making a play once in a while, too?
Weve learned in the years since exactly why Romo was so out of his mind. He was as roided up as they get. Romo admitted on 60 Minutes back in 2006 that he regularly used steroids during his NFL career. But all the 'roids in the world didnt make Romo much of a linebacker during his two years with the Eagles.
Romanowski averaged just 53 tackles per year and made a grand total of 8 big plays (4 sacks, 4 interceptions) in 34 games. In the two playoff games Romo played as an Eagle, the defense allowed 263 rushing yards, 819 total yards and 67 points.
Romo was so overrated that even Ray Rhodes who once proclaimed, I like sickos, I like whackos didnt want him around. Romanowski was gone by 1996, and he moved on to Denver, where he spat in J.J. Stokes face, was fined for three illegal hits in one season, threw a punch at Tony Gonzalez, heaved a football that hit Bryan Cox in the groin and ended the career of teammate Marcus Williams by crushing his eye socket when he punched him in the face during a scrimmage.
Does anybody remember a big play Romo ever made as an Eagle? Does anybody remember anything significant he ever did on the football field? A clean hit? A game-changing interception? No.
Romo did reach a couple Pro Bowls late in his career with the Broncos, but as an Eagle, he was an ineffective player who made a name for himself for all the wrong reasons.
I was on the air at WIP a few hours after the Eagles released Will Witherspoon, and the furor from the fans was overwhelming.
They dont know what theyre doing!
My first reaction was, Absolutely! After all, this was the guy who had a sack, forced fumble, interception and touchdown against the Redskins in his first game with the Eagles after being acquired in a mid-season trade with the Rams for receiver Brandon Gibson. And on top of all that, he was a Hall of Fame guy, a natural leader, active in the community.
How could they do this?
But then I delved a little deeper into Witherspoons three months with the Eagles in 2009. What exactly did Spoon do after that remarkable debut against the Redskins?
How about zero sacks, zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles, zero total big plays during an 11-game stretch when the Eagles defense allowed 23 points, 118 rushing yards and 349 total yards per game and was embarrassed by the Cowboys twice in the span of seven days to end the season.
Spoon is now with the Titans, his third team in 1 years. Theres a reason when that happens.
Spikes had quite the reputation when he arrived in Philly before the 2007 season via a trade with the Bills. He had been to two Pro Bowls with Buffalo just a couple years earlier and had been quite a playmaker his resume showed 12 interceptions, 21 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 15 fumble recoveries and three touchdowns in his first nine NFL seasons.
Just what the Eagles needed.
And he had that name. Spikes. It conjured up a tough-guy image. A guy maybe working tirelessly out in the mid-day sun driving spikes into the railroad tracks in the old west at the turn of the century. Yeah, this is the guy we need!
So how did it work out? For 4.5 million, Spikes managed one sack of Matt Hasselbeck in a loss to the Seahawks and did just about nothing else before the Eagles released him after one season.
We tried to look up Spikes career playoff stats to see what trends we could find, but theyre unavailable. Probably because in 13 NFL seasons, his teams have never been to the playoffs. Those 13 teams won an average of 6 games and only one the 2004 Bills, who went 9-7 after a 1-5 start even had a winning record.
Obviously not all Spikes fault, but theres no question Spikes was one of the more disappointing acquisitions in recent Eagles history. Great name. Mediocre player.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org
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