DeMeco Ryans is the catalyst of the Eagles’ defense. The heart and soul. The glue that holds it together. He played the most snaps on defense last year -- in the NFL -- so you can easily argue that Ryans is the defense’s most important player.
But he also turns 30 this summer, is slated to make nearly $14 million over the next two seasons and doesn’t have the range in pass coverage that he once had.
If the Eagles are looking in the first round of May’s draft to find Ryans’ successor, they could feasibly pounce at the opportunity to take C.J. Mosley, an inside linebacker who played at Alabama, the same school that produced Ryans.
Daniel Jeremiah, a former Eagles scout who now serves as an analyst for the NFL Network, expects Mosley to be off the board when the Eagles pick at 22. But if he’s there, or if the Eagles trade up to land him, Mosley would fit snugly into the team’s scheme, Jeremiah said.
“C.J. Mosley is somebody who doesn’t get talked about enough,” Jeremiah said during a draft conference call hosted by the NFL Network. “We talk about guys being clean players on tape. I don’t have a lot of negatives when I watch him. I think he’s very good in coverage. I think he’s an excellent blitzer.
“But the most impressive aspect of his game is his instincts. I remember scouting DeMeco Ryans at Alabama, and that’s what set him apart was his instincts. I personally think he’s a better player than DeMeco was coming out, and DeMeco has had a nice career.”
The book on Mosley reads just like Ryans’. He’s considered a film junkie and natural leader, a defensive quarterback with an exceptional football IQ and humble. Mosley is excellent in coverage against both tight ends and pass-catching running backs.
This past season, he won the Butkus Award given to the nation’s top linebacker and shared the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award with Missouri linebacker Michael Sam.
With his athletic prowess and high character, Mosley sounds exactly like the kind of guy Chip Kelly wants leading his defense.
But let’s hold off on sending out “Save the Dates” for this potential marriage.
First, several analysts -- including Jeremiah -- believe Mosley will be drafted in the top 15 picks. Some see Mosley as an ideal middle linebacker for a 4-3 defense even though Alabama’s front more resembles the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme.
Second, and more significantly, the Eagles have a known allergy to drafting linebackers in the first round. A familiar refrain every April is the team’s 1979 selection of Jerry Robinson in the first round out of UCLA. Robinson remains the last linebacker drafted by Eagles in the first round.
Thirty four years … and counting.
Third, for whatever reason, although Alabama’s defense is annually among the nation’s best and the foundation of coach Nick Saban’s three championships with the Crimson Tide, several of its players picked in the first round lately haven’t dominated at the NFL level.
Another former Tide linebacker, Rolando McClain, went eighth overall to the Raiders in 2010. Then considered one of the best overall prospects in the entire draft, McClain managed just three seasons with Oakland before getting released.
He tried to latch on with Baltimore last year but retired abruptly after his arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
“I know there’s been recent Alabama big linebackers that haven’t played up to capability perhaps,” said NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis, who joined Jeremiah on the call. “But I don’t think that C.J. Mosley is one of those guys. I really like him a bunch.”