Although most people expect the Eagles to look for an offensive lineman or a corner in the first round, the linebacker position is still a direction the team could go. Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims, and Omar Gaither are scheduled to be free agents, so the team will need to add some depth to the position at some point.
Although the Eagles aren’t known for using high picks to draft linebackers, this could possibly be the year they look for an impact player at the position in the first round. One player that they could possibly pursue is Akeem Ayers out of UCLA.
Ayers, a 6-4 255 pound outside linebacker, has been rated differently by the ‘experts,’ but will be drafted somewhere in the first round.
I think he’s particularly attractive to a team like the Eagles because of his versatility. Ayers is able to line up all over the field and has proven the ability to lineup as a defensive end just as effectively as an outside linebacker. Hybrid-type players like this have always been an attraction to the Eagles, although they typically haven’t turned out as the Eagles intended.
Ayers would thrive best in a 3-4 scheme that allowed him to blitz often, but I think he has plenty of athleticism to play on the outside in a 4-3 scheme.
With Juan Castillo taking over the Eagles defense, there is still some question as to what the play calling for the defense will look like. If the team plans to be aggressive and really try to get after the quarterback often (like the Jim Johnson days), a guy like Ayers might be a great fit for the Eagles.
Although people were disappointed by his 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, I like what I’ve seen out of Ayers on the field in terms of closing on plays. When he rushes off the edge, he prefers to go with a speed rush rather then trying to run through a lineman. He does this effectively, and also uses his speed to run down plays that go away from where he’s lined up.
One thing that worries me a bit about Ayers is how he’d hold up in coverage. This isn’t something I saw him do a whole lot at UCLA, mainly because I think he wasn’t asked to very often. As I’ve said, he’s very athletic, but it takes more then just a good athlete to run with a talented tight end.
Overall, Ayers is a player that I really like because of the amount of versatility he possesses. He’s a good mixture of size and speed that can attack the quarterback as well as defend the run.
Check out the highlights below of Ayers during his 2010 season at UCLA.