Why the Philadelphia Eagles drafted a safety to play linebacker
For Gerry, enduring changes is nothing new. But the transition he’ll attempt to make over the next few months might leave a larger impact than previous ones — it might dictate the fate of his NFL career.
Moments after the Eagles drafted Gerry, a safety at Nebraska, they announced him as a linebacker, launching fans and media members into confusion. Gerry said he wasn’t surprised, though. He played a bit of linebacker as a freshman in college while the Cornhuskers tried to bolster a thin position group, and several teams broached the idea of sliding Gerry out of the secondary during the pre-draft process.
“A good handful of teams mentioned it to me,” Gerry said on a conference call Saturday, shortly after the Eagles drafted him with the 184th overall selection. “It’s the versatility that I had — like I said, freshman year I was playing linebacker because we had a lack of depth there, so just being able to play multiple roles is kind of what benefitted me and is why the Eagles picked me.”
The Eagles confirmed that: Gerry’s flexibility on defensive did play a part in their decision to draft him.
But the selection of the former Nebraska defensive back also marked a slight shift in the Birds’ drafting pattern. With its first six selections, Philadelphia mostly nabbed players who fit into specific roles — an edge rusher like Derek Barnett, a deep-threat receiver like Shelton Gibson or a shifty running back like Donnel Pumphrey — who own underwhelming measurables.
Those early draft choices suggested the Birds were valuing fit and college production over pure athleticism. With Gerry, though, the Eagles added a former South Dakota high school sprinting champion with an eye-opening physique.
The first sentence of strengths listed on Gerry’s NFL.com draft profile simply read: “Chiseled from granite.”
Gerry was a first-team all-Big Ten safety last season, but the Eagles drafted Gerry because of his burst and strength. The idea was to bring a pure athlete into the fold.
“To me, he wasn’t just a safety that could play down in the box,” vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “He was an athletic guy that could range all over the field, and I think you’re going to see that range even more so at the linebacker position.”
The Eagles probably could use more help at linebacker than safety, especially if they engineer a trade involving Mychal Kendricks. The 6-foot-2, 218 pounds is a touch small for an NFL linebacker, but he said he thinks he’ll only to need to add a few pounds to play the position.
And the Birds, Gerry said, made clear their vision of shifting him to linebacker before the draft. Gerry met with the Eagles at the Senior Bowl and combine, where he talked with defensive backs coach Cory Undlin and linebackers coach Ken Flajole, he said.
“They just kind of wanted to see how I saw things on my defense and how I kind of ran things in my defense [at Nebraska],” Gerry said. “Then I met with the linebacker coach. Then he kind of just kept drawing up plays to see if I was capable of learning linebacker stuff.”
The Eagles must have liked what they saw and heard from Gerry. At the least, they were impressed enough to pad their linebacking depth by adding a safety.
Said Douglas: “The reason I would say that he could convert [from] safety [to] linebacker is, I think, the mental toughness, the physicality that he plays with.”
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