PHILADELPHIA – Typically injuries aren’t helpful in the NFL but there could be a silver lining to Nakobe Dean’s latest foot problem for the Eagles — more playing time for Nicholas Morrow.
The Eagles were trying to serve two masters with Dean, the second-year Mike linebacker, and things were progressing in a positive fashion, something evidenced by the team’s impressive 8-1 start.
A second foot injury to Dean, diagnosed as a Lisfranc sprain according to NFL Media, will result in another trip to injured reserve and could sideline the former Georgia star for the season depending on how things progress moving forward. Dean is expected to see a foot specialist to determine a rehab plan in the coming days.
That means Morrow, 28, will again take over in the middle of the Eagles’ defense and wear the green dot.
The good news with that end game is that Morrow actually played at a higher level than Dean during his first opportunity to run the defense, resulting in a bit of a rotation once Dean got healthy.
The organization still believes Dean is the future at the position but felt Morrow’s play deserved a role, albeit a lesser one than Dean, since the former Butkus Award winner, returned on Oct. 15 against the New York Jets.
Morrow edged Dean in playing time against the Jets (36 snaps to 32) before falling back against Miami (30-19 Dean advantage) and Washington (50-27 Dean edge). Dean left at halftime in last Sunday’s win against Dallas. The disparity came despite the fact that Pro Football Focus has Morrow as the eighth-ranked off-ball linebacker in the NFL per its film study and Dean at No. 61.
Both players have similar strengths in that each has been good in run support and as blitzers, helped by playing behind the best defensive front in football, but Dean has struggled mightily in coverage, allowing 13 completions in the 14 attempts he’s been targeted for and a 102.4 opposition passer rating. Morrow hasn’t been Devin White on a heater either but has a significantly better grade in coverage than Dean.
The issue of course is pedigree.
Dean, a star on a national championship team at Georgia, was a potential first-round pick in 2022 until concerns over his size, and potential shoulder problems sent him tumbling a bit to the third round while Morrow entered the league as an undrafted safety from Division III Greenville University back in 2017 and made the transition to linebacker at the pro level.
The early penciled-in plan for the Eagles was for Morrow to flank Dean as the weakside LB.
The vet wasn’t bad in training camp but also wasn’t wowing people either, prompting Howie Roseman to bring in more accomplished veterans Zach Cunningham and Myles Jack as potential upgrades. Cunningham worked out to the point he seized the Will job and Jack retired, while Morrow didn’t even make the Eagles’ initial 53-man roster.
Only after shopping himself around the league did Morrow return to the Philadelphia practice squad and he then got his opportunity when Dean suffered his first foot injury against New England in the season opener.
Since then it seems as if the Philadelphia presumption was the other shoe would ultimately drop for Morrow and now the hope has to be the original evaluation was off base.