Eagles analysis

How much can Eagles rely on Nakobe Dean in 2024?

The Eagles are still high on Nakobe Dean but after an injury-riddled season, how much can they rely on him in 2024?

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Nakobe Dean is set to enter Year 3 of his NFL career in 2024 and we still haven’t seen very much of him.

Dean, 23, barely played on defense as a rookie and then his first year as a starter last season was cut drastically short thanks to a couple of foot injuries.

It wasn’t that long ago that Dean was considered by many to be the steal of the draft when the Eagles took him in the third round (No. 83 overall) out of Georgia back in 2022. Dean was the MIKE linebacker and defensive leader for the National Championship Bulldogs, after all.

But it seems like all that excitement about Dean has seemingly worn thin as he enters Year 3.

Have people forgotten about him?

“I don’t know,” Dean said this spring. “I ain’t really been listening to them. If they have, then it is what it is. I know I’ve been out so sight, out of mind because of the injury. I’m here now.”

Dean had surgery during last season but said he was out of his walking boot by early February and has been working toward a full recovery. Last month, Dean said he was getting close to being 100 percent healthy. And that’s obviously the biggest and most important step for the young linebacker.

But how much can the Eagles rely on Dean in 2024?

It’s a fair question. Because in 2023, it seemed like the Eagles were expecting Dean to be their top linebacker and things obviously didn’t work out like that. Perhaps, they put too many eggs in that basket. Thanks to Dean’s injury, the Eagles ended up playing Zach Cunningham and Nicholas Morrow for most of the season. Morrow was the starting MIKE in Dean’s absence.

The Eagles will have a new-look linebacker group for new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in 2024. Morrow left in free agency to join the Bills, while Cunningham remains unsigned. The Eagles signed Devin White and Oren Burks in free agency and then drafted Jeremiah Trotter Jr. in the fifth round.

But before those moves this offseason, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman made sure to say publicly that the team still believes in Dean.

“I have a lot of belief, and I know Coach (Nick Sirianni) does, as well, in Nakobe Dean,” Roseman said at his year-end press conference in January. “I believe in the player. I believe in the person.

“We lost two linebackers at that spot, two good players from our Super Bowl team and we had Nakobe waiting in the wings. We drafted him for that role. Obviously, it didn’t work out perfectly for him this year. That doesn’t change the belief we have in the player.”

During the Super Bowl season, the Eagles started T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White and since both stayed healthy and the team was on a roll, there wasn’t much playing time left for Dean under Jonathan Gannon. But then last offseason, Edwards and White left as free agents, opening the door for Dean to become the team’s starting MIKE linebacker.

He began the season with the green dot — he played in 5 games with 30 tackles, 2 TFLs and 1 QB hit — but it didn’t take long before he was dealing with the first really serious injury of his football career. Despite his smaller frame (5-11, 231) Dean was able to avoid major injury during his time with Georgia. So this was a new experience for him last season.

“The mental side is always hard,” Dean said this spring. “We talk about having a dawg mentality all the time. I feel like it starts with being mentally strong. I’m an optimistic realist. I’m always real about my situation but I’m always optimistic. The only thing I gotta do is continue to work and it’ll take care of itself.”

As the Eagles begin OTAs this week, there is going to be competition at the linebacker position. Dean, White, Trotter Jr., Burks and Ben VanSumeren, among others, will all be competing for roster spots and roles in the defense.

During his five seasons in Tampa, White was the Buccaneers’ starting middle linebacker with the green dot on his helmet. The Eagles gave him a one-year, $4 million contract (worth up to $7.5 million) — a relatively significant investment at the linebacker position given the Eagles’ history. So if White is the starting MIKE, then Dean might have to move to the WILL in 2024. Dean said he’d be fine with that.

“We don’t know,” Dean said. “We haven’t talked ball. But we’re open to anything. We’re open to play ball. The type of guys we go this year, I know Devin. We all dawgs. So whatever they put on our plate, we’re going to eat.”

Dean has known White for several years. In fact, White tried to recruit Dean to LSU back in 2019. That was before Dean ended up at Georgia and before White was drafted in the first round. Both players had disappointing 2023 seasons and are hoping to turn things around in 2024.

The Eagles are using their spring practices and workouts as a chance to build their team connection. But it’s also a chance to learn a new defense under Fangio, who is Dean’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons in the NFL.

“I’m just excited to see how he plans on using us,” Dean said.

And plenty of people are excited to see if Dean can finally live up to his potential.

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