PHILADELPHIA ( - While it isn't college ball just yet the NFL is becoming more and more of a spread-offense league where 11 personnel rules the land and nickel backs are now starters from a repetition standpoint.

The ability to cover has never been more important in the back seven of a professional defense and that has spawned the hybrid player, often a king-sized safety in college dropped down to play linebacker in the NFL.

The best and most successful examples of those types of players to date are Arizona's Deone Bucannon as well as the Los Angeles Rams' Mark Barron and Carolina's Shaq Thompson.

It's still rare to find the kind of athlete who can pull off the role but the Eagles may have found one in the fifth-round of the NFL Draft with Nebraska safety Nate Gerry, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound prospect the organization plans to move to linebacker.

"A good handful of teams mentioned (a potential move) to me," Gerry said during his introductory conference call on Saturday, shortly after being selected with the 184th overall pick. "It's the versatility that I had. 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 benefited me and is why the Eagles picked me."

For now, Gerry figures to start as a coverage standout on Dave Fipp's special teams units but with Nigel Bradham's contract set to expire after the 2017 season, it's not hard to picture Gerry as a potential nickel linebacker next to Jordan Hicks if the former Nebraska standout develops the way the Eagles hope.

"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."

Gerry first showed up on the Eagles' radar at the Senior Bowl as well as the NFL Combine where he got to meet both linebackers coach Ken Flajole and defensive backs mentor Cory Undlin, perhaps another foreshadowing of a unique role.

"They just kind of wanted to see how I saw things on my defense and how I kind of ran things in my defense (with the Cornhuskers)," 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 answer to that was obviously yes.

Former Nebraska running back Damon Benning, co-host of Sharp & Benning in the morning in Omaha as well as an analyst for Big Ten Network, believes the Eagles got a diamond in the rough.

"If he's focused and kind of dialed in you're getting a good one," Benning told "He's plenty good when he's committed."

-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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