Could Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod become NFL’s best safety duo?

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It’s been a very long time since the Eagles last had a consistent safety tandem. The team has seen its fair share of inconsistency at the position, since the departure of Philly hero Brian Dawkins. Those days appear to be over. The Eagles not only have a solid pair of safeties, but they could have the best in the NFL.

That’s a very bold statement to make, especially with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor still playing together. But Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod have been flying under the radar. Ever since Jenkins signed with the Eagles during the 2014 offseason, he’s looked like a top five safety .

Jenkins has taken over the Eagles secondary in a relatively short space of time. He already has 189 tackles, 25 passes defended and five interceptions since joining the team just two season’s ago. He led the Eagles in tackles this past season, which followed in a Pro Bowl berth. Pro-football focus graded Jenkins as the 2nd best safety in the NFL, behind Vikings star Harrison Smith.

Rodney McLeod was an undrafted free agent who was picked up by the previous St.Louis Rams. He played majority of his rookie season on special teams, but his play didn’t go unnoticed. McLeod went into his second season as the Rams’ starting safety. In his first season as a starter, he racked up 79 tackles and two interceptions. Pretty good numbers for a guy who was undrafted, and went on to start in his 2nd season.

The Rams found a gem in Rodney McLeod. He finished his career in St.Louis with 245 tackles, 18 passes defended and seven interceptions. Pro-football focus ranked McLeod has the 5th best tackling safety last season. Overall they ranked him as the 10th best safety in the NFL (higher than Seahawks Kam Chancellor and Patriots Devin McCourty).

That gives the Eagles with two top ten rated safeties. Of course, if you take stock into PFF’s grading and statistical system. The Eagles might have their strongest safety pair, since Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis held down those spots.

Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod combined for 191 tackles last season. During the Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis tenure, neither of them combined for that many tackles in a single season. Granted, Jenkins and McLeod are yet to play together, but it’s an interesting comparison. The Quintin Mikell/Brian Dawkins tandem also fell short of that number.

The Seahawks currently have the best safety tandem in the NFL. Last season they combined for 138 tackles, but Kam Chancellor missed five games due to a holdout. Malcolm Jenkins, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have each had one season with 100+ tackles (Chancellor in ’12, Thomas in ’13 and Jenkins in ’15). Rodney McLeod’s career high is 82 tackles. We’ll see if McLeod can top 100 in a season as an Eagle, but still he’s been a consistent 70+ tackler as a three year starter.

The Eagles had a solid tandem at safety last season. Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond gelled extremely well. Especially considering the fact, it was Thurmond’s first season as an NFL safety. He handled it with great maturity and for once, Eagles fans didn’t have to be concerned about their safety tandem. Jenkins and Thurmond combined for 180 tackles last season, which is still 11 less than what Jenkins and McLeod combined for.

Many fans didn’t understand the Eagles decision to move on from Walter Thurmond. Malcolm Jenkins hoped he’d return, but understood it was a business. Thurmond later retired from the NFL at the age of 28 despite numerous contract offers.

While the absence of Thurmond is felt in the secondary, it might not be the worst thing in the world. Thurmond wasn’t a schematic fit for the aggressive system Jim Schwartz wants to implement. The Eagles moved on, pursuing Rodney McLeod heavily, and awarding him with a five year/$37.5 million dollar deal.

The Eagles also rewarded Malcolm Jenkins with a new deal this offseason..and rightly so. The 28 year old has become the heart and soul of the Eagles defense while also emerging as a true leader. The Eagles gave Jenkins a four year extension, which added with the one year he originally had left on his contract, totaled out to $40.5 million. The Seahawks have the highest paid safety duo currently, but the Eagles are closely behind them.

So what can we expect from the tandem under Jim Schwartz?  A quick look at the history books could give us a better idea. We start with the 2014 Buffalo Bills, Schwartz’s last Defensive Coordinator role. Da’Norris Searcy and Aaron Williams were the Bills starting safeties that season. The two combined for 140 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 10 passes defended and four interceptions. Obviously, those aren’t glowing numbers.

Glover Quin and Louis Delmas was Jim Schwartz’s last safety tandem he coached, as the Detroit Lions head coach in 2013. Quin and Delmas combined for 121 tackles, four sacks, 16 passes defended and six interceptions. Those numbers don’t jump off the chart at you either, but the interception total for safeties is high. Louis Delmas enjoyed success under Jim Schwartz. Both joined the Lions the same season in 2009, but Delmas has always struggled with injuries. He at one point, was also looking like a top safety in the NFL, but injuries have derailed that. He finished his tenure under Schwartz with 331 tackles, five sacks, 24 passes defended and six interceptions.

During his last two seasons as Titans defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz had Michael Griffin and Chris Hope as a safety tandem. To this date, that’s the best tandem he’s coached. During those two seasons, Hope and Griffin tallied up 256 tackles, two sacks, 29 passes defended and 16 interceptions. Those two as a duo forced so many turnovers, due in large part to the pass-rush Schwartz deploys.

Jim Schwartz has had some success in terms of safeties. Maybe not the best, but you can argue Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are the most talented duo he’s ever worked with. Schwartz has echoed himself, that the Eagles invested wisely on Jenkins and McLeod. He’s spoken highly of both their skill sets and athleticism. The Eagles Defensive Coordinator had a role in recruiting Rodney McLeod to the Eagles. We’ll see if they can develop into a top 5 duo this season, but if both continue their high level of play, there’s a chance they become the best safety duo in the NFL.

 

Photo credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

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