The NFL Draft is rapidly approaching, which means it’s mock draft season. Reports, meetings and rumors run riot as teams frantically make the final preparations ahead of this year’s event that’s being held in Dallas. For the defending Super Bowl champions, who they choose at 32 will carry tremendous weight. The team currently don’t have a pick on day two of the NFL Draft, meaning that the importance of finding a potential franchise talent in the tail end of round one is crucial. So which direction will the Eagles go? This series examines all possibilities and the reasons why the team may or may not want to place all their chips on investing in that particular position.
Current players on the roster:
Let’s start this off with some hard-hitting facts, because it’s fitting for such an impactful safety. Malcolm Jenkins is a defensive cornerstone on this team and has been since he signed with the Eagles on the first day of free agency back in 2014. With 76 tackles in 2017, Jenkins once again emerged as the heartbeat of the team and leader of the secondary. Stunningly, he did this by playing inside the box, over the top and even the nickel. His snaps were distributed among those roles so much that the 30-year old veteran became a ‘jack-of-all-trades’.
The beauty was that with Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins helping over the top, Jenkins could play wherever Schwartz deemed him most dangerous. Rushing the passer, picking up tight ends or delivering shattering hits, Jenkins did it all thanks to the depth around him. A key point to bear in mind moving forward.
McLeod’s second season as an Eagle was slightly inconsistent. Some big mistakes were followed by even bigger performances, with the thunderous safety delivering a stern blow on the back end and setting the tone. His 54 tackles and 3 interceptions helped the Eagles secondary really come alive in clutch situations.
Some have hinted that McLeod could be traded, but as of right now, the team have two very reliable long-term options to start at Safety with different skill sets. It would be questionable to jeopardize that, but should a shock trade occur, it would very much be the catalyst in this case.
His year may have ended on IR, but Maragos is a key piece here as the team’s special teams captain. It’s highly unlikely that Maragos goes anywhere this offseason as his long tenure with the Eagles and their incredible special teams unit continues.
Sullivan was a Training Camp standout who simply lost out to overcrowding at the position. The UDFA out of Shepherd flashed plenty of promise in his final season for the team, recording 74 tackles (53 solo), 2 INTs, 9 PDs and 3 blocked kicks. It remains to be seen if he can step up this season, but don’t write him out of a depth role just yet.
Jaylen Watkins (?):
The tackling of Watkins has been incredibly fun to watch develop over the years and Watkins is coming off of his strongest season yet. A restricted free agent, Watkins is meeting with other teams, but the Birds’ could match any offer that an opponent hands in. So the question is, how much do the Eagles value a versatile safety who could help as a safety or a cornerback if needed?
Why should the team invest?
It comes down to this. The success of the Eagles Safeties relies on one of the best in the business, Malcolm Jenkins, being able to do his thing. Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins allowed Jenkins to fly around the field acting as a remote controlled rocket under the guidance of Jim Schwartz. This works exceptionally well and it’s a role the Eagles have looked to really develop over the last two seasons, just look at Nate Gerry.
The Nebraska Safety was drafted as a hybrid player in the vein of Kurt Coleman and while he wasn’t quite at the level to become a designated ‘inside the box’ safety, he did earn his niche through special teams and find defensive opportunity.
If the Eagles want to keep moving Jenkins around, losing Graham and (more than likely) Watkins is going to sting. With Just McLeod over the top, the team need a running-mate for their highly touted safety.
Then, there’s the second conundrum thanks to Patrick Robinson. The league’s best nickel cornerback was snapped up by his former team leaving the Eagles with a puzzle in the defensive backfield once again. Of course, one option would be to have Malcolm Jenkins fill in that role as he gracefully did for Ron Brooks in 2016, but it then leaves them short-handed over the top. A versatile safety who can contribute in every facet of the secondary gives the Eagles some much needed optionality, creating a variety of threats in a similar mold of their offensive line.
Perhaps the most popular name you’ll hear linked with the Eagles, Stanford’s Justin Reid ticks every single box the Eagles need. A versatile safety who pops off the screen as a lethal hitter with a surprising amount of awareness sees Reid emerge as one of the draft’s most coveted Safety talents. An AP All-American selection in 2017, Reid started in 11 games, compiling 99 tackles, 5 interceptions and 6 passes defensed. I don’t want to dive ‘too‘ much into into his strengths and weaknesses as that would spoil the fun of a Film Room piece, but he plays the game at a lightning speed and incredible IQ. Reid could come in and make an impact on day-one for the Eagles, with his physicality and ballhawk tendencies drawing plenty of similarities to his older brother, Eric Reid.
One of my several draft crushes (of whom we will also have an EXCLUSIVE interview with), Harrison is a product of Nick Saban’s defense, which should tell you all you need to know.
Harrison was named to the second-team All-SEC after posting 74 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. He has all the intangibles an NFL defense could ask for. Standing at 6’3″, weighing 214 pounds, Harrison is one of the bigger safeties in this year’s Draft class.
What is the difference between a good safety and a great one? As the last line of defense, you’re expected to have the upmost composure, complete command of the defense and a willingness to risk it all to save the day. Ronnie Harrison PERSONIFIES those traits. His tackling angles, positioning, ability to narrow the field is just remarkable. There is no questioning Harrison’s potential and when you factor in his accolades while at Bama, the rest speaks for itself.
The added spice:
I’ve spoken to two safety prospects over the last few weeks and a few other sources along the way. The strange thread that connects them all is that the Eagles are showing heavy interest in adding depth to the safety position. There is a tremendous amount of value in the later rounds, with players such as Auburn’s Tray Matthews, (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW HERE), Wake Forest’s Jessie Bates, and Longhorn breakout master DeShon Elliott all available in the heart of the NFL draft and beyond. But one prospect told me that when talking with a member of the organization, they stated that ‘we need two good safeties back there’. Now to me, that doesn’t imply the shock value “OH MY WORD, THE EAGLES ARE TRADING SOMEONE”. Instead, it tells me that Malcolm Jenkins did not spend the majority of his snaps playing over the top. The team need someone to partner Rodney McLeod to allow Jenkins to do his thing and maybe even fill his boots when the time comes. Either way, the Eagles are red-hot on Safeties and from what I’ve been told and have been able to dig up, I would not be surprised to see them take the plunge in round one.
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