With the draft drawing ever closer, Howie and the Eagles are probably refining their draft boards ready for night one on Thursday. I thought it was time to bring some limelight to the prospects who could be diamonds in the rough down in rounds 5-7. I’ll be doing a series that leads up to the draft, publishing pieces based around 5 sleeper prospects at each position the Eagles should be interested in. To start the series off, I decided to list some hidden gems at safety
Tanner Muse, Clemson
The 6-foot-2 safety coming out of Clemson plays extremely well when he’s attacking downfield. He slips blocks brilliantly and possesses phenomenal hitting power. Muse also has great explosive burst to his game and can definitely take the role of a man covering both tight ends and running backs at the higher level.
During his time at Clemson, he saw a ton of snaps on special teams and that will help him take the field from day 1 in the NFL, giving him time to develop as a guy who mainly plays in the box. The main thing people like about Tanner is his leadership. Even though he wasn’t the best defender at Clemson, he took charge of his team and his teammates respected his calls and plays.
The main downside to Tanner is he won’t be a traditional safety who can pass cover a lot. He’d almost suit the NFL as a weakside linebacker. The Eagles have a weird situation right now, with their linebacker core, and adding Muse into that could be an interesting tandem, one that seems low risk, high reward.
Muse started 39 games in college and amassed a total of 59 games played in, so he’s coming into the NFL with a boatload of experience, especially for someone who’s projected to be a 6th round prospect. He may not be the traditional safety that people expect, but he could be a little wildcard in the NFL and I feel like the Eagles could be interested in that, especially in the 6th round.
Geno Stone, Iowa
Iowa’s Geno Stone is a prospect I have a little soft spot for. His football intelligence is some of the best I’ve seen in this entire draft. He knows exactly where the play is going, tracks the ball really well, and never really bites on fakes or the wrong end of an RPO play. Standing at just 5-foot-10 and weighing 210 pounds, he does his absolute best on every play and he can quite easily shed blocks due to his unbelievable toughness and aggression. He is instantly ready to play in a special teams role from day 1 and he impressed in 2019 with stats like 70 total tackles, 1 sack, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 interception.
The major issue surrounding Geno is he truly lacks the length and burst to cover the plays that he sees and this is where my soft spot comes from. He’s so good at knowing where the ball is, he just can’t get there quick enough. A lack of length and range also doesn’t pair well with the lack of burst and this really hurts his overall grade as a prospect. If he somehow managed to find a specific role in a scheme, he could really shine, maybe Howie and Schwartz have that role in their defense, especially with the departure of Malcolm Jenkins.
J.R. Reed, Georgia
Reed is my favorite out of the 5 players in this list. He’s above average at everything and that’s what makes him so likable and has the foundations to build upon and he has the potential to be a real talent in the NFL. His main skillset points towards him being a traditional strong safety – a guy who is immense at stopping the run and attacking downfield. The Eagles, in my opinion, need a strong safety on that roster and Reed makes the most sense.
There are two main issues I have with Reed; one is the fact that he doesn’t have a standout talent or ability. For example, Stone has his football IQ and anticipation, Muse has his leadership qualities and a really likable character, Reed doesn’t really have anything special about him right now. The other problem is his dip in production over his years in college. In 2017 he had 79 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 interceptions. Then in 2018, he had 66 total tackles, 1 sack, 0 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. Finally, in 2019 he only had 54 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception. His stats started to slowly decline or just stay the same, which is weird as the trend is usually the other way around.
Julian Blackmon, Utah
Julian was my first real, late-round, draft crush this year. I love him as a late-round prospect and here’s why. The Utah product started his football career as a cornerback before moving to safety later on, which gives him great experience as a pass covering safety. He would fit the Eagles pretty well with a split safety system, especially if you play him in the strong safety role. Blackmon’s tackling is superb and also has man coverage experience. He’s a versatile defender who could really develop into a 3-down defender in the NFL.
One of the main issues Blackmon has is that he hasn’t fully learned his spacing when covering certain routes as a safety, he’s still stuck in his corner mindset a little, but with time, that will iron out any issues with that. The 6-foot-1 prospect will also need breathing room to learn deep coverage roles as he never really played in that spot at Utah, but it seems he has the skillset to develop a good standard of skill in that role. His stats also flew up in 2019, he recorded 60 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions, so the production is also there.
Josh Metellus, Michigan
Josh is a prospect I have just found and instantly fell in love with. The Michigan product is one of the fiercest competitors in this draft class. His aggression, determination and effort levels are things everyone should love, especially in Philadelphia. Considering he’s only 5-foot-11, Josh loves to get as physical as possible on every play and I pretty sure he’s the only guy I’ve seen run headfirst at Alabama running back Najee Harris. Josh also has some very likable, pass coverage skills that can easily develop over time.
Unfortunately for Josh, the system in Michigan was man coverage heavy, something that doesn’t suit his style at all. Metellus struggles with fluidity in his transitions and lacks the speed to be a single high safety but he could he be a huge asset in a zone heavy system. I genuinely may cry if he signs with another team.
The 2019 season was a pretty productive one for Josh as he recorded 74 total tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions and 5 passes defended. Considering those are his stats in the worst possible system for him, I’d love to see what he would do in a system that plays to his strengths.
Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports