McLeod’s injury opens unique opportunity for Eagles rookie K’Von Wallace

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 20: Philadelphia Eagles safety K’Von Wallace (42) downs the ball on the one yard line during the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 20, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Losing Rodney McLeod to a torn ACL was a heartbreaker for the Eagles. His second in three years, the veteran Safety has endured a torrid run of luck. With depth light at the Safety position, it’s going to open a very unique opportunity.

To say McLeod had been excellent this season would be an understatement. Easily among the team’s most impactful players, he amassed 66 tackles through 13 weeks and was on pace to break through last year’s 76 total. After two years without a TFL, he registered 3 this season, to go with 7 passes defensed (career-high), a pick, and a pair of fumble recoveries.

Life after Malcolm Jenkins was never going to be easy, but McLeod went a long way in stepping into a more versatile role and somewhat negating the loss. His injury is a bitter pill for a weakened secondary to swallow, especially one that just watched Will Parks walk out the door and ball upon his return to Denver.

“I would say this about Rodney, No. 1, he’s proved that he can comeback from an injury like this.” Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. “And it’s such a gut punch when a respected player like Rodney, and who is a very productive leader for us, has had a really outstanding year; when you lose him for the game, but you also find out that you lose him for the season, everybody feels that. Increases the urgency for the guys that have to replace him. They have to step up to be able to fill those gaps, not just on a one-game basis but for a rest-of-the-week basis. 

If I know Rodney, and he’s done this before when he was injured, he stays really involved with the team. He keeps his leadership up. He did that last time. He was always active on the sidelines. He was active during practice. He was active during meetings. He found a way to contribute, even though it wasn’t going to be physically on the field. That’s the kind of guy he is. That’s the kind of leader he is. That’s why he’s been such an important part of our defense over the last five years here.”

Replacing his play on the field is one thing, but replacing his leadership is something else. That last part is vital. McLeod is contracted through 2021, but as we all know, ACL tears can often rip a huge chunk of the following season away, especially when sustained this late on into the proceedings. McLeod had to take a huge pay-cut after suffering his last season-ending injury and with the stakes now lower, the Eagles need to find a long-term option at the very least.

Marcus Epps and Rudy Ford have been perennial special teams for the Eagles thus far, with Epps growing into a more defensive role and Ford battling injury. Outside of those lie only Jalen Mills, who is on a one-year deal, and rookie K’Von Wallace who as also seen minimal defensive action thus far.

In an ideal world, Mills would be the guy to take over from McLeod. He had Safety experience at LSU and his skill-set arguably fits the mold better. But with injuries to Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox, the Eagles will likely lean on his years of CB2 experience in Philadelphia to bridge the gap.

While Marcus Epps has the most defensive experience, it makes the most sense to give the opportunity to K’Von Wallace – the only player who is guaranteed to be here next year and long beyond that.

Wallace is a physical DB who played all over the field during his time at Clemson and had the lowest missed tackle percentage of every Safety in his class

The 5’11, 199 lbs, rookie hasn’t been able to show it yet outside of a few big special teams stops, but during his senior year, he was a real difference-maker – registering a career-high 47 solo tackles, 3 TFL, 10 passes defensed, and 2 interceptions.

Interestingly, if you compare the usage of K’Von Wallace in 2019 (Clemson) to Jenkins’ last season in Philadelphia, it seems like a snug fit.

If Wallace can step up as a young playmaker and command the respect of his peers through his unrelenting work ethic, then it goes a long way in establishing himself as a leader for the long run at a position that could see plenty of change over the next two years.

It’s not like the Eagles are inundated with options, but if there’s ever a time to let young talent off the lead and give them an opportunity to develop, this is it. There’s no point burying a fourth-round pick behind former special teams aces who have struggled on defense and might never find that long-term home in the secondary.

It’s time for Schwartz to begin breeding his next remote-controlled missile.