Which Eagles will Benefit the most from Jonathan Gannon’s Defense?

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)

Rodney McLeod

Perennially underrated, McLeod finally had his chance to shine as the feature safety for the Eagles defense last season. As a whole, the season did not go as planned, but it was certainly not Rodney’s fault. The new head of the Philadelphia secondary was having a great season before it was derailed by injury.

So, where is the room for improvement? Well, as good as McLeod is, there are a few aspects to his game that aren’t top tier. Although he’s not a slow safety by any means, he’s sometimes limited by the fact that he doesn’t have true sideline-to-sideline presence. Also, although he’s more than willing, he’s not a major factor in the run game.

To the first point, everything indicates a more frequent use of two high safeties in Gannon’s scheme. That allows Rodney to cut the field in half and really dominate his side of the field. His already impressive coverage skills will only stand to benefit. Add that to the uptick in disguised coverages and pre-snap movement, McLeod really has an opportunity to showcase his football IQ. This defense is going to play mind-games with opposing quarterbacks and Rodney will be at the heart of that.

To the second point, Gannon has stressed over and over again that this defense will cater to what each player does well. I don’t foresee Rodney being the go-to box safety with so many capable parties on the roster. Obviously, that isn’t much of a change from last season. However, with added gap responsibilities for the defensive line, there will be less times where McLeod is the second line of defense — something we saw often in Jim Schwartz’ scheme. I imagine the safeties will play more of a stop gap role in the run game this season. If not fantastic, Rodney is a serviceable run stopper in a pinch. Plus, now there’s two guys back there to deal with any leaks.

K’Von Wallace

I’ve said before that I think Wallace is still about a year away from being a feature part of this defense. That could easily change with a promising start to the season. It’s difficult to imagine how K’Von Wallace becomes a full time starter in 2021 unless the defense opts to maintain a heavy use of the box safety. As a rotational feature, there aren’t many players that have such a fantastic opportunity for growth in this scheme.

Simply put, there aren’t many things that K’Von can’t do. He’s that versatile piece that a defensive mind like Gannon dreams of. He moved all over the field in college, especially in nickel and dime formations. He’s a fantastic blitzer, a strong tackler and an edgy playmaker that adds that much needed toughness that makes receivers second guess catching a ball over the middle.

Does he have a cemented position on this defense? No, but that may be entirely the point. If nothing else, having K’Von on the field throws some unique wrinkles at opposing offences. Having a wide array of disguises and bluffs will only add to Wallace’s ability to capitalize on his downhill playstyle.

It will all come down to how quickly he can grasp the playbook. I still have some questions about how instinctual of a player K’Von is and how much he will grow with the mental side of the game. Gannon mentioned time and time again that the language of his defense is meant to be simple to understand but multiple in its applications. I think that bodes well for a second year player like Wallace — who is attempting to memorize his third playbook in that many years.

If he can put it all together, lookout 2021. Beyond that, what a massive boon to his development that versatility will provide. He may not be a starter this season, but if he can prove himself capable in his second year — the sky is the limit for his development going forward.

Alex Singleton

A PSN favorite, after so many misses, Eagles LB Alex Singleton has proven himself as one of those players we got right. In Gannon’s defense he ticks all the boxes, and he knows it. His football IQ is through the roof and still developing and he’s shown a real thirst for knowledge in the first few interviews I’ve seen of him this season. Simply put, that’s a coaches dream.

With his size, speed and coverage skills Singleton fits well as a scheme diverse plug and play player in pretty much every concept Gannon will want to deploy. His hustle and heart are second to none, which again bodes well for his playtime on this team. This coaching staff will love his ability to fly to the football and rack up tackles. He should be able to play all three linebacker positions in this defense, which essentially guarantees him a spot on the field.

I mean, we already knew this about Singleton — I’m not saying anything revolutionary. Also, to avoid being a homer, there is a reason he only had a PFF grade of 58.9 last season. Coming from the CFL, then from the practice squad — Singleton is still learning how to play LB in the NFL. He’s not spectacularly athletic and his upside might not be as high as some other young ‘backers on this roster. Although, it should be said that we saw his numbers and grades steadily increase as the season went on.

However, it is his ability to do everything and anything asked of him is a massive boost to his potential in this defense. On a team that wants to make opponents earn every yard by staying disciplined and throwing a myriad of looks at opposing quarterbacks, Singleton fits the ticket. Although he may not get the league-wide respect he deserves, I know that by the end of the season Eagles fans will know how truly valuable he is to this defense.

I know the coaching staff isn’t supposed to pick favorites, but something about me just knows that Singleton is exactly what Gannon wants in a new-look Eagles linebacker.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire