Eagles may find it harder to replace Steven Nelson than Rodney McLeod

NFL: NOV 07 Chargers at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 07: Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Steven Nelson (3) looks on after the game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles on November 07, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

With the news that Steven Nelson has officially left the Eagles for the Houston Texans, Philadelphia has officially had another need on the roster open up.

Saying goodbye to Steven Nelson

No one was surprised when Nelson left in FA. The seven-year corner signed a one-year “prove it” deal with the team and played pretty well. Outside of the scheme, the Eagles’ secondary enjoyed one of their better overall years last year and Nelson was a big part of that. Securing the #2 corner role opposite Darius Slay, Nelson was more than up for the challenge putting an above-average 62 rating per Pro Football Focus.

As free agency has continued, the Eagles have now lost their best safety and #2 corner – Two positions of desperate need in Jonathan Gannon’s scheme. But when you look at the way the roster is constructed now, the Eagles will clearly miss Steven Nelson more so than locker room leader, Rodney McLeod.

Marcus Epps vs. Zech McPhearson

From a strictly on the field perspective, it comes down to who do you trust more: Marcus Epps to replace McLeod or one of either Tay Gowan, or second-year nickel corner Zech McPhearson to replace Nelson?

It really is a no-brainer. Epps hasn’t gotten the same amount of snaps, but he was able to step up in key moments last season when the team desperately need him. Epps graded an extremely high 73 by PFF, while McPhearson, admittedly with less time, graded out in the mid 60’s.

This is not to say McPhearson can’t, or won’t be a better player than he showed last season…but Gowan is similarly inexperienced and there isn’t another viable CB2 candidate. Epps is in a prime position to show the team that he can be a high-quality starting safety. McPhearson came in as a project corner and can certainly take positive steps, but nowhere near the level Epps can, at least in the immediate future.

Darius Slay Factor

Many people might argue in saying that we are judging McPhearson too harshly. And you know what? You might be right. But those same people neglect to take the Darius Slay factor into effect.

Darius Slay is an All-Pro corner coming off an excellent season. With a true lockdown corner on the roster, the #2 corner is going to be picked on far more than the safety position.

McPhearson might end up being a very good player in his career, but is he capable of taking the brunt of QB’s attention? That remains to be seen, eat least on the outside, and a proven #2 option, or better rookie player, might be a better option for the Eagles.

Epps on the other hand has shown he can be very good in coverage alongside Darius Slay. He won’t get picked on nearly as much as McPhearson would if they both end up starting this year. And even if he is, Epps is far more prepared to face that attention than McPhearson is right now.

The Philadelphia Eagles have needs at both safety and #2 corner heading into the draft. With a number of top options still available in free agency, the team is in a good position to solve those weaknesses no matter what by the time training camp rolls around. And while the loss of McLeod is huge from an off-the-field and leadership purpose, the loss of Steven Nelson is far greater on the football field.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire