Zech McPhearson’s growth was on full display in week 4

PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 12: Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Zech McPhearson (27) looks on during the preseason game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 12, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

After running down the field in kickoff coverage at the start of the Philadelphia Eagles‘ rainy Week 4 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Zech McPhearson took his usual spot on the sidelines as Jonathan Gannon’s defense prepared to slow down Doug Pederson, Trevor Lawrence, and company. Now for McPhearson, this is nothing new; currently slotted in as the Birds’ third outside cornerback behind Darius Slay and James Bradberry, McPhearson plays most of his snaps on special teams, with only the occasional effort on the defensive side of the ball.

But in the NFL, things can change in a hurry, and after just three snaps, Slay saw his afternoon come to an end with an arm injury.

This, understandably, was less than ideal, as Slay is a perennial Pro Bowler who made Justin Jefferson look downright goofy in Week 2’s edition of Monday Night Football, but the injury did provide a golden opportunity for Gannon to evaluate the play of the second-year Texas Tech product and see how his mettle held up against a much-improved receiving corps headlined by Tim Jones, Christian Kirk, and Marvin Jones.

Fortunately, McPhearson showed up, showed out, and played fairly well for himself, which, considering his efforts on the field so far this season, isn’t too surprising.

Zech McPhearson has checked all of the boxes for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Since making his debut in Week 1, in an effort that won him the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, McPhearson has played 72 snaps on defense and 73 snaps on special teams. He’s been targeted five times in coverage, allowing just two catches for 31 yards, and hasn’t surrendered a single touchdown for his efforts over 46 snaps in pass coverage. That’s impressive stuff, but when you consider that all 31 of McPhearson’s yards came through the air, without a single yard surrendered after the catch, and he allowed a passer rating of 61.3 to opposing quarterbacks when targeted – according to Pro Football Focus – it becomes all the more so.

And yet, the most impressive part of McPhearson’s game in Week 4 wasn’t any individual stats or any specific play but how gosh darn unmemorable McPhearson’s 44 snaps in Week 4 proved to be. He didn’t allow any deep receptions, didn’t miss a tackle in the red zone like Josiah Scott, and actually, didn’t miss a tackle, period, a streak he’s kept up all season long, according to Pro Football Reference. His play was remarkable, he filled Slay’s shoes without a notable downgrade in production, and even as Pederson and company attempted to challenge his side of the field, Gannon was able to keep his second-year cornerback in an advantageous situation against an ascending passing offense.

Is McPhearson ready to take over for Slay for good? No; Slay is still one of the best playmaking cornerbacks in the NFL, and at 31, he’s not exactly at the end of his career. And yet, if McPhearson continues to play at the level he showcased in Week 4, there’s little reason to believe he couldn’t eventually become a full-time CB2 at some point down the line, be that opposite Slay, Bradberry, or a first-round cornerback drafted in the future. Considering the Eagles’ track record with drafting and developing cornerbacks, that is unquestionably a win.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire