Zech McPhearson is an Eagles underdog to keep an eye on in 2023

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 a couple of years flying under the radar, we might finally start to see Zech McPhearson featuring regularly on the Eagles defense

It feels like only yesterday that Eagles fans were forced to endure sub-par cornerback play on a weekly basis. Whether it was due to a schematic exploit or a lack of talent (usually a combination of the two) Philly just couldn’t seem to get it right. That has changed over the past couple of seasons with the team now inundated with developmental talent to grow behind a trio of dominant starters. One of those younger players has flown massively under the radar since being drafted, but that could all be about to change.

Who is Zech McPhearson?

Zech McPhearson was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. At the time, many viewed the Texas Tech product as a devout slot corner due to his smaller 5’11 frame. For some reason, the Eagles insisted on trialing McPhearson outside, which ended in a preseason humbling against the Patriots and a real lack of development.

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UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – APRIL 21: Penn State CB Zech McPhearson (14) knocks down a pass to WR Brandon Polk (10) during the Spring Football Game on April 21, 2018 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Over the next two years, McPhearson would predominantly feature in a depth role on the outside, filling in when the starters picked up a knock. He held his own for the most part, but was beaten pretty badly on a few occasions. What he did consistently flash was strong tackling ability, which as a natural nickel, should’ve been obvious when looking at his college tape.

Fast forward to 2023 and the Eagles do now have some solid depth outside. Kelee Ringo was drafted this past offseason while former UDFA Josh Jobe has been joined by the likes of Greedy Williams. This has meant that the Eagles can afford to move Zech McPhearson back to his natural role.

A new era in the Eagles secondary

The young corner started his transition to the nickel during OTA’s, working with the second-team defense. But while Avonte Maddox has been out rehabbing a toe injury during the opening week of Training Camp, it’s been McPheason working with the first team which is imperative for his growth.

“He’s learning a lot.” Avonte Maddox said of his teammate. “I mean every day he got questions and I got answers. Zech is doing pretty good in the slot and I feel like he was able to play the slot when he was back in college. I’m excited to see what he can do. He keeps growing. He’s definitely improving.”

It’s worth noting that Avonte Maddox has played in just 16 games once throughout his entire career. Having a viable backup waiting in the wings to tag in and make an impact is definitely something the defense could benefit from.

What does the future hold?

Zech McPhearson has very much become the forgotten son of this Eagles defense. Once a mid-round Draft pick and an assumed heir to the nickel throne, a strong starting trio capped his breakout. It was hard to foresee Avonte Maddox balling out the way he did to earn a shiny new contract, but his injury concerns remain and he only has two years left on his deal.

We may not see Zech McPhearson emerge onto the starting scene anytime soon, but he’ll have at least a full year working with Ronell Williams, a dedicated nickel DB coach who served under Sean Desai in Chicago, to be molded into the prototypical corner for this system. Provided that Zech McPhearson can make the most of his time with the first team and under the guidance of Williams, he could take a real step forward this year.

When Maddox heads into his contract year, there’s a strong chance that there is a positional battle between the two when it comes to finding a long-term option for the team to hang its hat on.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire