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Evaluating the Eagles: Part 10, Safeties

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Can Earl Wolff stay healthy and on the field longer in 2014? Will the Eagles re-sign Nate Allen? Is Patrick Chung going to be cut? Let's take a look.

This is part 10 of an 11 part series, this part will focus specifically on the safeties on the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles and how the team can improve heading into the 2014 season. Each part will focus on a specific positional group with 11 in all (QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DL, ILB, OLB, CB, S and ST [K, P, KR and PR]). Now let's talk Eagles' safeties.

2013 Eagles' Safeties: Nate Allen, Patrick Chung and Earl Wolff. (Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson and Keelan Johnson will also be discussed briefly)

How'd they do?

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Nate Allen: Ranked #49 overall safety according to Pro Football Focus. 1 sack, 5 QB hurries, 72 solo tackles, 15 assisted tackles, 7 missed tackles and 14 stops in 1,200 total snaps according to PFF.

In coverage, Allen allowed 36 receptions on 50 targets (72.0 completion %) with 2 touchdowns, giving up an average of 8.3 yards per catch when he was targeted. He also had 1 interception and 3 passes defended according to PFF.

Although many fans were calling for Nate Allen to be cut after a downright awful 2012 season, he had a solid season in 2013. Allen was rated the #84 overall safety in the NFL according to PFF in 2012, that was fifth worst in the entire league. But Allen played much better in 2013 and was easily the Eagles' best safety.

Even though that's not much of an accomplishment given the Eagles' awful situation at safety, Allen surprised a lot of fans. He was finally allowed to stay back and patrol the field from his safety spot. He didn't have to worry about filling in the gaps of the wide-9 or coming up to support against the run all the time.

For the first time in his career, Allen looked comfortable in a defensive scheme. Before 2013, he was very inconsistent and struggled week in and week out. 2013 was a different story and Allen has praised defensive coordinator Billy Davis. Although he struggled in coverage, Allen was consistently solid against the run and did a good job when he was asked to blitz as well. It is especially impressive how well Allen played throughout the season given the fact that he played 1,126 snaps in the regular season, fourth most for a safety in the NFL according to PFF.

Allen is set to be a free agent in 2014 but I believe the Eagles should and will look to bring him back for the long term. He looked comfortable in Davis' system and should improve if he's given more time.

Overall Grade: B+. Although he struggled in coverage, Allen was the steadying force at safety for the Eagles and never really stood out as a weakness which was nice to see. Hopefully Allen is back in 2014 and can battle to keep his starting job.

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Patrick Chung: Ranked #71 overall safety according to Pro Football Focus. 3 QB hurries, 48 solo tackles, 8 assisted tackles, 13 missed tackles and 7 stops in 815 total snaps according to PFF.

In coverage, Chung allowed 18 receptions on 33 targets (54.5 completion %) with 5 touchdowns, giving up an average of 18.8 yards per catch when he was targeted. He also had 3 passes defended according to PFF.

When the Eagles signed Patrick Chung in the offseason, many believed it was a low-risk move that allowed the team to kick the tires on Chung. He fell out of the rotation in New England and sadly the Eagles ultimately found out why. Patrick Chung is awful, just terrible.

He actually looked decent in preseason but that's about it. Chung battled injuries throughout the season, causing him to miss four games but that didn't excuse him for being as bad as he was on the field. He allowed 5 touchdowns in coverage which is terrible considering he didn't even play a full season worth of snaps. Had he played more snaps, that number would've likely been even higher.

Chung wasn't that good against the run either, struggling to wrap up and tackle, finishing the season with 13 missed tackles according to PFF. He was ranked #71 overall safety out of 86 total players for a reason, he was terrible in 2013 and shouldn't be on the roster in 2014.

The Eagles can cut him to save around $3 million in cap space and I fully expect them to do so. He is a waste of space and there is only one reason he could possibly stay on the roster. That would be to use his Oregon ties to lure in his former college teammate Jairus Byrd in free agency. But that's about the extent of Chung's usefulness, that's not a very good thing either.

Overall Grade: F. Chung was a complete waste of a signing in 2013. He was awful in practically every aspect of the game and a huge reason why the Eagles' defense gave up as many passing yards as they did last season. Hopefully he isn't on the roster next season.

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Earl Wolff: Ranked #54 overall safety according to Pro Football Focus. 2 QB hits, 3 QB hurries, 1 batted pass, 36 solo tackles, 9 assisted tackles, 4 missed tackles and 6 stops in 538 total snaps according to PFF.

In Coverage, Wolff allowed 20 receptions on 30 targets (66.7 completion %) with 2 touchdowns, giving up an average of 16.7 yards per catch when he was targeted. He also had 1 interception and 1 pass defended according to PFF.

When the Eagles drafted Earl Wolff in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, many fans didn't really know much about him. But after watching highlight tapes and all that jazz, Eagles' fans believed he was "the next Dawkins", like they do with every safety. Wolff is a very physical player that isn't afraid to lay the wood. He has an impressive build and is a versatile player.

After an impressive preseason, many fans were pushing for Wolff to be the starter opposite of Nate Allen but the Eagles' coaching staff preferred a three player rotation at safety. Wolff battled injuries throughout the season, forcing him to miss six games during the regular season. When he was on the field, Wolff was very up and down but that is expected of a first-year player.

He showed some potential, especially when he was playing close to the line of scrimmage. I believe Wolff is better off as an "in the box" safety where he doesn't have to drop back in coverage much and is more worried about finding the ball and making a play. Wolff struggled to start the season but had two very impressive games against the Dallas Cowboys in week 7 and against the Oakland Raiders in week 9. He looked great in coverage in those two games and hopefully he can build on those performances for the 204 season.

I believe Wolff will be battling for a starting safety job for the Eagles in 2014, but health is a major concern. He couldn't stay on the field in 2013 and hopefully that changes next season and the Eagles will be able to see him in action for a full year.

Overall Grade: C. Wolff looked solid when he was on the field, especially as the season progressed but injuries are a huge concern. He has to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent over the course of an entire season.

What's next?

The Eagles currently have Keelan Johnson on their roster and they signed him as an undrafted free agent to their practice squad after the Miami Dolphins released him. Johnson hasn't seen the field in the NFL but was a promising player at Arizona State in college. I believe he'll get a chance to earn a reserve role on the Eagles' roster in 2014.

Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman are both set to be free agents and likely won't be back with the Eagles in 2014. Anderson is a very good special teams player but has struggled a ton when actually forced to play safety. Coleman has starting experience and is a solid special teams contributor. But he isn't an adequate back-up and someone you could rely on to step up if someone goes down.

Safety is by far the Eagles biggest need on their roster with only three safeties currently under contract for the 2014 season. Wolff is promising, Chung is awful and Johnson hasn't even seen any playing time yet. The Eagles should address safety in both free agency and the draft, and I strongly believe they will.

Free Agency:

The Eagles have a ton of cap space with nearly $25 million to spend in free agency. I'm not sure they will go after the big name free agents but they definitely should try, Here are a couple of names Philadelphia can target in free agency.

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Former Buffalo Bill Jairus Byrd might be the biggest name in free agency, especially at safety. Although he won't come at a cheap price, Byrd is exactly what the Eagles need. He is arguably the best cover safety in the NFL and would be a perfect fit on the back-end of the Eagles' defense. Byrd battled injuries to both of his feet in 2012 that kept him off the field but he was also not happy with the Bills using the franchise tag on him. I believe there was more to those so called "injuries".

I really believe Byrd would be a huge addition if he somehow lands in Philadelphia. He would instantly upgrade the Eagles' pass defense and his ties to Oregon and Chip Kelly certainly make him an ideal fit in the city of brotherly love. Hopefully Byrd is playing for the birds of Philadelphia in 2014.

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Former New Orleans Saint Malcolm Jenkins is another intriguing name. He was drafted as a cornerback out to Ohio State but has since made the switch to safety in the NFL. Jenkins' experience as a cornerback helps him in coverage as a safety and also allows him to play the slot cornerback position as well. The Eagles loved to use Chung in that role last season, but Jenkins would be a lot better in that spot.

Jenkins isn't just a cover safety though, he is great against the run and as a blitzer as well. He's young, at just 26 years old and is a New Jersey native. Jenkins also has great size at 6-0, 205 lbs. for his position, which the Eagles love, especially on defense. He shouldn't cost nearly as much as players like Byrd and T.J. Ward in free agency either, allowing the Eagles to fill a need and still have cap space for future moves. I believe Jenkins would be a great fit in Philadelphia and a very welcome addition to their secondary.

2014 NFL Draft:

Not only do I believe the Eagles will address their need at safety in free agency, I also think they'll address it early in the draft. There are quite a few intriguing safety prospects in this year's draft class and here are a couple of names the Eagles can target early in the draft.

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Louisville's Calvin Pryor has gotten a lot of attention lately and deservedly so. Pryor didn't have an amazing combine but put up decent enough numbers to remain in the conversation for that #2 overall safety spot in the draft. Pryor is praised for how physical he is and isn't afraid to knock someone out of the game. He would bring a scary presence to the Eagles' secondary that would make opposing players think twice about coming across the middle of the field.

But Pryor is far from a perfect prospect. Although he's a great athlete and a powerful hitter, Pryor struggles at times to read plays and puts himself out of position far too often. He has a hard time finding the ball, especially on cutbacks but that can be fixed. Pryor also takes poor angles while tackling at times and will definitely have to work on his technique. He's an intriguing player but has a lot to work mentally, but the physicality and potential is there.

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Washington State's Deone Bucannon is my favorite safety in this years draft. Bucannon has outstanding size at 6-1, 211 lbs. and is built very well. He has an old-school mentality in that he loves to get physical and flourishes when he is close to the line of scrimmage. Bucannon does a great job of finding the ball and attacking it quickly. He isn't just limited to an "in the box" safety though.

Bucannon has solid coverage abilities but can definitely improve, especially in man coverage. But it's not like he's going to be a liability in coverage either. Bucannon is a very promising player but has a lot to learn as well. He should be available on day two of the draft and the Eagles should definitely give him a look.

That's all for Evaluating the Eagles: Part 10, Safeties. Be sure to check out the rest of the series in the following days leading up to free agency!

If you'd like, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @Anthony_DiBona. Thanks for reading!

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