We continue our end of year position reviews by moving over to defensive backfield.
The Eagles spent a lot of money and assets this offseason, including $29 million in guarantees with an extension to Malcolm Jenkins ($16M) and adding Rodney McLeod in free agency ($13M). It was worth every penny.
Three interceptions, the joint most in his career. Two of them for touchdowns, the most in his career and in the league. Spending half the season as a part time slot corner. And a leader on and off the field. That’s a career year by one of the best and most versatile safeties and most underrated defenders in the league. A Pro Bowler last year, Jenkins had just as good of season this year but is only the 3rd alternate this season. Should the Eagles make the playoffs next year, that should raise Jenkins’ national profile.
He also added another strong season as a special teams contributor, playing the most snaps on special teams of any starter on offense or defense, further showcasing his versatility.
Verdict: Thumbs up. Jenkins proved in 2014 and 2015 he had filled the long standing void at safety left from Brian Dawkins’ departure, and in 2016 he further solidified his increasingly growing stature as a top safety and leader.
McLeod started the season living up to his expectations as a hard hitter who can also cover, delivering big hits and two interceptions in the Eagles 3-0 start. He cooled off as the season progressed, and at times played too passive for Jim Schwartz’s liking, which lead to a pair of ugly touchdowns. If and when the Eagles upgrade their cornerbacks, McLeod should be even more effective.
Verdict: Thumbs up. We thought the Eagles would have one of the best safety tandems in the league, and they do.
In the preseason Watkins looked good, locking up the third safety position and showing improved tackling and like he was finally comfortable at safety after two years of bouncing between corner and safety. Then the regular season came. He started off strong as the fifth defensive back when Ron Brooks went down with a season ending injury, but with more playing time came more exposure and he made too many mental errors. And as the season progressed he lost playing time on special teams.
Verdict: Thumbs down. While the Eagles have a terrific set of starting safeties, they lack at backup. Watkins is a restricted free agent and bringing him back for training camp on the cheap is fine, but improvement is needed.