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Eagles safeties: what does the future hold?

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Eagles training camp positional preview: safety

Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2018 is almost here. Players report to the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday, July 25. The Eagles’ summer schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We continue today by taking a look at the safeties.

The Players

Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Tre Sullivan, Jeremy Reaves, Stephen Roberts

Is Malcolm Jenkins the most indispensable (least dispensable?) player on Philadelphia’s defense? I’d argue yes. He’s the ultimate band-aid, accounting for injured players and opposing matchup nightmares alike. This snap count breakdown illustrates the point—it’s one of my favorite stats from last season.

It’s amazing that a player could be not only physically gifted enough, but smart enough to play three separate positions, each for at least 25% of his team’s snaps. And this goes beyond pure versatility—versatile players can play multiple positions for you. Malcolm Jenkins excels; he’s an impact player at multiple spots. He’s position-resistant. That’s absolutely nuts.

During camp, I’ll be interested to see if Jenkins provides any special tutelage to a few players: Corey Nelson, Nate Gerry, Jeremy Reaves, and Avonte Maddox. Each could benefit from Jenkins’ experience as an elite cover man and savvy veteran.

Now, Rodney McLeod is a tough riddle. He came off a great 2016 and turned in an up-and-down 2017. Really, he was asked to do too much beyond his skill set. With various injuries to Jordan Hicks, Ronald Darby, and Patrick Robinson, McLeod was forced into more man coverage looks than in 2016, which exposed his lack of discipline and poor physicality. And with Jenkins so often at the line of scrimmage, McLeod played a good deal of pure single-high, a task which he simply did not have the range to fulfill. Ask any player to be Earl Thomas, and he’ll struggle—unless he’s, you know, Earl.

McLeod is a split-safety or Cover 3 safety primarily who can occasionally give you single-high looks and man-coverage reps, but shouldn’t be asked to do so frequently. He’s a good starter on a defense rife with stars, and can accordingly feel like a liability at times. Philadelphia will have to consider how much McLeod is worth to them in years to come ($8.5M cap hit in 2018; $10M in 2019, $11M in 2020), but for this season, he’s here to stay and play.

After McLeod and Jenkins, the Eagles safety depth chart is uninspiring. (I know Corey Graham is a much desired addition, but really, he wouldn’t do much to move the needle either.) Chris Maragos is in pencil as the SAF3, but we’re talking about a 31-year-old man coming back from major surgery. And lest we forget, he wasn’t a starting caliber player pre-injury—just a decent backup and good special-teamer. Maragos will have to show in camp that he’s fully healthy, but it’s silly to think his play could stand out beyond what we’ve already seen from him. He’s a $2M cap hit right now ($1.5M in savings if cut), and while the Eagles likely don’t need the money, it would be foolish to retain Maragos if one of the younger players behind him could fill his role at a cheaper cost.

In the building, the Eagles coaching staff thinks Tre Sullivan might be that younger guy. A camp standout of 2017 after signing a UDFA contract out of Shepherd, Sullivan’s hard-hitting style and good range drew eyes during the preseason. He was released with an injury settlement, but when he cleared waivers and got healthy in November, the Eagles brought him back onto their practice squad. They had to cut a player (Don Cherry) to do so, which at least serves as a decent indicator of their interest in Sullivan long-term. Even if Maragos remains rostered, Sullivan has the inside track for the fourth SAF spot coming into training camp.

In the wings behind him are two rookie UDFAs: Jeremy Reaves from South Alabama, and Stephen Roberts from Auburn. I have no stance on Roberts, a player I did not evaluate in 2017. I will say: Auburn secondary players tend to be well-coached, in my experience.

But Reaves? Reaves was a Top-75 player on my board, and one of the Top-3 UDFAs remaining when the 2018 NFL Draft wrapped up. A corner-to-safety convert in his final year with the Jaguars, Reaves excels when playing into the line of scrimmage and has better man coverage quickness and instincts than any safety rostered not named Jenkins (also a corner-convert). With the safeties that Philadelphia looked at in the pre-Draft process (like Jeremy Reaves), it’s clear they’d like a backup plan in case Jenkins ever goes down. Reaves represents that safety/nickel hybrid mold.

While the coaching staff may favor Sullivan now, I’d put my money on Reaves sticking over Sullivan for the 53-man cuts. But of course, we’ll see: Reaves must prove in camp that he’s a better on-field athlete than his pro day numbers indicate, and successfully mix it up with NFL competition at 5’11, 190 lbs.

How will it play out?

Jenkins and McLeod will have a fun, carefree camp, still basking in the glow of Super Bowl triumphs past. Behind them, it’s a dogfight: Maragos, Sullivan, Reaves, and Roberts duking it out for two spots. Don’t rule out a free agent addition to the mix: Corey Graham, Tre Boston, Eric Reid, or Kenny Vaccaro.

My prediction is Jenkins, McLeod, Maragos, and Reaves. I’m betting on Reaves having a strong camp, with his coverage skills particularly shining. The front office will look to sneak Sullivan onto the practice squad for another season, and I imagine we’ll hear rumors that they sniff around the free agent market as well. They’ll have the money for a one-year deal, and they can use Jenkins’ snap count splits to argue decent exposure for players seeking more lucrative contracts.

Who could be a surprise cut?

Maragos, though it shouldn’t be shocking. McLeod can’t yet be cut this season—he’d generate almost no open cap space—but next season it starts becoming more feasible.

Poll

On a scale of 1-10, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ safeties? (10 being the most.)

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    10
    (88 votes)
  • 11%
    9
    (148 votes)
  • 36%
    8
    (467 votes)
  • 32%
    7
    (418 votes)
  • 8%
    6
    (108 votes)
  • 2%
    5
    (28 votes)
  • 0%
    4
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    3
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    2
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    1
    (0 votes)
1270 votes total Vote Now