The Eagles secondary has been a work in progress for what seems like the better part of a decade, that is, until 2022 when Howie Roseman added James Bradberry and C.J. Gardner-Johnson to a backfield that included Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox. Now, the group is considered one of the best in the league, with ESPN’s Matt Bowen naming them the “Best Secondary” in his 7th Annual Shutdown Index.
The full results are behind a paywall, but it’s definitely worth the read. Bowen dives into the best defensive backs in 18 different categories, including the overall title of “Best Secondary,” given to the Eagles.
“The Eagles have allowed only 172.4 passing yards per game, at just 6.14 yards per attempt. Those are league-best numbers. The Eagles are mixing in both single-high and split-safety coverages this season, and this unit can challenge the NFL’s best passing offenses under secondary coach Dennard Wilson.
With two high-end coverage corners in Darius Slay and James Bradberry, Philly can control the boundaries. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Bradberry has allowed completions on 45.3% of the throws sent his way — 14% below expectation. On the inside, slot man Avonte Maddox is urgent and disciplined. And don’t sleep on the Birds’ safeties. Marcus Epps plays with juice against both the run and pass, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson (out with a lacerated kidney) has shown his playmaking skills with six interceptions. Undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship has also flashed as a top-down player.”
The group has been playing lights out, and even with injuries to CJGJ and Maddox earlier in the season, they’re all versatile enough to move around as needed.
Aside from the group as a whole, there were some individual acknowledgements made by Bowen for several Eagles players. Darius Slay was named Best Transition Speed, and was also the runner-up to Pat Surtain II for Best Coverage Skills. Marcus Epps was named Best Safety in Run Support, as Bowen explained:
“Epps keys quick to read the run vs. pass — he sees it and trusts his eyes. And he can play from depth to run the alley, too, and he’s both physical and urgent when aligned in the box. A strong tackler who is willing to mix it up with bigger players, Epps has logged 54 solo tackles this season while registering a run stop win rate of 38.9% (tied for seventh among DBs with 800-plus snaps).”
Additionally, James Bradberry was runner-up to Tariq Woolen for Best Cornerback Ball Hawk, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson was runner-up to Jordan Poyer for Best Safety Ball Hawk — even with having missed time with injury, he led the league with 6 INTs earlier this season.
Overall, the group that was once (and often) considered the weak link for the Eagles, is now one of the strongest groups on the team and in the league. Hopefully the whole group can get healthy and stay healthy through the postseason.