Eagles: Can McPhearson start at cornerback from day one?

While the Eagles neglected to add a cornerback with one of their top-3 selections, they were able to snag a very intriguing prospect in the fourth round with the 123rd overall pick: Texas Tech corner Zech McPhearson.

McPhearson was widely overlooked heading into draft weekend. In a class loaded to the brim with talent at the cornerback position, this Texas Tech product slipped through the cracks a bit. But not for the Eagles, who reportedly looked into trading back into the third round to ensure they got McPhearson.

They remained patient, and in the fourth round they were able to get the guy they wanted.

NFL Network’s lead draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Eagles scout, had McPhearson ranked as the 85th overall player on his big board. Other outlets, like Pro Football Focus, had McPhearson ranked as their 184th best prospect entering the draft.

So was McPhearson a draft steal or a reach for the Eagles? Obviously, only time will tell. But in the meantime, we can take a look at his tape, the defensive scheme he excelled in at Texas Tech, and some of his physical attributes to predict how he might fit in the Eagles secondary. And perhaps, if he’s capable of starting from day one in Jonathan Gannon’s defense.

What the tape says

McPhearson is a very versatile player. During his college career, McPhearson primarily played on the outside, but he spent time in the slot, as a box safety, and as a deep safety as well.

His physical ability allowed him to play anywhere. McPhearson possesses quick feet and smooth hips that give him an edge when mirroring opposing receivers down field. But his athleticism isn’t the only reason he succeeded at multiple positions, he plays with great awareness and has a nose for the football.

When you couple great physical talent with smarts, you get players like McPhearson.

In this play, McPhearson stays patient in his back drop, reading and diagnosing what the quarterback wants to do with the ball. Once he recognizes that the balls coming his way, he’s quick enough to plant his foot and drive in on the ball, resulting in a nice pass breakup.

While he didn’t play a lot of press coverage at Texas Tech, McPhearson did play in a cover 2 scheme that saw him line up off the line of scrimmage. We assume Gannon will run some type of cover 2 concept as the Eagles defensive coordinator based on his track record, but it’s still unclear.

Coaching McPhearson up to get his hands on the receiver right away shouldn’t be too much of a learning curve — he’s been a physical corner and willing tackler his entire collegiate career.

In this trio of plays, we see McPhearson play with great eye discipline on the quarterback while also showcasing his physicality when attacking the ball carrier or blocks.

This is just a small glimpse into what McPhearson does well. His smaller frame (5’11’, 195 pounds) will hinder his ability to matchup with bigger bodied receivers on the outside, but he’s certainly not afraid to get physical with them, which is a plus.

McPhearson’s natural athleticism isn’t a fluke

McPhearson comes from one of the best bloodlines of any prospect who was drafted this year. His father, Gerrick McPhearson, played at Boston College and bounced around training camps in the pros. He’s one of eight siblings, seven of them being boys, and each of them have at least played college athletics.

Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports broke down McPhearson’s athletic bloodline leading up to the draft and provided this list of the McPhearson family:

  1. Gerrick Jr., who played cornerback at Maryland, where he was clocked as one of the fastest players in school history, then played a season with the Giants as a 2006 seventh-round pick
  2. Derrick, who played wide receiver at Illinois and Bowie State before a 2009 stint in minor league baseball within the Brewers system
  3. Emmanuel, who played defensive back at New Mexico
  4. Matthew Ezekiel, who went in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft and spent six years with minor league affiliates of the Diamondbacks and Yankees; he’s now following Zech’s footsteps as a redshirt freshman cornerback at Texas Tech
  5. Jeremiah, who played CB at Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  6. Joshua, who played running back behind Saquon Barkley at Penn State, then with the CFL’s Roughriders in 2018
  7. Kimberley, who plays soccer for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

We’ve all heard of the Mannings, the Matthews, the Watts, but to have all eight siblings play collegiate sports is pretty remarkable. It’s no wonder why Zech possesses the athletic traits that he does.

Now, just because he comes from an athletic bloodline doesn’t guarantee that he’ll see success in the NFL. None of his family members have found great success at the professional level. But it tells us that McPhearson does have great natural ability that can most likely be improved upon at the next level.

Can McPhearson start from day one?

McPhearson does a lot of things well, as evidenced by the tape. He reads the quarterback’s eyes effectively, he stays patient and discipline in coverage, he’s a physical player who’s willing to put his nose in there and make plays. While none of his traits are outstanding, they’re all good enough to project well in the NFL.

He’s improved each year of his college career, culminating in a great senior year at Texas Tech where he recorded four interceptions and six pass breakups. That shows two things: solid potential and coachability. He’s not a finished product, but with his steady improvement and the fact that he’ll have Jonathan Gannon coaching him up, McPhearson can certainly be a solid starter on the outside for the Eagles.

It may not be ideal to thrust him into action right away, the Eagles don’t really have a choice — unless they sign a corner before the start of training camp. The competition at the starting cornerback spot opposite of Darius Slay isn’t exactly stellar, with the best name in the running probably being Craig James.

I’m sure McPhearson is already more physically talented that James, or any of the other corners vying for that starting spot. And he’s shown the intelligence to be an impact player in the NFL.

I’d like to see him get a year or so watching and studying the play of another veteran corner on the roster, but he just won’t have that luxury. And sometimes, the best way to develop someone is to just get them experience — there’s no doubt McPhearson will get that this season.

So, to answer the question in the subhead — yes, McPhearson can start from day one in Philly. Will it be as polished as we like? Probably not. But he’s good enough to hold his own during his rookie year.

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