The Philadelphia Eagles safety position has been somewhat overlooked by fans this offseason, but it figures to be one of the strengths of their defense in 2021.
Rodney McLeod is set to return from a torn ACL this season, although the timetable for return isn’t set in stone just yet. He’s already stated that he’ll be ready for the season, so let’s hope he’s right. The team also added veteran safety Anthony Harris into the mix, forming a very solid safety duo on the backend of this Eagles defense.
Here’s a look at the Eagles safety position and how it could fair in 2021.
If McLeod returns fully healthy this season, the Eagles will have a great one-two punch at safety in 2021.
Before going down with a torn ACL late last season, McLeod was having another good season for the Birds. He accumulated 66 combined tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 defensive touchdown. He filled the leadership role left by Malcolm Jenkins last season and he continued to be a consistent presence on the backend.
The team lost Jalen Mills in free agency this offseason, but they were able to upgrade the position by acquiring Anthony Harris for a minimal one-year, $4 million contract. Although he’s never reached a Pro Bowl, Harris has been one of the better safeties in football over the past few seasons. Since 2018, Harris has tallied 9 interceptions and 17 pass defenses.
Playing in Mike Zimmer’s two-deep look, Harris made a living roving on the backend of the Vikings defense. He had the luxury of playing next to Harrison Smith, one of the best safeties in the game, but Harris still made the most of his opportunities.
His best season came in 2019, when Harris totaled 6 interceptions on the year. His Pro Football Focus grade for the year was 90.5, while his coverage grade sat at 91.6, both top-5 grades at the position. He also finished fifth among safeties in PFF WAR over the past two seasons.
Both McLeod and Harris are solid coverage safeties, who both have the ability make plays in the running game as well. McLeod allowed a completion percentage of 48.3 percent in 13 games last season, the best mark of his career. Harris had a bit of a down year in pass coverage last season, but he allowed a passer rating of 58.1 in 2018 and 44.2 in 2019 when targeted.
Outside of the starting two, the Eagles also have some nice depth at the position, most notably second year player K’Von Wallace.
Wallace quickly became a fan favorite coming out of Clemson last season. He just felt like a Philly guy by the way he carried himself on social media.
But, he rarely saw the field in 2020. Wallace only started three games and tallied 21 combined tackles. He’s still an unknown at this point, but he has an exciting skill set that would fit well in a box safety role, something new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will likely implement in some capacity.
Then we have 25-year-old Marcus Epps, someone who’s seen the field sparingly for the Eagles over the past two seasons. He started in five games last season, recording 47 combined tackles and 2 interceptions. Behind him is Andrew Adams, the first free agent the team signed this offseason. He figures to be a special teams ace for the Eagles.
All in all, this safety group looks very promising heading into the upcoming year.
If there’s one thing to nitpick about this otherwise fine safety group, the two starters, McLeod and Harris, are on the older side.
Harris will enter the year at 29 years old and turn 30 in October, and McLeod will enter the year at 31. While neither of them have had serious drop offs in production in their recent years, McLeod in particular has suffered injuries in each of the past three seasons. In 2018, torn MCL in Week 3. In 2019, he suffered a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. And last season, he tore his ACL.
Injuries don’t get better with age, and at 31 years old, it’s hard to imagine McLeod going an entire year without an injury.
As stated above, the team does have nice depth behind McLeod if he goes down, but none of the backups safeties will be able to match his production on the field most likely. The hope is that Wallace can become McLeod’s heir apparent, but he still needs to refine his pass coverage skills to be an effective deep safety.
Aside from injury concerns, there’s not much to complain about with this group. They should be one of the best positions groups on the team this season if all goes according to plan.