Eagles: Will Marcus Epps become Gannon’s starting safety in 2022?

Although the offseason still feels like a ways away, it’s clear the Eagles will have some serious holes to fill during free agency and the NFL Draft.

One of the more notable positions that the team will need to address this offseason is safety. Both of their starting safeties, Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris, are set to become free agents after this year. For various reasons, it’s unlikely that either of these guys will be back in midnight green next season.

Their respective ages and likely cap numbers play a role in the decision, there’s no doubt about that. But perhaps the Eagles front office, and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, have their eyes on an in-house replacement for at least one of safety spots.

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Marcus Epps has been a reliable placeholder in the Eagles secondary for years. Whenever either starting safety is hurt, Epps is the first one called upon to help mitigate the loss. And throughout Epps’ playing career in Philly, the returns have been great.

He’s found a significant role within Gannon’s scheme as the box safety, a role that best suits his skill set. Epps does a nice job of tracking down ball carriers in the open field, his football instincts flash whenever he’s in coverage, and he’s proven to be an opportunistic safety, recording three interceptions over the past two seasons.

Epps’ playing time in the Eagles defense has increased steadily since he was claimed off waivers back in 2019. In 2021, he’s played 49% of the team’s defensive snaps, a career high. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s been a stud run defender from the box safety position, posting a run defense grade of 82.2, the eighth-highest mark of 91 qualifying safeties.

Gannon has done nothing but praise Epps this season. In his press conference this week, Gannon couldn’t contain his love for Epps and how he handles his heavy workload. “I mean from a mental standpoint, from a physical-trait standpoint, the toughness that he brings to the defense, the athleticism, the ball skills, the tackling, the run-the-show, you know — as much as [CB] Avonte [Maddox], as we put on Avonte, we put on those safeties too, with the style we play,” Gannon said when discussing Epps.

“We put a lot on [Epps’] plate and he handles it. He’s another one like Avonte, very positive when it’s not going his way or our way, it’s on to the next play. He has a very next-play mentality that the head coach preaches. And he’ll continue to play for us because he’s playing winning football.”

A vote of confidence from the defensive coordinator could go a long way in deciding Epps’ future with the franchise. Howie Roseman has spent assets on acquiring safety talent in the past, but if he can be persuaded to spend his money elsewhere because Epps actually has potential to be the starting safety moving forward, he’ll listen.

Of course, Epps’ emergence could be due in large part to the role that he plays. Box safety is completely different than playing in a two-high safety look with no help over the top. But if that’s the case, at least the team can move forward confidently knowing they have a solid player filling such a crucial role on defense.

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