Eagles Draft Guide: Why Filling the Void at Safety is Essential for Eagles’ Success

Has there ever been anything quite like this offseason for the Eagles? Nick Foles? Gone. LeSean McCoy? Gone. Jeremy Maclin? Gone. Todd Herremans? Gone. Trent Cole? Gone. With new faces at the forefront of what will undoubtedly be a remarkable 2015-2016 season, the Eagles have shifted their focus from free agency to the fast-approaching NFL Draft. While the decision-makers within the organization are playing their cards close to the vest, Eagles fans everywhere are debating the exact path the team will take once it is on the clock on April 30th. While a million different scenarios and hundreds of draft prospects have been discussed at length amongst writers and fans on Twitter, one of the most common debates leading up to the draft emanates from the task of ordering the Eagles’ remaining positions of need.

The reasoning behind my belief that the safety position is the Eagles’ biggest need heading into the draft is quite simple: Defense wins championships. Though the phrase may seem to be fading away in a league that is geared more towards offensive firepower than ever before, a look into the defensive statistics of recent Super Bowl winners proves that the phrase holds just as much meaning now as it did ten years ago. Since the 2006 season, only one Super Bowl champion defense (the 2011 New York Giants) ranked outside of the top 15 when combining averages of top statistical categories (Categories include: Rushing defense, passing defense, total defense, red zone defense, sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, turnovers, and points allowed). In comparison, the Eagles’ 2014-2015 defense ranked 16th when combining the same statistical categories (including ranking 31st in pass defense). While the defense presumably got better in free agency with the re-signing of edge rusher Brandon Graham and the additions of Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond III, Philadelphia is likely one remaining key piece away from having an upper-echelon NFL defense. With that in mind, I believe the need of pairing a second safety with Malcolm Jenkins in the defensive backfield should be the number-one focus of Chip Kelly during the 2015 Draft. Billy Davis’s defense often schemes safeties to match up with slot receivers and tight ends in man-to-man coverage, so I anticipate the Eagles targeting a safety with above-average coverage and ball skills who is also a reliable tackle. This safety class is considered by several draft experts to be razor thin, and the Eagles once hoped to land coveted safety Devin McCourty during free agency before he opted to re-sign with Patriots in March. After failing at filling the need at safety during free agency, drafting the right player to help anchor the team’s secondary could propel the Eagles to heights previously unexplored by its third year head coach.

Let’s take a look at the safeties in this draft and how their skill-sets could translate in the eyes of the Eagles. As previously mentioned, any safety who plays under Billy Davis will often be asked to play man-coverage against slot receivers and tight ends. The notes and projections that go along with each prospect are a mixture of scout consensus and personal observations formed from watching games or film. Players are listed alphabetically. Total safeties listed: 20

Adrian Amos- 6’0 218 lbs.
Notes: Plus athleticism for the safety position. Above average at recognizing routes. Plus ability in coverage. Below average in run support. Takes poor pursuit angles at times. I am bullish on Amos, and if what shows up on his college tape translates to the NFL, he’s an excellent candidate to thrive in Billy Davis’s defense. If the Eagles opt to wait on drafting a safety or miss out on a target in the first two rounds of the draft, Amos is likely the team’s best remaining option. Amos has met with and has privately worked out for the Eagles prior to the draft.
Projection: Fourth round

Ibraheim Campbell- 5’11 208 lbs.
Notes: Aggressive when near the football. Plus ability at forcing fumbles. Adequate in run support. High character player. Takes too long to read an offensive play. Poor ball skills. Does struggle with missed tackles at times.
Projection: Seventh round

Landon Collins- 6’0 228 lbs.
Notes: Largely considered to be the best safety in the draft. Elite run support skills. Decent speed for large frame. For where he will be drafted, Collins possesses below average man coverage skills and he struggles at times to locate the ball. Dropped multiple interceptions while at Alabama but made up for it with his consistent tackling. If the Eagles are looking to fill their need at safety by drafting a bruising, downhill player early in the draft, Collins is undoubtedly their guy. While Collins is an attractive candidate to most fans and will be taken early in the upcoming draft, I believe the Eagles will go in another direction at the safety position.
Projection: First round

landon collins
Will Alabama’s Landon Collins be the first safety off the board in the 2015 NFL Draft?
Erick Dargan- 5’11 210 lbs.
Notes: Intelligent player. Plus quickness and route recognition. Above average ability as a tackler. Below average speed and athleticism. If the Eagles somehow miss out on a safety until the waning moments of the draft, Dargan’s Oregon ties could make him a likely candidate to be drafted by Chip Kelly.
Projection: Seventh round

Kurtis Drummond- 6’1 208 lbs.
Notes: Plus size for a safety. Plays faster than measureables suggest. Above average ability to recover when beaten. Poor tackler. Takes below average angles in pursuit. Allowed 9.1 yards per target in the 2014 season. Drummond benefited from playing in the outstanding Michigan State Press Cover 4 defense. With little experience in true man-to-man coverage and sub-average tackling skills, I do not see Drummond fitting into the Eagles’ current defense.
Projection: Early fifth round

Durrell Eskridge- 6’3 208 lbs.
Notes: The tallest safety in the draft. Plus ability in run support. Average athleticism for size and position. Below average speed for an NFL safety. Ducks head too often when attempting to make tackles.
Projection: Sixth round

Clayton Geathers- 6’2 218 lbs.
Notes: Plays quicker than measureables would suggest. Plus ability to close on ball. Welcomes contact. Too aggressive at times. Tends to be easily fooled by play action.
Projection: Seventh round

Chris Hackett- 6’0 195 lbs.
Notes: Plays under control and has plus ability in run support. Intelligent football player. Extremely slow for an NFL safety. Struggles to play sideline-to-sideline as a cover safety.
Projection: Seventh round

Anthony Harris- 6’1 183 lbs.
Notes: Average ability as a cover safety. Good hands and ball skills for his position. Plus tackler. Can be blocked by receivers when defending the run. Harris’s skill-set certainly fits what Philadelphia does defensively, and the Eagles could do definitely do worse on the third day of the draft. Harris will, however, have to add weight to his frame prior to his rookie season.
Projection: Fifth round

NCAA Football: Virginia at Brigham Young
Anthony Harris could be an underrated target for the Eagles at the safety position.
Gerod Holliman- 6’0 218 lbs.
Notes: Fourteen interceptions in 2014 and won the Thorpe Award. Undisciplined player who is slow for his size. Twenty missed tackles last season. Will make great plays in the NFL but will also make horrific plays with little room left in between. I do not see the Eagles targeting Holliman.
Projection: Late fourth round

Anthony Jefferson- 6’1 198 lbs.
Notes: Rotated between cornerback and safety while at UCLA. Plus ability to cover tight ends and slot receivers. Takes good angles to the ball. Below average athleticism and speed. Struggles against slot receivers with speed. Missed games throughout his career at UCLA with injuries. Pac-12 connection is notable. Jefferson is another intriguing late-round guy for Eagles’ fans to keep an eye on.
Projection: Seventh round

Byron Jones- 6’1 196 lbs.
Notes: Jones will likely be drafted to play cornerback, but his two years of experience playing safety at UConn is certainly intriguing. Jones is my favorite prospect of the 2015 Draft. High-character player who checks all the boxes of a player that Chip Kelly values. Like a lot of people, I had only studied Jones in passing before he exploded at the NFL Combine. After watching any film on him I could find, I can say definitively that his tape supports his freakishly-good measureables. Plus recovery ability. Plus play recognition. Wastes movements at times when changing direction. 2014 season was cut short due to shoulder injury. Make no mistake about it, Jones is an upper-echelon cornerback in this draft. But if all other positions were off the table and the Eagles had to select a prospect to play safety in the first round of the upcoming draft, Jones would be my guy. He could very well be the Eagles’ guy in the first round on April 30th, though he will likely be drafted to play corner. Jones has met with the Eagles prior to the draft.
Projection: Late first round

Cody Prewitt- 6’2 208 lbs.
Notes: Plus instincts. Above average ability to cover crossing routes from the Robber position. Poor athleticism for his position. Below average ability in man coverage. Best suited in a defense with good cornerbacks. I do not see the Eagles targeting Prewitt.
Projected: Fourth round

Damarious Randall- 5’11 196 lbs.
Notes: Overall size is the biggest issue here. Aggressive player with plus speed. Good hands for a safety (played wide receiver in JUCO). Missed tackles while at Arizona State when he was overly aggressive. Below average player at the line of scrimmage. Pac-12 connection is notable. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller believes Randall will be the first safety taken in the upcoming draft. While he projects to be an above-average NFL safety, I am skeptical of Randall’s fit on the Eagles’ defense. Let’s take a quick look at the tight ends in the NFC East: Jason Witten- 6’6 261 lbs. Larry Donnell- 6’6 269 lbs. Jordan Reed- 6’3 237 lbs. Will the Eagles spend an early-round draft pick on a player who, on average, is six inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter than the tight ends he will cover in six of the sixteen regular season games each season? I doubt it. Randall has met with the Eagles prior to the draft.
Projection: Early second round

damarious randall
Damarious Randall may be the best cover safety in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Jordan Richards- 5’11 211 lbs.
Notes: Good frame for player with below average height. Elite hands. High points ball. Plus ability in pursuit. Biggest concern is lack of coverage skills. Recovery speed is below average. Slow to diagnose receiver routes at times. Pac-12 connection is notable. I do not see the Eagles targeting Richards.
Projection: Sixth round

Quinten Rollins- 5’11 195 lbs.
Notes: Another cornerback who some NFL scouts believe may be better suited to play safety. Plays stronger than his measureables would suggest. Competitive. Plus ability in press coverage. Physical for his size and has plus ability as a tackler. Recovers well when beaten. Technique could improve. Susceptible to double moves. Love of football has been questioned. In a recent mock draft, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah projected the Eagles to select Rollins as a safety in the second round of the upcoming draft.
Projection: Third round

Eric Rowe- 6’1 205 lbs.
Notes: Like Byron Jones and Quinten Rollins, Rowe is projected by most as an NFL cornerback. But like Jones, Rowe is worth mentioning along with the safeties because his size and skill-set would make him an intriguing player in the Eagles’ secondary. Long player who is physical enough to match up with tight ends in man coverage. Plus tackler. Above-average ability at the line of scrimmage. Below average acceleration. Below average ability to recover once beaten. Pac-12 connection is notable. Rowe has met with and has worked out for the Eagles prior to the draft.
Projection: Second round

James Sample- 6’2 209 lbs.
Notes: Plus size for an NFL safety. Plays well from sideline to sideline. Takes good pursuit angles. Is susceptible to play action. Absorbs ball carriers at times. Needs more on field experience to polish coverage skills.
Projection: Sixth round

Josh Shaw- 6’0 201 lbs.
Notes: Played cornerback and safety at USC. Projected by most teams as an NFL safety. Attacks ball. Technique needs improvement. Gets caught sleeping too often. Pac-12 connection is notable. Respected NFL Network Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah thinks Shaw is a bonafide starting NFL safety. Like Byron Jones, Quentin Rollins and Eric Rowe, Shaw’s size and experience at cornerback could make him an intriguing option for the Eagles at the safety position.
Projection: Fourth round

Derron Smith- 5’10 200 lbs.
Notes: Plus skills in coverage. Not particularly fast for size. Undersized for an NFL safety and will struggle greatly to cover tight ends. Elite ball skills. Pursuit angles are below average. Tackling technique could use work. Smith’s coverage skills make him an interesting second or third round option in the upcoming draft, but his lack of size makes him far from a slam-dunk for the Eagles.
Projection: Late second round

Jaquiski Tartt- 6’1 221 lbs.
Notes: Big player. Like Collins, Tartt is limited as a man coverage safety and therefore may not be a great fit in the Eagles’ defense. Physical player who is a plus tackler and an asset in run support. Tartt is reportedly on the rise on many teams’ draft boards, and some draft experts think he could be taken as early as the middle of the second round.
Projection: Third round

Putting it all together: While the safety position is the Eagles’ biggest need heading into the NFL Draft, I personally believe that value at the wide receiver and cornerback positions will lead Chip Kelly to address other needs before targeting a safety in the third or fourth round. While Landon Collins would likely be the pick if the team takes a safety in the first round, I expect Adrian Amos to be selected by the Eagles in the third or fourth round of the draft. If the Eagles were to somehow miss out on Amos, I anticipate that Josh Shaw or Anthony Harris would be targeted by Chip Kelly in the fourth or fifth rounds of the draft. If whoever the team drafts at the safety position can have an immediate impact on the field, the Eagles should unquestionably field a top-tier defense during the 2015-2016 NFL season.

On deck: Who will the Eagles target at wide receiver in the upcoming NFL Draft?

Follow Sidelines and Headlines creator Ray Butler on Twitter: @RayButlerII

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12 thoughts on “Eagles Draft Guide: Why Filling the Void at Safety is Essential for Eagles’ Success

  1. Adrian Amos
    Hopefully La el Collins fall in first and we snag him.
    Second we grab Angholor. If we have to trade a 3rd rounder to move up we should do it to grab him.
    With the third rounder gone go for Amos in the 4th. If we need to trade up to be sure we snag him we should.
    Thoughts?

    Like

    1. Ryan,

      Every player you mentioned is a player I could see the Eagles targeting throughout the draft. I’ll be blogging more on La’el Collins and Nelson Agholor in the days leading up to the draft, so keep an eye out for that. You also mentioned that the Eagles may trade up at different times throughout the draft, and I 100% agree with that as well. I’ll be posting some hypothetical drafts that include trades in the near future.

      -RB

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      1. I look forward to the articles.

        I think if we can’t get Collins which is very likely our best bet is to trade down to try and snag some draft picks. So many prospects we have are projected late first or early second I.e Jones, Angholor or Fischer so if we can trade down and potentially get an extra second or third round pick it be more benefecial.

        I think the worst thing we can do is stay put at 20 if La’el Collins is gone.

        Like

  2. Good article i really enjoyed it! I hope they get Byron Jones in the first and Amos in the fourth but i think they have to get him in the third to be safe. He’s gonna be a good NFL safety. Do you think they might use Byron as a safety this year, people are comparing him to Devon Mcourty, coming out of collage.

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    1. John,

      Thanks for reading! I’ve seen comparisons between Byron Jones and Devin McCourty as well. If the Eagles draft both Byron Jones and Adrian Amos, I definitely think Jones will be penciled in to start at corner on the opposite side of Byron Maxwell, and Amos will compete with Earl Wolff to start at safety alongside Malcolm Jenkins. In this scenario, Jones would only be moved to safety if there were multiple injuries or if Amos is a complete bust (he won’t be). Jones’s versatility will certainly be valued by several NFL teams, including the Eagles.

      -RB

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    1. Chris,

      Thompson is the most versatile player in the draft, and I’m sure Chip Kelly values his ability to play multiple positions. That said, I feel like most teams are projecting Thompson as an outside linebacker. To thrive at safety, Thompson would need to be drafted by a team who plays a lot of zone coverage. In my opinion, asking him to frequently cover a slot receiver or tight end in man-coverage would be a big disadvantage for a defense. I’ll have more on Thompson in the coming days when I blog about the edge rushers in this draft.

      -RB

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  3. I honestly think we should trade down to grab a extra second and third then go after Eric Rowe and another receiver like Anglor from USC

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    1. DCARRE,

      I absolutely agree with the possibility of the Eagles trading down early in the draft. A day or two before the draft, I plan on blogging several different hypothetical draft scenarios that will include trades.

      -RB

      Like

  4. Byron Jones at 20! He can start opposite maxwell immediately and be groomed to replace Jenkins in the middle safety spot in a few years! His combination of athleticism, smarts, versatility and character makes him a win win win! Fly Eagles fly!

    Like

    1. Chris,

      I could not agree more. Jones will almost certainly be on the Eagles’ short list on April 30th. Look for more on Jones when I blog about the cornerbacks in the draft in a few days.

      -RB

      Like

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