Unless the Philadelphia Eagles pull a rabbit out of Howie Roseman’s hat, they will probably open up the 2022 NFL season with Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps starting at free and strong safety respectively.
Now to some, that idea sends shivers down their spines. Sure, Harris played fine in 2021, and while it would have been nice to see the team upgrade his position too in either free agency or the draft, bringing him back wasn’t the worst-case scenario. But relying on Epps? Full time? As an every-down starter? That’s just asking for trouble.
I mean, you do remember that catch by DK Metcalf in 2019, right? Need I say more?
Well, as poor as Marcus Epps’ reputation might be, he was the Philadelphia Eagles’ top-ranked safety in 2021 according to Pro Football Focus, and based on how the offseason has gone, it looks like he has a chance to prove once and for all whether he can translate that improved play from limited action to full time starting duties.
Let’s all hope Marcus Epps puts it all together for the Philadelphia Eagles.
If there’s one thing Marcus Epps can do and does do very well, it’s hit.
Mind you, he isn’t the surest of tacklers, as he missed nine over the past two seasons, and won’t make folks forget about the elite, switchblade coverage safeties the NFL has to offer like Tyrann Mathieu, but he easily proved to be the Philadelphia Eagles’ best safety at supporting the run and supplemented that with good instincts as to where to be before the ball was snapped and how to operate in zone coverage.
A do-it-all DB he is not, as opposing quarterbacks would feast anytime a matchup results in Epps manning up a nimble operator in the slot, but in the right role, either deployed deep with only half of the field to blanket or in the box, he can be a serviceable player.
Fortunately, that is more or less the role Jonathan Gannon wants his safeties to play this fall and thus could theoretically make the most of Epps’ gifts as a football player. I mean, think about it, what are the core tenants of a defense run from a two-safety shell? Well, you need safeties who have above-average speed, quick instincts, and a willingness to support the linebackers when the play is a run. These players aren’t often utilized in man coverage or deployed in the slot – Anthony Harris and Rodney McLeod combined for just 217 slot snaps in 2021 over 1,519 combined defensive snaps– but when the ball leaves a quarterback’s hand one way or another, they have to swarm to it, all the while attempting to keep their mark in front of them.
At Wyoming’s Pro Day, the walk-on safety from the greater Los Angeles area turned in solid athletic testing numbers, including a 4.55 40, a 124-inch broad jump, and a vertical of 38.5 inches. While his arm length is a tad under league average for the position according to Mockdraftable, he turned in a very good 3-cone drill of 6.77 seconds and rounded out the evening with a 10-yard split of 1.58 seconds.
Throw that all together and what is the takeaway? Epps has the game and measurables needed to be solid full-time safety in Gannon’s scheme, he just needs to prove he’s cable of playing at the same level over roughly three times as many snaps.
In Marcus Epps We Trust?
Marcus Epps working out at safety would be incredibly advantageous for the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only would it mean that the team had a position of need filled with a competent performer who doesn’t turn 27 until January, but after getting off to a slow start to his NFL career, it’s hard to imagine him asking for a particularly expensive contract when his current deal expires next March, with a three-year, $12 million deal feeling agreeable for both parties. He just needs to prove that the advanced analytics weren’t wrong and that rolling with the collegiate Cowboys is the best course of action this fall.