Philadelphia Eagles: Zech McPhearson has big Slays to fill

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Darius Slay is the best cornerback the Philadelphia Eagles have employed in a generation.

He’s better than any other cornerback signed during the Chip Kelly, Doug Pederson, and Nick Sirianni eras, has outperformed every corner drafted by the team over the tenure – which, admittedly, isn’t that hard – and has clearly surpassed Ronald Darby, who Howie Roseman also traded for back in 2017.

And yet, at 31, Slay isn’t going to be able to play at this level, or play, period, forever. Eventually, Slay will lose a few steps, suffer an injury that never quite heals right, or simply decide to pursue other avenues outside of on-the-field football playing – Slay would kill it as an ESPN analyst – and hang up his cleats for good.

Fortunately, Darius has tabbed an on-roster successor whom he feels will one day fill his shoes, or should I say Slays down the line; a player some fans might not expect but will certainly appreciate.

Zech McPhearson has a big fan in the Philadelphia Eagles’ CB1.

When the Philadelphia Eagles made the decision to draft Zech McPhearson with the 125th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, it wasn’t exactly a choice celebrated by fans the world over.

Sure, McPhearson played cornerback, which is, was, and will forever be a position of need in South Philadelphia, but he was clearly outside of the starting-caliber tier of corners in last year’s class and after failing to develop a Day 3 prospect into a starting-caliber outside cornerback since, well, maybe ever in the Howie Roseman era period, fans weren’t falling for it again.

If McPhearson was going to become a player, he was going to have to prove it.

As a rookie, McPhearson was mostly a special teams player; he logged 325 snaps over 16 games, good for 77 percent of the team’s special teams efforts, and doubled down on it with a playoff appearance where he was on the field for 27 of a possible 28 special teams snaps.

And yet, on defense, McPhearson was largely an afterthought, playing just 175 defensive snaps and only had two games where he played 50-plus percent of the team’s snaps, in Weeks 13 and 18. His defensive rating was at 62.4 according to Pro Football Focus, which is the 14th-best mark on the team, and his AV of 1 according to Pro Football Reference was woefully pedestrian.

If you sort of last faith in McPhearson ever being more than a special teams player, you probably aren’t alone, but there’s one person who remains incredibly high on the second year prospect who split his college time at Penn State and Texas Tech; a player who knows a thing or two about playing cornerback at a high level.

When talking to the media at training camp, Darius Slay dished out some pretty high praise for McPhearson, as you can read below as dictated by Reuben from NBC Sports Philadelphia.

"“We’ve been working together this whole offseason and I’ve got a lot of high hopes for him. He’s just grinding, working hard.”“I’m trying to teach him everything I know because one of these days he’ll be taking my position. That’s the goal for me as a veteran guy. I want a younger guy to be the next me or even better. So my goal is to keep working him.”"

That, my friends, is some pretty high praise, but I do take pause with one thing Slay said: McPhearson doesn’t have to take his position, because they can always play together.

That’s right, as excited as many a fan is to see James Bradberry this fall, there’s a chance he’s a one-and-done player who ends up signing elsewhere at the end of the year on a more lucrative deal than the Birds can afford – if McPhearson can get on a level high enough to fill his shoes, the Eagles will be in a very good position indeed.

Next. Ryan Kerrigan should have retired in 2021. dark

In the NFL, nothing is guaranteed; players come and go, they look great one day, and then are suddenly gone the next. And yet, when an older player understands that and chooses to impart their wisdom on the next generation instead of holding onto their secrets in the hopes of securing a minor competitive advantage, it’s a special thing. Even if Zech McPhearson can’t become the same caliber player as Darius Slay, having the perennial Pro Bowler in his corner can only lead to good things.