When the offseason began, the secondary was easily the biggest area of need for the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman seemed to agree as they aggressively addressed that area by signing corners Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips.
On paper, they appear to be the four new starters for 2013.
Although all four players have questions, I feel more comfortable with Williams and Fletcher starting at CB more-so than Phillips and Chung at safety.
If healthy, Phillips should be a solid addition. But, that is the big question with him…is he healthy? Will he regain his form?
In 2009, Phillips was diagnosed with patella femoral arthritis, a condition that required microfracture surgery on his left knee. In 2011, he suffered a sprained MCL in the same knee, but fortunately didn’t miss much time. However, last year, he suffered a more serious MCL sprain in his right knee that cost him much of the season.
The good news is that the injury last year didn’t require surgery. The bad news is that he had difficulty returning to the field and suffered a few setbacks.
After the 2009 microfracture surgery, Phillips came back in 2010 and 2011 to have two pretty good seasons. Pro Football Focus had him ranked 7th and 6th overall at the safety position in those two seasons.
However, it’s never really a good sign when a team doesn’t do much to retain a young player that they invested a first-round pick in. For reasons unknown, the Giants did not appear interested in retaining Phillips this past offseason.
Do they know something we don’t? I heard murmurs during free agency that some people feared Phillips was essentially “done” because of his knee. However, there were no official reports about it.
Patrick Chung also has had an injury riddled career so far and lost his starting job on a porous pass defense in New England. When asked about Chung’s “dip in production” last year, Bill Belichick just said “bottom line, it did.”
Chung has never cracked PFF’s top 32 safety rankings and isn’t known for his coverage ability. He’s known more as a hard working, physical, in-the-box kind of guy who can take on a leadership role. That’s all well and good, but if you’re routinely getting burned in pass coverage, all of that goes by the wayside.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not condemning these signings. Overall, I think they were good moves. Phillips could end up being a steal and Chung brings some much-needed physicality to the secondary.
However, both have real questions hanging over their heads at this point that won’t be answered until it’s too late to do anything about it if needed.
This is why the Eagles need to give themselves a little bit of insurance by taking a safety on Day 2 of the draft.
The question is, will they spend their second or third-rounder on a position that they might “think” they’ve addressed adequately?
I don’t know if they will, but they certainly should. Especially if you realize the importance of the safety position these days. For more on that, check out this article by Greg Cosell where he breaks down the evolution of the safeties and why there should be more of an emphasis on this position.
If they’re lucky, the Eagles might be sitting at pick No. 35 and have a choice of Matt Elam or Jonathan Cyprien sitting there for the taking. However, the 49ers hold picks 31 and 34 and unless they package those to move up, they will almost certainly draft one of those guys.
Therefore, at pick 35, the Eagles might have a choice of Elam/Cyprien and Eric Reid. If Cyprien is there, he should be the pick, hands down! They would probably pass on Elam only because of his short stature (just under 5′ 10″).
Kelly likes bigger players so Elam probably doesn’t fit what he wants in that regard. But, Cyprien would be a prize at pick 35.
Cyprien is 6′ tall, which is probably good enough for Kelly. However, Eric Reid is the biggest at 6′ 1″, 213 lbs. Though he’s regarded as a second-round pick, Reid has some questions regarding his coverage ability and how much he benefited from Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu at the corner positions prior to the 2012 season (production declined last year).
If the Eagles wait until Round 3, they could be looking at safeties such as Phillip Thomas, D.J. Swearinger and T.J. McDonald.
Of those three, McDonald is the biggest at 6′ 3″, 219 lbs, but is also the lowest rated of the three. However, I think he is a darkhorse to watch for an Eagles target. He has good size and physicality and could be someone they could get by trading back a little bit.
Thomas has good size at 6′ 1″, 208 lbs and is someone whom they privately worked-out, which shows interest. Swearinger is the most highly regarded of the three, but is the shortest at 5′ 11″. If I had my choice, Swearinger would be the pick at this point if he was on the board.
Strictly based on size, a sleeper pick to watch out for is Cooper Taylor. He’s a 6′ 5″ 228 lbs safety who has some range to him. He tested very well at his pro day (including a 4.45 40) and could be a perfect fit in the Eagles’ defensive scheme.
Cooper has good coverage skills and could play part safety, part linebacker and cover the shallow zone in Bill Davis’ hyrbid defense. He is also a physical player and has no problem coming up to lay the wood and support the run.
He drew rave reviews after his week of practices as part of the East squad and his performance in the Shrine Game. He’s viewed as a leader, smart and someone who takes coaching well. Could be an interesting prospect in the mid rounds.
Any which way you cut the mustard, the Eagles must address the safety position in the draft. As Eagles fans, we were spoiled with Brian Dawkins and there has been a huge void in the secondary ever since he left.
I’m not sure anyone can ever fill his shoes, but we need to get back to having a safety that will put some fear into the hearts of opposing receivers who dare to come across the middle of our defense.