Every well-run company does a yearly inventory check. In this eight-part series, I will break down, position-by-position, where the Eagles stand, how long-term their current situation is and the likelihood of a draft pick being spent on that position.
Next up: The Defensive Backs.
The Starters: While still not really a strength, the secondary will head into 2014 in better shape than it’s been a few years.
Bradley Fletcher returns to start on the outside. While thoroughly unspectacular, Fletcher was pretty solid in coverage. At 27 years old, Fletcher is what he is. He’ll never be a star, but he’s far from a liability and he’s consistent. Think a poor man’s Sheldon Brown. I miss Sheldon.
Meanwhile, opposite Fletcher the story could not be any different. Just when Cary Williams does something that makes you want to rip your hair out, he comes back and makes the biggest play of the quarter. It was incredible how often that sequence took place in 2013. Cary is big, aggressive, athletic and will press the snot out of you, but those things do work against him at times in the form of penalties and over-aggressive mistakes.
While Fletcher and Williams are starting caliber CBs, I think you’d ideally prefer both to be your #2 CB. The team definitely lacks a true shutdown guy.
Safety, a position that has been a mess for years, also looks better. A simple upgrade from Patrick Chung to Malcolm Jenkins will do that for you. Jenkins was the Eagles’ top Free Agent signee and his presence should be felt immediately. While by no means an All-Pro player, Jenkins is a solid starter on a team that in recent years has resulted to fringe players starting at Safety. Sup Macho Harris.
At the other Safety spot, a bounce-back to serviceable for Nate Allen last year was nice to see. I think it’s safe to say that Allen will never live up to some of the lofty expectations that many had for him after his strong rookie season. But he’s a good center fielder whose tackling improved in 2013. On a one-year deal, I can live with another year of Allen. And in a really weak Draft for Safeties, his re-signing was probably the best the Eagles could do. Grade: C+
The Backups: Can we talk about my favorite guy on the team, Brandon Boykin? The smallest player on the Eagles defense may have had the most impact in 2013. Boykin finished second in the NFL to just Richard Sherman with 6 interceptions, played slot receivers well and seemed to make every big play that was to be made. Oh and by the way, he was a monster on Special Teams, too. His size, lack of top end speed and early mastery of the slot in a spread-passing league lead me to believe that Boykin may never start on the outside (Much like Joselio Hanson). But as a Nickel Back, I’m not sure you can do much better than Boykin.
Nolan Carroll is an interesting addition. Despite two returning starters on the outside, I truly believe that Carrol was brought in to compete for one of those spots. Carroll started in Miami, and his career thus far does bear a resemblance to Bradley Fletcher’s. Whichever CB of the trio loses out on a starting spot will be watching a lot of Football this year, unless injuries hit, since Boykin has the slot locked down.
For depth purposes, the Eagles bring back Roc Carmichael and the lone Andy Reid blunder still left, Curtis Marsh. Carmichael played as well as he could in some emergency duty last year, but he was picked on and really lacks the top-end talent to play in the NFL. Marsh? I don’t know. What’s the point? I think we’ve all conceded that the 2011 Draft was a disaster. Might as well cut the cord on the only top 3 pick left. The Eagles should bring in some fresh blood at the #5 CB spot.
At Safety, Earl Wolff should have a shot to push for Allen’s starting job. Wolff showed some promise as a rookie and appears to be good enough to stick in the NFL. Whether that’s as a starter or a backup remains to be seen.
Chris Maragos comes in to take Colt Anderson’s spot. Maragos was a Special Teams ace in Seattle, while Anderson tapered off a bit in 2013. Expect to see Maragos in on a lot of big kick-coverage plays. Keelan Johnson is your 5th safety for now. He has one career tackle. Grade: A-
Long-term viability: While not a terrible unit, the secondary is still probably the team’s biggest weakness, and it’s because most of the starters are place-holders. The Eagles will upgrade Fletcher, Williams and Allen the second they have the chance. Jenkins and Boykin are probably the only two guys set in stone for a while. Grade: D
Draft Likelihood: It’s a weird position right now. There’s a lot of good-enough here, which leads to an overall mediocre unit. But it looks like the plan for now is to stand pat with the existing players, while holding open competition between Fletcher/Williams/Carroll and Allen/Wolff. They will definitely add a rookie or two to the mix, but I doubt it’s a high pick. Grade: B