ITB Offseason Recap: Birds Safeties Remain Question Mark
[Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories by Andrew DiCecco on InsideTheBirds.com recapping the Eagles offseason and looking to the 2022 season. Today’s story focuses on the biggest area of concern on defense.]
As I scanned the Eagles’ roster for areas of concern, I was reminded just how drastically the offense and defense has seemingly improved over the course of one offseason.
On Monday, I closely examined the offense and eventually came to a decision on which area was the biggest concern, but finding a flaw defensively isn’t as straightforward.
All three levels have undergone a much-needed renovation.
Perhaps the most obvious answer would be the team’s annually underwhelming linebacker unit, often comprised of late-round dart throws and discarded veterans.
Each season, the second level is decisively overmatched and always accentuated in defeat.
However, the team added veteran pass-rush stalwart Haason Reddick and intangible-laden former Charger Kyzir White in free agency, in addition to landing a prospect many believe to be the steal of April’s draft in third-round linebacker Nakobe Dean.
Combined with pleasantly surprising fourth-year pro T.J. Edwards, the Eagles might well have their most formidable group of linebackers in quite some time.
Though not as apparent on the surface, defensive end also came under my microscope before I ultimately pivoted.
Still, beyond 34-year-old Brandon Graham – coming off a torn Achilles, no less – and the relatively enigmatic Josh Sweat, the Eagles lack capable depth.
Sure, in theory, Derek Barnett – who has started 45 games for the Eagles over the past five seasons – should solidify the highly important third spot in the rotation, but the former first round pick is known more for his crippling on-field infractions than production.
Tarron Jackson, a 2021 sixth-round pick, is a deep rotational, high-motor effort player who’ll perennially have to scratch and claw his way onto the roster.
Given the scarcity behind Graham and Sweat, I have to believe the team’s reliance on the impact of Reddick and defensive tackle Milton Williams factors heavily into that decision.
As we navigate our way around the defense, that leaves us at safety.
The addition of Jaquiski Tartt initially clouded my decision, as the veteran brings a resume that includes 64 starts, but in reality the signing does little to move the needle.
The trio of Tartt and holdovers Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps, while experienced, conceivably leave the Eagles vulnerable in the middle of the secondary.
Tartt offers more athleticism and range than Harris and can fulfill the sorely-needed enforcer role, but both are largely one-dimensional veterans better suited for playing in the box, while the 26-year-old Epps represents the greatest potential.
Epps performed admirably last season, logging a career-high in snaps (505), but it remains to be seen how he’ll fare in the limelight.
Despite this, platooning three capable safeties with varied skill sets should mask most deficiencies and matchup concerns – and an improved pass-rush will also help — although I suspect there will be weeks where the group is visibly overmatched.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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