June 19, 2024   6 MIN READ

Anything But Safe

DiCecco: More Questions Than Answers At Safety


While the Eagles have been busy replenishing and upgrading a blemished roster to best position themselves for success in 2024, there are still some lean areas.

One could make the case that wide receiver – beyond starters A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith – would be at the top of the list.

It certainly qualifies, although veteran speedster Parris Campbell provides depth, while rookies Johnny Wilson and Ainias Smith offer upside.

The linebacker room also garnered some consideration, but overall, the group is considerably better positioned than this time last summer.

Far from a world-beating unit, to be sure, but it’s been upgraded.

Instead, when looking at the team’s most glaring deficiency, I went in a different direction.

On Tuesday, we took a look at the Eagles’ strongest position group on paper. Today, we go inside the team’s thinnest group.

Reed Blankenship

GETTY IMAGES: Third-year safety Reed Blankenship projects to start but is probably best as a third safety.


One thing about the true meaning of depth – it’s never about the number of players at a given position, it’s about the quality.

Aside from the two projected starters, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Reed Blankenship, the room reveals more questions than answers.

The room is headlined by the aforementioned Gardner-Johnson, a free-agent addition known for his charisma, versatility and exceptional ball skills.

The absence of Gardner-Johnson, a key component of the Eagles’ 2022 Super Bowl team, had a ripple effect last season on a largely listless defense devoid of big plays.

His patented swagger and penchant for takeaways should invigorate a revamped Eagles defense under coordinator Vic Fangio.

But while Gardner-Johnson fronts the unit, the 26-year-old also comes with an extensive injury history, having missed 14 regular-season games last season with the Lions after sustaining a torn pectoral.

He was also limited to 12 regular-season games in his initial stint with the Eagles due to a lacerated kidney.

But at full strength – in this defense – Gardner-Johnson could exceed the lofty expectations. His versatility and strengths should be accentuated and maximized under Fangio. He’ll also have the opportunity to grow into a leadership role.

Blankenship, puzzlingly, doesn’t garner enough recognition relative to performance and expectations.

The former undrafted free agent, steady if unspectacular, enters his third season, second as a starter. The Middle Tennessee State product atones for his lack of high-end athleticism with football intelligence, toughness, and plus ball skills.

It’s worth pointing out that Blankenship had a constant rotating cast playing alongside him last season, miscasting the 25-year-old as the top safety, stretching him thin while also revealing some limitations.

He’s best suited as a No. 2 or No. 3 safety. Playing alongside a ball-hawking centerfielder in Gardner-Johnson should alleviate some of the burden from Blankenship, allowing him to play more freely and affording Fangio the flexibility to deploy him in different ways.

Again, though, availability should be taken into account, as Blankenship has missed games due to injuries in each of his first two seasons.

Sydney Brown

GETTY IMAGES: The Eagles are hoping second-year S Sydney Brown rebounds from ACL surgery.

Had it not been for a late-season knee injury as a rookie, Sydney Brown likely would’ve pushed Blankenship for a starting job. Brown, a heat-seeking missile, energy generator and throwback, was a spectator for OTAs and minicamp as he works his way back but was spotted running on a side field.

Brown would also routinely position himself behind the secondary during team drills, observing and logging mental reps. While he appears ahead of schedule, it remains to be seen how much of an instantaneous boost Brown can provide upon return, without an acclimation period into Fangio’s defense.

The Eagles also have Avonte Maddox and James Bradberry, a pair of veteran cornerbacks cross-training at the position. Maddox, who has repped at safety in game situations and flashed a bit during spring practices, has missed 13 games over the past two seasons and isn’t exactly a lock to make the roster.

Even if he does, one would presume his focus would be at his natural position, nickelback, ahead of anything else.

The embattled Bradberry, eyeing a resurgence following a drastic decline in performance, never had an opportunity to showcase his chops at safety during minicamp after coming up lame during individual drills moments into the initial session.

Bradberry was held out of the remaining two practices. I’m skeptical of how his skill-set translates to the position, but in an effort to salvage his career, he’s expected to get a long look in training camp.

There’s also second-year holdovers Mekhi Garner and Tristin McCollum, 2023 practice squad alums who were each elevated for three regular-games games and the postseason game against the Bucs.

Garner, a converted corner, looks the part at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds. Another throwback who moves well in space and plays the game with an edge, Garner has good ball skills and doubles as a menace on special teams. The LSU product was narrowly edged out of a roster spot last summer and should make another run, but doesn’t offer much in the way of experience.

Tristin McCollum

GETTY IMAGES: S Tristin McCollum was active three times last year and held his own when asked to get on the field.

McCollum, at 6-foot-3, boasts terrific length to go along with a sharp football mind and solid range. It’s worth noting that McCollum predominately worked with the second-team during spring practices.

Special teams will be his ticket onto the roster, but like Garner, McCollum lacks game reps at his position of trade.

If you’re looking for a dark horse, keep an eye on Andre Sam, a rookie free agent from LSU. At 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, Sam doesn’t sport a prototypical build. And at 25 years old, he’s considered to be on the older side for rookies.

But the Eagles doled out a decent guarantee ($150,000) and Sam was fairly active this spring. With 2020 being the exception, the Eagles have an extensive track record of keeping at least one undrafted rookie on the initial 53-man roster. Sam fits the bill.

While the Eagles have plenty of names at safety, they also have injury concerns and inexperience clouding the positional outlook there.

Rookie cornerback Cooper DeJean could eventually undertake double duty, but that would be a projection. It also might not be wise to overburden a first-year player by throwing too much at him at once.

Rather than rely on cross-training, the Eagles need a definitive plan at furnishing the position with viable depth solutions.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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