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April 19, 2018

Eagles 2018 NFL Draft preview: Safety

Leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we'll be taking a look at each of the Philadelphia Eagles' positional groups. We'll determine if the Eagles are likely to select a player at that position with one of their six picks, as well as note some players who make sense. Today we'll look at safety.

Previous draft preview positional analysis

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end
Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line | Defensive end | Defensive tackle
 | Cornerback

At safety, the Eagles have one of the better starting duos in the NFL in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, but they presently only have four safeties on the roster. The other two are special teams ace Chris Maragos and Tre Sullivan, the guy who destroyed a Packers receiver in the preseason last year.

Very clearly, the Eagles need added depth at safety, not just in the short term, but also in the long term, as McLeod's cap charge will balloon to around $10 million in 2019. As such, safety is very clearly a position the Eagles could address in the draft.

Here are five safeties who would make sense for them.

Justin Reid, S, Stanford (6'1, 204)

Reid is the little brother of San Francisco 49ers safety (and former first round pick) Eric Reid. If you read anything about Reid, you'll almost always see people refer to his "football IQ." In addition to his smarts, Reid tested really well at the 2018 NFL Combine:

His strengths, as noted by Lance Zierlein of, read a lot like those of Malcolm Jenkins:

Offers excellent versatility. Good football intelligence. Plays with rapid response to motion and formation shifts. Rarely caught out of position. Shows ability to excel up top or near the box. Able to line up over the top of slots and drag tight ends around the field as well. Stays deeper than deepest from single high coverage. Works with NFL-caliber recognition to reaction time. Has speed and anticipation to range over top and challenge the catch. Impressive ball skills. Can sink and scoop low throws or elevate and take away the jump ball. Physical challenges to the catch point. Sprints hard from high to low to handle run support. Eludes blockers in space. Tough enough for box duties. Runs the alley and smothers running backs. Reliable wrap and drag tackler.

Here's a highlight reel: 

Finding safeties that can do as much as Jenkins is very hard. Reid could play in the slot early in his career, and could serve as the long-term replacement for Jenkins, whenever his career winds down.

Round projection: 1-2

Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama (6'3, 214)

When you think of 6'3, 214 safeties, you think of thumpers who play close to the line of scrimmage. While Harrison will make big hits, he is also skilled in coverage, as Bama used him as a deep half safety, with some assignments against some of the better tight ends they faced. 

A highlight reel:

Ideally, the Eagles would prefer their safeties to also be able to cover slot receivers, and I'm not sure Harrison can do that at the pro level, at least against smaller, shifty types that happen to reside in the NFC East. Then again, most safeties cannot.

Harrison could flourish early in a Corey Graham type of role with his eventual long-term outlook as a starting safety.

Round projection: 1-2

M.J. Stewart, CB/S, North Carolina (5'11, 200)

During the pre-draft process, the Eagles have brought in a number of defensive back prospects who can potentially play in the slot. One who has not yet visited the Eagles (or at least it hasn't been reported that he has) is M.J. Stewart of UNC. At the NFL level, I believe Stewart will be best utilized as a safety, with the ability to play slot corner.

Stewart's stats at North Carolina:

 M.J. StewartTackles (TFL) INT FF-FR PBU 
 201426 (0.5) 0-0 
 201562 (2.5) 1-0 14 
 201666 (3.5) 2-3 11 
 201745 (5) 0-0 12 

That stat to note above is Stewart's pass breakups. Breaking up more than 10 passes in three straight seasons shows consistent production. He's also a physical tackler in the run game from the corner spot, something that will appeal to Jim Schwartz, who took pride in the Eagles' top-ranked run defense a season ago. A highlight reel:

Schwartz loves his safeties to have cornerback in their backgrounds. I believe that Stewart could be a good third safety, with the potential to contribute early in his career in the slot.

Round projection: 3

Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh (5'10, 195)

At 5'10, 195, Whitehead is an undersized safety, but it would seem that Jim Schwartz and the Eagles don't care much about size, particularly at safety. During the 2016 offseason, they signed 5'11, 183-pound safety Rodney McLeod, and during the 2016 draft, they selected 5'9, 184-pound corner Blake Countess, who they moved to safety.

Whitehead is a good athlete, as he has also played cornerback, and even some running back at Pitt. In his Panthers career, Whitehead had 47 carries for 379 yards (8.1 YPC) and 3 TDs.

As a safety, Whitehead had good tackle production, but with only 3 career INTs and 3 career forced fumbles, you'd prefer to see more big plays. Here's a highlight reel (both on offense and defense) from Whitehead's freshman season, which was easily the best of his career at Pitt.

In his sophomore and junior seasons, Whitehead did not build on the promise he showed as a freshman, though he did miss time in both seasons. If the Eagles think Whitehead can be the promising player he was a few years ago when he was fully healthy, they could think of him as a value in the later rounds.

Round projection: 4-5

Marcell Harris, S, Florida (6'0, 208)

In 2016, Harris had 73 tackles (4 for loss), a sack, 2 INTs, and 1 FF. In August of 2017, Harris tore his Achilles, and was done for the season. Harris is a big hitter, and was a highly productive special teams player for the Gators. 

A highlight reel:

Harris is likely to go undrafted, but I could see the Eagles having interest in him as competition for Maragos, 31, who is recovering from a serious injury of his own, and will count for $2 million in the cap in 2018.

Round projection: UDFA

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