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March 04, 2017

NFL Combine preview: Safety prospects who could interest the Eagles

Eagles NFL

The NFL Combine kicked off in Indianapolis this week, and we've already begun taking a look at some participants at each positional group. In case you missed our previous positional previews:

Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends
Offensive tackles | Guards | Centers
Defensive ends | Defensive tacklesLinebackers | Cornerbacks

Today, we'll finish off our series with a look at safeties.

Is safety a need?

The Eagles are already set at safety with Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod locked in as the starters for the foreseeable future. However, a season ago, when Jenkins was forced to drop down into the slot after injuries to some of the cornerbacks, that forced Jaylen Watkins onto the field, which didn't always go so well.

Ideally, the Eagles will bolster their corner depth to the point where they will no longer need Jenkins to take on a slot corner role, but they could certainly add some depth at safety regardless. In my view, safety / slot corner hybrids would be ideal.

Here are three safeties who make sense for the Eagles:

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan (6'1, 205)

At Michigan, Peppers played a wide variety of spots, serving as a slot corner, safety, linebacker, kick returner, punt returner, and wildcat quarterback. In the NFL, he'll still be a return specialist, but his other responsibilities will be greatly diminished.

Peppers is an extraordinary athlete, but his numbers at Michigan as a defender were unimpressive. In his entire career at Michigan, he had one interception and one forced fumble. At one time, Peppers was thought of as a top 10 pick, but he's probably more likely to fall into the second round because his lack of production is a red flag. 

At pick 42, I can see where he may make some sense for the Eagles as a slot corner, but wouldn't necessarily have to come off the field in base sets, seeing as he played some linebacker at Michigan. We'll consider him a safety here though.

Peppers could be a guy who can cover slot receivers as well as tight ends, two positions that are strong within the rest of the NFC East, while also drawing some of the same responsibilities as something of an in-the-box safety.

Desmond King, Iowa (5'10, 206)

Wait, isn't King a corner? Yeah, I guess, but after watching him get roasted all week at the Senior Bowl, I don't think King is long for corner in the NFL, at least on the outside. I think he'll be a safety who can also play slot corner, and he may even slip to Day 3 of the draft.

King has good ball skills, as he racked up 13 pass breakups and tied for second in the NCAA with 8 INTs in 2015. He had three picks (one for a pick-six) and seven pass breakups in 2016. 

He was also Iowa's primary kick and punt returner, putting up decent numbers, but never taking one back for a touchdown. I don't think you'd view King as an answer at returner, but he'd be another guy who can do it.

Jadar Johnson, Clemson (6'1, 181)

Johnson has a nose for the football, collecting five interceptions this past season for Clemson. 

He also says dumb stuff. For example, before the Tigers' playoff game against Ohio State a couple weeks ago, Johnson said that OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett has a weak arm. Prior to Clemson's game against Louisville, Johnson would only refer to star quarterback Lamar Jackson as "No. 8."

Dumb? Confident? Potato, potahto. However you see it, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz loves him some finger-wagging defensive backs, and Johnson could be an option in the late rounds.

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