EAGLES NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: Safeties

The Eagles could look to add to free-agent pickups Anthony Harris and Andrew Adams at safety
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PHILADELPHIA - In a year where the Eagles took on more dead money for any single player in NFL history by trading Carson Wentz, it was impossible to be a real player in free agency.

Philadelphia did make a relative splash, however, when it waited out a depressed market and got former NFL interception leader Anthony Harris on a cost-effective one-year deal for $5 million. The Eagles added depth and special teams help by signing another safety in Andrew Adams, fresh off winning a Super Bowl title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Once a franchise-tagged player in Minnesota, Harris was the victim of circumstance as the once-vaunted Vikings defense went from a top-five unit over half a decade to a bottom-five one due to an almost unprecedented level of attrition.

Up front, the Vikings lost sack star Danielle Hunter for the season with a herniated disc, nose tackle Michael Pierce to a COVID-19 opt-out, and multi-time Pro Bowl selection Everson Griffen to free agency. Outside Mike Zimmer lost his three starting cornerbacks - Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander (since returned) to free agency - and star linebacker Anthony Barr played only two games due to a torn biceps.

When fellow Pro Bowl LB Eric Kendricks was lost to a calf injury for the final five weeks, all that was left was the safety duo of Harrison Smith and Harris.

Too many failed to take that context in when it came to understanding why Harris had his worst season since becoming a starter in 2020.

Set to turn 30 in October that meant a somewhat depressed market for Harris, who ended up taking a prove-it deal with the Eagles to reunite with defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who was the assistant defensive backs coach with the Vikings when Harris entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia in 2015.

When right, Harris is one of the best ballhawks in the NFL and a tremendous center fielder in single-high looks, amassing nine interceptions from 2018-19 when he was graded as the third-best safety in the league by ProFootballFocus.com in 2018 and No. 1 overall in 2019.

Last season, Harris fell to No. 38 of 94 as he was asked to move around more to make up for the deficiencies of Minnesota's front seven and young corners. Harris had an almost Malcolm Jenkins-like placement on the field, lining up 33 times on the defensive line, 271 times in the box, 144 times as a slot CB, and 12 times as an outside CB vs. 614 times at his natural free safety position.

Gannon will almost assuredly get him back to his comfort zone in CF with a heavy emphasis expected on Cover-2 and Cover-3 looks once Rodney McLeod is cleared from a torn ACL because McLeod is also best utilized in deep looks.

For now, the best box safety option Philadelphia has after losing Jalen Mills to New England in free agency is second-year man K'Von Wallace, who got his feet wet as a fourth-round pick out of Clemson in 2020 by playing in 203 defensive snaps, 75 of those in the front seven and 37 more in the slot.

The development of younger players was one of the legitimate criticisms of Doug Pederson's coaching staff and all eyes will be on Gannon and new secondary coach Dennard Wilson when it comes to the steps Wallace is able to take.

Others on the Eagles depth chart at safety are Marcus Epps, who was once teammates with Harris in Minnesota, Elijah Riley, an undrafted free agent out of Army, and Adams.

It will also be interesting to see where the new coaching staff thinks Grayland Arnold, a second-year player with CB/S versatility, fits.

As far as safeties go in the draft there are two who will be in the conversation late in the first round: TCU's Trevon Moehrig and Central Florida's Richie Grant.

If one of them falls to 37, something more likely for Grant than Moehrig, you shouldn't rule it out for the Eagles because Harris is only locked up for 2021 and McLeod now has age and injury concerns.

The Eagles have had a bit of a pipeline going with TCU and Moehrig's projects to have the versatility to be an interchangeable piece on the back end.

"Being at TCU allowed me to play different spots on the field, just showing my versatility," said Moehrig. "Whatever team comes and gets me, I can play in whatever scheme they need me. I just want to be the best at whatever position they put me in. I think I can be versatile and fill a bunch of needs."

Grant projects as more of a Harris/McLeod-type as either a single-high or split safety player but again this isn't just about 2021 so if the Eagles like the player they have to consider him.

As far as other potential Day 2 options a little later, Jevon Holland of Oregon and Andre Cisco of Syracuse are names to keep an eye on.

If the Eagles want a true box safety, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Hamsah Nasirildeen of Florida State could be of intrigue.

DEPTH CHART

FS: Anthony Harris, Marcus Epps, Grayland Arnold

SS: Rodney McLeod (rehabbing from torn ACL), K'Von Wallace, Andrew Adams, Elijah Riley

BUILDING THE PERFECT SAFETY

Coverage - Richie Grant, Central Florida: Grant seems like the most instinctual option in the draft when it comes to route development and that means fewer false steps and the ability to patrol CF.

Run support - Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State: A king-sized safety who plays like his size.

Recovery speed - Caden Sterns, Texas: The problem with Sterns is he will get out of position and is not the savviest safety but he can at least run to make up for it.

Ball Skills - Jevon Holland, Oregon: No one got his hands on the ball more at the college level than Holland, who not only had nine INTs from 2019-2020 but 10 PBUs.

Hybrid - Divive Deablo, Virginia Tech: If you're looking for the positionless player on the back end, Diablo is the guy. A rover at Va. Tech, his 6-foot-3, 226-pound frame can easily shift between strong safety/LB, making it a chess match between offensive and defensive coordinators to take advantage of the mismatch.

EAGLES MAVEN TOP 10:

1. Trevon Moehrig, TCU

2. Richie Grant, Central Florida

3. Jevon Holland, Oregon

4. Andre Cisco, Syracuse

5. Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State

6. Divine Deablo, Virginia Tech

7. Jamar Johnson, Indiana

8. Tyree Gillespie, Missouri

9. James Wiggins, Cincinnati

10. Caden Sterns, Texas

Sleeper: Christian Uphoff, Illinois State

Boom or Bust: Divive Deablo, Virginia Tech

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven and host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.