Playing safety in Philadelphia is a ‘daunting task,’ as former Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins described it to Eagles Today of Sports Illustrated.
Despite the recent addition of Jaquiski Tartt, and the re-signing of 2021 starter Anthony Harris, Marcus Epps is still expected to take on a larger role among the safety group this upcoming season.
Epps only spent seven games under Jenkins’ tutelage, but the now-26-year-old stood out to the former Super Bowl champion.
“When I was there, [Epps] was a player that was behind Rodney [McLeod] and I, but was rising fast on the depth chart," Jenkins told SI's Eagles Today. "Somebody who is physically gifted and is smart enough to understand defenses and where he needs to be in alignments. I think he’s soaked up a lot of game.
“That was one of the things I recognized about him early, that he is someone that wants to know how to become the best player he can. He stuck around late after meetings and asked questions, watched extra tape. For me, those things lead me to believe he’s going to be fine.”
Eight games into Epps’ rookie year, the Minnesota Vikings put the defensive back on waivers, and the Eagles were awarded the former sixth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Since he arrived in Philadelphia, Epps has seen his role gradually increase over time, from 22% of the defensive snaps in 2019 to 38% in 2020, and then ending last season with playing 48% of the snaps. Even with the likes of Jenkins, McLeod, Harris, and former starter Jalen Mills seeing the majority of the time at safety.
One thing Jenkins said that was interesting is that Epps has to be his own player. He can't try to be the best safety to ever play in Philadelphia, and that, of course, is Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins, or even Jenkins.
Epps can only be himself, and that, the former safety said, should be good enough to be successful.
“You can’t be Dawkins or myself,” said Jenkins. “I watched Dawkins’ tape. I tried. I can’t do what he does. That’s why he is who he is.
"So, Epps has to find out what he does really well and I think he’s got great ball skills. He’s got range and tackles well. As long as he continues to develop his game and focuses on being the best Epps he can be, he’ll be fine.”
Epps’ best ability is being one of the Eagles’ most sure-handed tacklers. Pro Football Focus charted Epps at a 6.8% missed tackle rate in 2021, which is the best by an Eagles safety with a minimum of playing 500 snaps since Brian Dawkins' 8.3% rate in 2008.
The young defensive back has also shown off his incredible range introducing himself to ballcarriers this past season. PFF ranked Epps as the second-highest graded safety in the NFL versus the run at 88.9, 1.3 points behind San Francisco 49ers’ safety Jimmie Ward).
Jenkins’ high praise for Epps has the purpose to back up his personal opinion, but his words of encouragement for the defensive back entering his fourth year should relieve any Eagles fans that are on the fence about trusting Epps with a larger role.
Yes, the recent addition of Tartt tempers perhaps playing time expectations, but tracing Epps’ trajectory these past few seasons doesn't mean his playing time won't increase anyway even after the acquisition.
With three productive safeties becoming mandatory pieces of defenses in this era of football and having the preference of the coaching staff, there’s no reason to doubt the contributions Epps will make in 2022.
Besides, who would know the safety spot better than a two-time Super Bowl champion and a three-time Pro Bowler like Jenkins?
Conor Myles covers the Philadelphia Eagles for SI Fan Nation's Eagles Today and co-hosts the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast on Bleav Podcast Network. Reach Conor at ConorMylesSI@gmail.com or Twitter: @ConorMylesSI