Productive Safety Greg Jackson Tops Eagles' No. 47 Class
The Eagles’ veterans report for training camp today but the much larger story is that it’s now 47 days to the scheduled opener on Sept. 13 against the Washington Football Team.
If you sense a bit of hyperbole there, you win the prize but this is a jersey countdown series and the best No. 47 in Eagles history isn’t going to be in any conversations with Reggie White or Chuck Bednarik.
The most beloved is easy. That’s Trey Burton, the triggerman of the Philly Special, perhaps the most famous play in franchise history. Understand, however, that Burton did that after shifting to No. 88, and his job status never really rose above the third tight end position despite getting a big-money deal out of Chicago after the Super Bowl 52 heroics.
The guy on track to be the top No. 47 is Nate Gerry, the former Nebraska safety turned NFL linebacker who is expected to take over the only three-down role for Jim Schwartz’s defense this season.
The winner, however, is former safety Greg Jackson, who started two years for the Eagles in the mid-1990s and was a bit of a turnover machine, snaring six interceptions in 1994 and following that up with another pick and three fumble recoveries in 1995.
Current Number 47 and No. 2 Overall:
Nate Gerry. Gerry was competent if unspectacular in taking a big step forward during the 2019 season. He essentially turned into a starting linebacker in his third season and was the guy at the position when veteran Nigel Bradham was down with injury issues.
Gerry also earned the respect of the coaching staff with his understanding of the defense (LB coach Ken Flajole joked that he knows the defense better than him) and his toughness (Gerry played through a core-muscle injury and didn’t miss a game).
Gerry played in all 17 games last season when you include the postseason loss to Settle and started 13 of them. He played in 61 percent of the defensive snaps overall in the regular season and 81 percent in the playoffs. That number is expected to spike to near 100 percent if Gerry is healthy in 2020.
As a former safety in college, the strength of Gerry’s game is pass coverage and he’s still a work in progress when it comes to run support. The plan coming into training camp with Bradham gone is for Gerry to be the only LB to never leave the field but he will have to earn that at a position filled with more questions than answers right now.
The top 3 in team history to wear number 47:
3. Trey Burton. Burton actually spent three of his four seasons in Philadelphia wearing No. 47 until shifting to 88 for his final one where he had a somewhat bigger role in 2017 as Brent Celek started to slow down a bit.
A former high school quarterback in Venice, Florida Burton was recruited to the University of Florida by Urban Meyer to be a dual-threat QB in Meyer’s spread offense. It didn’t work out that way as Burton moved around like a chess piece, playing QB receiver and running back before finally settling in as an undersized tight end, his NFL future.
He’s best known in college for breaking Tim Tebow’s school record with six touchdowns in a single game and his versatility, finishing up his Gators’ career with 720 rushing yards, 976 receiving yards, and 20 touchdowns.
At about 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Burton was the smallest (and fastest) tight end at the NFL scouting combine in 2014 but was obviously a tough projection with some teams looking at him losing weight to become a king-sized receiver.
In the end, the Eagles brought him in as an undrafted free agent to play tight end and he stuck spending his entire Philadelphia career behind Zach Ertz and Celek, developing into perhaps the best third TE in the NFL during the latter stages.
Overall, Burton played 61 games in Philadelphia (staring five) and had 63 receptions for 629 yards and six TDs, not to mention quite the TD pass in Super Bowl LII.
Burton’s best season came with the Bears in 2018 when he caught 54 passes for 569 yards but he had an injury-plagued campaign a year ago and was released before reuniting with former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich in Indianapolis for the upcoming campaign.
2. Nate Gerry. See Above
1. Greg Jackson. A third-round pick of the New York Giants in the 1989 draft, Jackson spent over a decade in the NFL as a player and is still a part of the league as the current defensive backs coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
A starter by his second year with the Giants, Jackson kept that role for the next seven seasons with three teams, the NYG, the Eagles and the New Orleans Saints. With the Eagles, Jackson was very productive but was more known for who he replaced -- Wes Hopkins -- and who he preceded -- Brain Dawkins. Jackson did start all 34 games (which included two playoff games) he played in Philadelphia.
Runner-up. John Mallory. A New Jersey native Mallory was a 10th-round pick of the Eagles back in 1968 and made the Garden State proud by playing in 55 NFL games as a defensive back/kick returner. Most of his career was spent in Atlanta.
Others: Nick Basca, Ed Hayes, Ron Bull, Larry Crowe, Charlie Williams, Andre Hardy, Charles Emanuel, Gerard Lawson
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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