SENIOR BOWL: Safeties to Watch

Ed Kracz

Last year was the year to draft a safety, except the Eagles never did, and now they are in a real tight corner.

Malcolm Jenkins wants a new contract, saying after the season ended that he won’t play under the terms of his existing deal. He’s played virtually every snap and in 96 straight games since joining the Eagles in 2104, so there’s a lot of mileage on his 32-year-old body.

Rodney McCleod is a free agent. He will turn 30 in June.

That is not exactly the type of youth injection this aging roster needs.

Marcus Epps turns 24 on Jan. 27 and Rudy Ford is 25, so they are young, but are they good enough to step in and start next season should Jenkins and McLeod depart?

Not likely.

To think the Eagles could have had their safety of the future last year. 

Darnell Savage and Johnathan Abram went in the first round then four more came off the board in the second round.

The Eagles never bit, choosing to draft Miles Sanders then J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the second round with three of those safeties still available: Nasir Adderley, Taylor Rapp, and Juan Thornhill.

Adderley played in just four games with the Charger before going on Injured Reserve and Rapp played 15 games with 10 starts and had two interception. 

Thornhill was the fifth safety taken and had a terrific year that is culminating in the Super Bowl as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. He started all 16 games and made three interceptions, but he tore his ACL at the end of December and has not played in the postseason.

Where do the Eagles turn now?

Free agency seems the best route, with this class of safeties available in the draft not particularly deep.

Minnesota’s Anthony Harris, Denver’s Justin Simmons, and San Francisco’s Jimmie Ward, Chicago’s Ha Ha Clinton- Dix, and San Diego’s Adrian Phillips among several quality free agents that could be available in March.

That doesn’t mean they won’t take one in April’s draft.

Here are some to keep an eye on in Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The game begins at 2:30 eastern and will be on The NFL Network.

NORTH SQUAD

Ashtyn Davis, 6-1, 190, California. Davis is all over the board in terms of where he could potentially be drafted, so these next couple of months of workouts and interviews will be big for him. He had 55 tackles, with two interceptions and four passes defended last year, and some see him as a potential first rounder; others believe he is more of a fourth-round talent. He does have some speed, competing on the Cal track team.

Khaleke Hudson, 6-0, 205, Michigan. A strong run defender but needs to improve his pass coverage at the next level. He made 102 tackles last year with three passes defended and two sacks.

Jalen Elliott, 6-1, 210, Notre Dame. Broke into the Irish starting lineup as a sophomore, Elliott had 43 tackles with two pass breakups. Those numbers increased as a junior with 63 tackles, four picks, and six passes defended. As a senior, however, the production dipped slightly with 49 tackles, two interceptions and two passes defended.

Others: Josh Metellus, Michigan, Jeremy Chin, Southern Illinois, Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame

SOUTH SQUAD

Kyle Dugger, 6-2, 215, Lenoir-Rhyne. This small-school prospect could be the first safety off the draft board, unless LSU’s Grant Delpit or Alabama’s Xavier McKinney are. Neither Delpit nor McKinney are in Mobile.

Dugger has size and his speed is legit, with a projected 40-yard dash time of below 4.5. Playing at a Division II school means the offseason evaluation process will be huge for him, and it begins on Saturday.

K’Von Wallace, 5-11, 205, Clemson. Any player from Clemson should warrant some attention by the NFL scouts. Wallace doesn’t jump out on film, but he made 63 tackles with two picks and 10 pass breakups. Will have to overcome the notion that, at 5-11, he isn’t too small to make an impact on a professional defense.

Jared Mayden, 6-0, 205, Alabama. Took several years for Mayden to crack the talented Tide’s starting secondary, but he finally did as a senior. He made the most of his time, too, with 59 tackles and four interceptions. He needs to show coverage skills on Saturday.

Others: Brian Cole, Mississippi St., Antoine Brooks, Maryland

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