A surprise safety lands on list of Eagles' most important players


Over the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 25 most important Eagles for the 2022 season.

25. Quez Watkins
24. Gardner Minshew
23. T.J. Edwards
22. Marcus Epps

Marcus Epps didn’t give Jonathan Gannon a choice. The Eagles probably didn’t want to implement a three-man safety rotation in 2021, but Epps was too good to keep on the bench.

Eventually, Epps ended up playing 45% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps last year and is in line for an even bigger role in 2022.

Epps, 26, was initially a sixth-round pick of the Vikings out of Wyoming in 2019. When he was released halfway through his rookie season, the Eagles claimed him and he’s been climbing the depth chart the last two years. In the last two seasons, Epps has played in 30 games with 8 starts and he figures to be a full-time starter in his fourth NFL season.

This offseason, the Eagles re-signed Anthony Harris to a one-year contract but let Rodney McLeod walk in free agency. Based on McLeod’s deal with the Colts, that wasn’t about money. And even if the Eagles had made a big splash for a safety in free agency, don’t be so sure Epps is the guy who would have been sent to the bench. Because, despite his limited role last year, Epps was the Eagles’ best safety.

He ended last season with 62 tackles, 5 pass breakups and an interception. And he was ranked as ProFootballFocus’s 18th-best safety last year, well ahead of McLeod (43) and Harris (53).

The big question about Epps isn’t whether or not he was good last year. It’s this: Can he be as good in an expanded role? No one really knows the answer.

What’s the challenge for him as he takes the next step in his career?

“Just like any young player, a guy that hasn't been a full-time starter, is just consistency,” Gannon said last month. “He's played at a high level the times that he's played for us, and you have to be able to do that over the long-haul snap after snap. Really excited to see him play this year.

“That's just the thing is just one snap at a time and being a consistent football player and executing at a high level with everything that we ask the safety position to do.”

The fact that the Eagles were at least somewhat interested in some free agent safeties this offseason shows that they didn't love running it back with Harris and Epps. Recently, they added Jaquiski Tartt on a one-year deal and it’s unclear how he’ll fit into the defense. Tartt push for a starting gig and will at least provide some much-needed depth.

But that doesn’t mean the Eagles don’t like Epps. Heck, my guess is even if the Eagles signed a big-time free agent like Marcus Williams or Tyrann Mathieu, Epps still would have played. It’s just that without that big signing, it makes his role that much more important. And if you think Tartt is going to get playing time, don’t be so sure it’ll be at Epps’ expense.

“The coaches, they’ve expressed confidence in me,” Epps said this spring. “Obviously, I have a lot of confidence in myself. But just like any other year, man, I still have to come in and prove it. I still have a lot to prove.”

Epps this season is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract and has a base salary of less than $1 million in 2022. So if he has a big season, he’ll probably cash in as a free agent.

The Eagles will be rooting for him.

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