Can Marcus Epps really be a starting safety for the Eagles?

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Ask Howie Roseman or Nick Sirianni about the Eagles’ unsettled situation at safety and they’ll throw the same two words back at you.

“Marcus Epps.”

As we sit here in early May, Epps is the front runner for a starting safety position opposite Anthony Harris, who the Eagles re-signed.

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But can he handle it?

“We have a lot of confidence in Marcus,” Roseman said Saturday. “Marcus played really good football for us last year. … We’re excited about him.”

The Eagles didn’t sign any other safeties in free agency and they didn’t draft any safeties.

Harris projects as one starter after starting 14 games last year, and with Rodney McLeod now with the Colts, Epps is the next guy up.

The only other safeties on the roster are K’Von Wallace, Jared Mayden and Andre Chachere.

“We probably have a higher vision of that room than maybe is perceived (by the outside),” Roseman said.

Epps has only started eight games in his career – five with the Eagles in 2020, three last year.

But he’s played a lot of football since the Eagles claimed him midway through the 2020 season after he was released by the Vikings.

Epps averaged 26 snaps per game and played 38 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in 2020 and those numbers increased to 32 snaps per game and 48 percent of the snaps last year. He averaged only 11 fewer snaps per game than McLeod and 14 fewer than Harris in the three-man rotation that Jonathan Gannon used more and more throughout the season.

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And he was effective.

Darius Slay, asked Wednesday what Eagles defensive backs are going to surprise people this year, didn’t hesitate to answer.

“For sure, Marcus Epps,” Slay said. “He got a lot of reps, he filled the role in real good, he’s always been ready, always been waiting for his time to come and this is his time, and I know the work he put in, I’m looking forward to seeing what he does.”

Epps is an active, physical safety who’s generally around the ball. He has three interceptions over the last two years, and only Slay has more, and he also had five pass deflections last year – more than McLeod (4) or Harris (3) in less playing time.

Epps was originally a 6th-round pick of the Vikings out of Wyoming in 2019. He played almost exclusively on defense as a rookie – 12 defensive snaps in eight games where he was Harris's teammate before he was  released on Nov. 6 to make room for Andrew Sendejo, who the Eagles had just released.

The Eagles claimed Epps, and with Malcolm Jenkins and McLeod starting every game, he played almost exclusively on special teams, with 98 total reps on defense.

But he’s only played more than 35 snaps eight times in his three seasons, only three times last year. And as a starter that number would likely have to increase to about 60 to 65. That’s a big jump, almost double the playing time, and we’ve all seen backups who are productive when their snaps are limited but struggle when they are asked to be full-time players.

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But the Eagles have reason to believe in Epps.

Pro Football Focus ranked Epps 18th out of 92 safeties who got regular playing time last year. McLeod was 43rd and Harris 53rd. So at least according to PFF, Epps was significantly more productive and efficient in 2021 than McLeod and Harris. 

A No. 18 ranking might not get you to the Pro Bowl, but if there are 64 starting safeties in the league, that puts him in the top 30 percent, which isn’t bad.

Unfortunately, Harris’s No. 53 ranking is an accurate reflection of his season, and it was surprising the Eagles brought him back.

But as far as Epps goes, the 6-foot-200 pounder is definitely a solid player. And if he can maintain that level of play with his snaps doubling, it will answer one nagging question that’s been facing the Eagles all offseason.

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