Once Again, Eagles Look To Draft For Safety Help

It seems to be a story we write pretty much every offseason around these parts: The Eagles are looking for safety help.

They’ve tried and failed in previous years to fill the gaping hole in the back end of the defense. Guys like Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen, Colt Anderson, David Sims, Jarrad Page and Jaiquawn Jarrett have all gotten a chance to start since the beginning of the 2011 season. But none have produced at a level that would suggest they should be penciled in as a starter going forward.

And so, Howie Roseman will try once again this offseason to find safety help in the draft and/or free agency.

“To me, that’s the hardest position to evaluate in college football is safeties,” Roseman said last week at the Senior Bowl. “The guys that used to be the most explosive athletes and were playing in the back end, they’re going to play corner because they feel like maybe at corner, they can play 10 years. You look at the franchise tag numbers, the corner position is higher than the safety position. That is going to be the constant struggle. When you talk to people around the league, it’s hard to find safeties.”

Part of the reason why is the position is changing. Teams need safeties who can cover. That might mean matching up with tight ends or providing double-team help over the top. And with more offenses incorporating the read option, safeties are expected to be sound tacklers near the line of scrimmage as well.

The good news for the Eagles is that this appears to be a pretty good group of college prospects.

“There will be more on the draft board this year than probably in the last two years,” Roseman said.

Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro (6-1, 218) seems to be the consensus top option on the board, although he did not participate in the Senior Bowl. Many analysts expect him to be a first-round pick.

But there’s depth at safety too. Here are some other names to know:

Baccari Rambo (6-0, 215), Georgia – He missed time last season for violating team rules (mistakenly eating pot Brownies?), but was a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC selection as a junior. Asked what he needs to improve, Rambo said, “I just feel like I’ve got to work on my open field and taking better angles on tackling.”

His strength?

“My ball skills, my instincts. I have a pretty good knack for going and getting the ball when I’m in zone coverage.”

Phillip Thomas (6-1, 210), Fresno State – He led the nation with eight interceptions, taking three back to the house. And Thomas showed he can play up at the line of scrimmage too, finishing with 12 tackles for loss (four sacks), third among all defensive backs.

“I feel like my strength is getting to the ball no matter what, if it’s in the air or on the ground,” Thomas said. “Just getting the ball and creating turnovers. Film study, that’s the biggest thing to me. It helps you play a lot faster.”

As for an area of improvement?

“Open-field tackling,” Thomas said. “Just getting to the ball-carrier in open space and being able to take that extra step instead of lunging out after him. Just securing the tackle.”

NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said during the Senior Bowl broadcast that he heard Thomas could be a second- or third-round pick.

T.J. McDonald (6-2, 211), USC – Mayock suggested last week that McDonald needs to get better be in coverage.

“I know I’m a physical player in the box,” McDonald said. “I love to play in the box and stick my nose in there, but also like to play deep and get my hands on the ball.”

McDonald, one of the biggest safeties in the group, is the son of former NFL player Tim McDonald.

Matt Elam (5-10, 206), Florida – ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Elam as his second-best safety behind Vaccaro. According to NFL.com, he played a lot in the box, but was also asked to cover opposing slot receivers. Their NFL comp for Elam is former Eagles Quintin Mikell.

J.J. Wilcox (5-11, 214), Georgia Southern – He didn’t play in a BCS conference, but Wilcox’s stock appears to be rising. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com named him one of the winners at the Senior Bowl and Dan Pompei of the National Football Post has Wilcox ranked as the No. 2 safety on the board, projecting a second-round selection.

Jonathan Cyprien (6-0, 209), Florida International – Another small-school prospect who had a good Senior Bowl.

“I think his instinctivness and his reactions, an ability to just want to go to the ball. It’s almost kind of a natural thing for him,” Senior Bowl executive director and former NFL scout Phil Savage said, per AL.com. “And if he can run fast enough at the Combine for people to say, ‘Hey, his instincts will overcome any deficiency in speed that he might have.’ There are some scouts now, after this week, who already say he can run. That’s one of the final blanks he’ll have to fill in, but overall he’s been terrific here this week.”

Mayock suggested Cyprien could be a second- or third-round pick.

A couple other names to know: Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson and LSU’s Eric Reid are currently third and fourth in Kiper’s safety rankings.

As for the Eagles, they didn’t pick a safety last year, but spent second-round selections on Jaiquawn Jarrett and Nate Allen in the previous two drafts (along with a seventh-rounder on Kurt Coleman in 2010). Even if they address safety in free agency, don’t be surprised to see them pick another one in April’s draft.

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  • Stephen Stempo

    I think the right coach might be able to fix Nate Allen. I’m not saying its likely but the kid had a pretty good rookie year before Andy went all bat-shit crazy with his defensive staff. I mean I think few of our players might have bounce back years on d if we get the right coaches. Even if we move to 3-4.

    • 1972

      Nate allen never could tackle coming out of college and now he’s a step slower with the knee injury. He was pulled for kert coleman and colt anderson. thats really all i needed to see

      • Stephen Stempo

        Good for you. I’d actually like to know,you know, more.

        • B-West

          Fair, but don’t let your optimism discount what we do know about Nate Allen. At a minimum, his career thus far has established that his ceiling is much lower than what was thought at the time he was drafted. The good players shined thru last year despite the coaching mess (Demeco, Fletch, and Graham to an extent).

          • Stephen Stempo

            It’s not hard to shine through when the players surrounding you played so dimly.

          • B-West

            Right… So you’re off the redeemable players bandwagon then, specifically Nate Allen? I thought we were on opposite sides of this discussion initially.

        • 1972

          I know as much as you do , i watch the games and game film thats it.i was just commenting on your “fix nate allen”thing.The only way to do that is reverse the knee injury, and even before then i didnt really like his skill set.A non tackling cover guy that gets there a step too late.

          Ive been pretty optimistic this year when it comes to the eagles, but not this secondary. Can you tell me what it is you like about nate allens game?

          Not his college game his nfl game

          • Stephen Stempo

            Didn’t say he would get fixed just that he could.

  • Bdawk20

    Howie Roseman described the safety position as changing, but then went on to describe attributes of a safety that were first seen with Brian Dawkins.

    • Stephen Stempo

      Dawkins in his prime would get suspended for 1-4 games a year in goodells nfl.

  • The Guru

    Things we’ve learned from the last 4 drafts: DON’T DRAFT ANY PLAYER OUTSIDE THE 4 MAJOR CONFERENCES (specifically the SEC). Stop taking the safety from Temple and South Florida. Don’t you dare take the Fresno St. stiff or the GA Southern guy. Let some other team roll the dice.

    Then again, the entire world knew you should have taken Earl Thomas….so don’t tell me it’s that tough.

  • Sb2bowl

    its the curse of Dawk- we shouldn’t have let him go, and we’ve been cursed since. Now that he is retired, we should be alright.

  • dp03

    While Brandon Graham improved this year without injuries and consistent playing time, they really blew it in the 2010 draft when they moved up and passed on Earl Thomas.

  • 1972

    The reason roseman thinks the safety position is so hard to evaluate is because HES TERRIBLE AT DRAFTING ONE!!!! jarrett and nate allen were his picks.I hope theres another guy in the room evaluating that position. howie doesnt know nasty when he see’s it

    • Stephen Stempo

      Outside of maybe a half dozen teams safety play in the nfl has been abysmal for a few years now. So, as much as I like using conjecture to fuel my arguments as well, I actually will agree that safety is seemingly a difficult position to project from one level to the next.

      • 1972

        The safties drafted by the eagles were lauded by howie roseman. Those are facts not conjecture. Now saying saftey play has been abysmal outside of 6 teams is conjecture

        • theycallmerob

          yes and no…again, I’m not sure how some fans are 100% certain what picks Howie had control over or not. I mean, what’s he gonna do after a draft, talk about “so-so players, who we hope may one day contribute?” please. If my GM isn’t excited, or trying to deflect blame on others, he would be a weasel.
          and, aside from Earl Thomas, what stud safeties are entering the league these days? Go back and look at the drafts since at least 2008, all the highest rated safeties are scrubs, if they’re even still in the league

          • 1972

            the top safties drafted since 2008 not including earl thomas are the following

            Eric BeRRY

            kenny phillips

            louis delmas

            thomas decoud

            major wright

            patrick chung. none of these players are scrubs and two are pro bowlers.

            ANd the eagles missed on the best out of the bunch( thomas). These are FACTS. thats all i try to bring to the table

          • theycallmerob

            Listen, I’ll give you that scrubs was a bit of hyperbole, but come one.
            Your facts are quite selective. As are mine:
            Berry? 3 years in the NFL, 1 lost to injury) and didn’t play as well last year coming back from IR.
            Phillips? same story- 1.5 seasons lost to injury, another mediocre year (stat-wise, only 1 great season). Also, who knows how well Nate Allen would play on the Giants defense, with Eli Manning?
            Delmas? career stats also unimpressive (60 TKL/YR, 3 total picks in 4 years). and, oh right…injured.
            Decoud? plays with two good corners on a good team, but still IMO the best of the bunch. 4th rated safety that year, picked at the end of the 3rd round.
            Chung? best year was 2 years ago; hurt last year, benched this year

            For the record, I’d still take most of those guys on the list, but none of them were “sure things” coming out of college. And injuries play a big part.

          • 1972

            i agree with some of your points, i was just pointing out the fact that all of those players are better than allen and coleman, and they get injured also.I’d rather have a top safety that misses a few games than nate allens scrub ass healthy. And colemans a 7th round pick. U cant start a 7th round safety and expect him to be any good.

            Allen was a reach from south florida,

            jarrett was definitely a reach.. u cant do that and hope to contend

          • theycallmerob

            Right. I agree. And, to be honest, I think Coleman was a great pick in the 7th round, but he has no business starting. But yes, it was a reach for them letting Dawkins and Mikell go and expecting those two 2nd rd picks to step in and step up. epic fail.

            Again, not sure who in the FO is completely to blame for this, but they’ve done just as poorly bringing in FA’s to compete in that position. Jarrod Page, OJ Atogwe, even David Sims and Colt Anderson this year- these guys have no business starting.

            IMO, the Eagles seem to be a team full of backup safeties.

          • 1972

            damn i forgot about page and atogwe.

            too many good free agents to screw up this year.

            goldson

            byrd

            landry
            delmas

            and a great draft class , im cautiously optimistic that roseman can make it happen

          • theycallmerob

            amen, good brother….here’s hoping.

  • 1972

    this article sounds like howies getting his excuse ready for missing on a top safety.. i dont like it

  • TonyHomo

    Take them all….. Use every pick on safety and corner so I never have to watch Coleman start a game or Cromartie not care

    • UKEagle99

      Lol

  • ICDogg

    Take a look at Elam’s film, he looks like Dawk Jr.

    • philliesfan136

      So did Jaquain Jarrett. Now he sucks ass.

      • Sensei

        Now? He always did…

  • Absecon

    Both Allen and Coleman deserve a shot to compete with anyone brought in with the new coaching staff, because there is no way you can base their long-term potential during
    that 2 year scam gimmick of a scheme they were forced to play in. I’m telling
    you, Allen can start with another solid safety, and Coleman can be as good a
    back-up as you’re going to find out there. Anderson also deserves to be the
    last back-up due to his special teams play and attitude. I think they need a
    more physical safety to balance Allen’s style as a cover safety to start. The starting
    corners can both go, as far as I’m concerned as they are both flakes on top of their flaws. The players mentioned above sounded pretty similar to what we already
    have…”I need to work on open field tackling”. They may say they
    have “good instincts”, but that’s because they haven’t seen anything
    yet like they will in the pros….Did anyone else see the playoffs? DB’s that
    weren’t rookies were getting burned all day long…looked just like the Birds,
    just different uni’s out there…

    • aub32

      So it’s ok to excuse the safeties but not the corners. I don’t get that logic at all. I agree with letting Nate compete and wouldn’t mind seeing Coleman as a backup, but I think the corners deserve a shot too. (Nnamdi restructured of course)

  • http://twitter.com/ScottJ610 Scott J

    How hard was it to evaluate Earl Thomas?

    • xlGmanlx

      If Graham continues to build on last year, he will still be the better pick. I would rather have elite talent on the front four or above average then an Earl Thomas, because you probably can’t have both.

      • 1972

        i dont know if he can be a better pick gman. thomas is already a 2 time pro bowler. One of the top safeties in the league. you think graham can reach that level?

        • xlGmanlx

          I don’t know, but just I would rather have pressure up front then elite talent at the safety position. I think games are won/lost in the trenches, so yes, Earl is very good, but his ability to impact the game on every play is less since by default he is typically further away from scrimmage/ball. Scheme and pressure can over come average safety play, but our safety’s were abysmal last year. How much of that is scheme/W9, I don’t know.

  • Tom

    If drafting safeties is an imperfect science, than lets try using our brains and look to free agency. This year there is a plethora of stud safeties available .. including Chip Kelly’s former all-american safety j. Byrd who ranks via profootballfocus advance stats as the best safety in football. I’m expecting an aggressive attempt by the Birds to land him. There is another pro-bowler available as well in D. Goldson from SF and some good players like Louie Delmas, Pat Chung, and Kenny Philips. No reason to spend a high pick on a safety where corner is more important, defensive shift to a 3-4 may dictate major needs at NG, OLB and ILB, and OT could be more dire if Peters doesnt return (although free agency is fairly deep at OTs as well). BPA should be our motto — we are 2-3 years away. If they draft another one, so be it.

  • Stallone

    lol barcardi rambo. i would LOVE to wear an eagles jersey with RAMBO on the back.

    But really, it does seem like there is some depth this year, we can’t afford to swing and miss again on a safety. I too havent completely given up on Nate Allen, but i think he’s on a short leash and should be allow to compete with whoever comes in. Coleman is a backup at best.

  • dislikedisqus

    Come on, you have to draft a guy named Rambo for a position that requires tackling.

  • HowieDon’tKnow

    There is no room for hope when Howie is picking the talent. We need to find another Ozzie. Birds won’t be good until we get a quality evaluator of talent making the picks. Lurie can’t tell us he really wants to win when he trots this worm out and pits him against Ozzie, Belichick, Reese, Colbert, Loomis and other GMs. Let Howie negotiate the contract and sit on the podium when they talk about signings.

    • theycallmerob

      really? because it’s so evident that Howie has been making all these decisions, solely, for years? and Howie wanted to run a wide-9, and convert an o-line coach into d-coordinator…..
      relax grasshopper. and what “other GM’s” are you including? because aside from some you listed, the league is full of bums.

      • HowieDon’tKnow

        You must be his cousin or some other closer relative. If he wasn’t doing all of these things as GM, what was he doing? If you are GM, the drafts during that period are on your watch. His first two were beyond horrible and are more responsible for this year’s debacle than any other single factor. Also, our roster this year was no good. Our special teams were ineffective because they had no talent. That is his job. For other GMs, please consider the Packers, the Seahawks, the Bengals, the Texans, the Colts. The guy is clueless and Lurie is divorced from reality.

        • theycallmerob

          Can’t say we’re related. Nor do I disagree that he SHOULD be doing those things, but the weird relationship that Roseman-Banner-Reid (especially Reid) had allowed for convoluted decision making. I’m willing to give him another year, before making silly statements about being clueless and among the garbage heap of GM’s.

          • Wilbert M.

            Lurie said the only draft Howie was responsible for was the last one, which looks pretty good right now. I think Andy was the lousy talent evaluator and he had way too much control. How can anybody be sure it was Howie making the stupid decisions and not Andy?

  • xlGmanlx

    Can’t coach size, try and get the smartest biggest athlete of the bunch and then coach the crap out of him.

  • Sattymike

    If we can pick up Cyprien by trading back in the 3rd I’d like that. Add a FA (possibly Glover Quin) to compete with and displace Coleman and see if we can trade Allen for a late pick.

    Safeties would go from:

    Allen, Coleman, Anderson, Sims

    to:

    Cyprien, Quin, Coleman, Sims

    Or we could retain Anderson and have it Cyprien, Quin, Coleman, Anderson.

  • Screaming Bald Eagle

    J.J. Wilcox has been on both sides of the pigskin through out in college career. He has played slot back, wide receiver and safety. He has utilized more ball handle skills during his years at Georgia Southern than probably any other safety or defensive back in the 2013 NFL draft.