OOver the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting the 25 most important Eagles of the 2022 season.
Marcus Epps left Jonathan Gannon no choice. The Eagles probably didn’t want to bring in a three-man safety in 2021, but Epps was too good to remain on the bench.
After all, Epps played 45% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps last year, and he could play an even bigger role in 2022.
Epps, 26, was originally drafted in the 6th round by the Wyoming Vikings in 2019. When he was released in the middle of his rookie season, the Eagles picked him up and he has climbed the depth chart for the last two years. Epps has played in 30 games with 8 starts over the past two seasons and believes he will be a full-time starter in his fourth season in the NFL.
This off-season, the Eagles re-signed Anthony Harris to a one-year contract, but allowed Rodney McLeod to go to free agency. Judging by McLeod’s deal with the Colts, it wasn’t about the money. And even if the Eagles made a big fuss about safety at large, don’t be so sure that Epps is the guy who would be sent to the bench. Because despite his limited role last year, Epps was the Eagles’ top defenseman.
He finished last season with 62 tackles, 5 assists and one steal. Last year, he ranked 18th among ProFootballFocus’ top defensemen, well ahead of McLeod (43) and Harris (53).
The main question about Epps is not whether he was good last year. Here’s the thing: could he be just as good in an extended role? In fact, no one knows the answer.
What is the challenge for him as he takes the next step in his career?
“Like any young player, a guy who hasn’t been in the starting lineup full-time is just a regular,” Gannon said last month. “He played at a high level when he played for us and you should be able to do that for a long time snap after snap. Very happy to see him play this year.
“That’s the thing about just one shot at a time, being a consistent footballer and doing everything we ask you to do in the safety position at a high level.”
The fact that the Eagles were at least somewhat interested in the safety of some free agents during the offseason shows that they didn’t like going back with Harris and Epps. They recently joined Yakiski Tartt on a one-year contract and it’s unclear how he’ll fit into the defense. Tartt insists on an opening concerto and will at least provide some much-needed depth.
But that doesn’t mean the Eagles don’t like Epps. Heck, my guess is that even if the Eagles signed a well-known free agent like Marcus Williams or Tyranne Mathieu, Epps would still be playing. It’s just that without that big signing, his role becomes a lot more important. And if you think Tartt will get playing time, don’t be so sure it will be at Epps’s expense.
“The coaches have given me confidence,” Epps said this spring. “Of course, I am very confident in myself. But like every other year, man, I still have to come and prove it. I still have a lot to prove.”
Epps is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract this season and will have a base salary of less than $1 million in 2022. So if he has a big season, he’ll probably make it as a free agent.
The Eagles will cheer for him.
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