The 10th of 10 parts, examining the 2020 Eagles by position grouping.
Who’s back: Rodney McLeod steps more squarely into the spotlight, as he prepares for his ninth NFL season, his fifth with the Eagles. When the team let Malcolm Jenkins leave, bringing McLeod back from free agency became imperative. McLeod, who just turned 30, was good in coverage last season but he missed 15 tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. He becomes the leader of the secondary, with Jenkins gone to New Orleans.
Jalen Mills is penciled into the other starting spot, and that might be the team’s most intriguing experiment of 2020. Not only is Mills taking on the role of one of the team’s most important players, he’s doing it after four up-and-down seasons at cornerback. Mills played some safety at LSU, and sometimes in Jim Schwartz’s gimmick defenses, he’s had coverage responsibilities that would normally be fulfilled by a safety. But mostly he has been the left cornerback, smart and vocal, limited by a lack of speed. As a full-time safety, he’ll have to be much more involved in run-stopping. On the other hand, he presumably won’t see as many double moves.
Nobody really knows if Mills can make the switch, especially in an offseason truncated by coronavirus quarantining. He got strong endorsements from Jenkins and McLeod.
Also returning are Marcus Epps, acquired on waivers at midseason from Minnesota, and Rudy Ford, who arrived last August in a training-camp trade with Arizona. Ford finished 2019 on injured reserve after suffering an abdominal strain. Epps and Ford project as depth players with special-teams responsibilities.
By the way, extra trivia points if you knew that when the Eagles put Ford in IR on Nov. 23, the guy who took his roster spot was the people’s choice at wide receiver, Greg Ward.
Who’s gone: Jenkins and left tackle Jason Peters are extremely significant departures (assuming Peters ultimately isn’t brought back). They were huge figures on the field and in the locker room; now they are the face of general manager Howie Roseman’s effort to turn the page from the Super Bowl LII nucleus to a younger group of leaders. How the defense performs without Jenkins could be a season-defining question. (The same goes with the switch from Peters to Andre Dillard at left tackle.)
Who’s new: The Eagles hedged their bet on Mills by bringing in Will Parks, a Philly native who spent four years in Denver, including a strong 2018 season. Last year was much more up-and-down, and Parks generated little excitement on the free-agent market before signing a one-year deal to return home. The Eagles consider Parks, like Mills, to be part of the “positionless player” new wave, as defenses evolve. He can also play nickel corner.
Then there is K’Von Wallace, the fourth-round rookie from Clemson who seemed to be the one draft pick nearly everyone agreed the Eagles got right. We have no way of knowing how the lack of spring work will affect rookies this season, but in the long run, the team clearly expects Wallace to develop into a starter. He’s physical, a hitter, and an excellent blitzer, maybe not as impressive in pass coverage. He ran a 4.53-second 40 at the NFL scouting combine, not bad for a guy who checked in at 5-11, 206 there. Wallace also has played nickel corner, and could fit into that “positionless player” mold.