Eagles’ Marcus Epps ready to take over as starter

Nick Sirianni preaches competition to his players. So when Marcus Epps and Avonte Maddox sit side-by-side in the Eagles’ defensive back room and rest, they’ll be competing in the heat of Kahoot! — Popular quiz game.

“He always beats me by three points,” Maddox said.

If only Epps were as safe as he was in Kahoot! Then the Eagles’ middle school might be okay this year.

At least that has to be hope. Because barring another James Bradbury-like acquisition — which is still a possibility — Epps will be the Hawks’ starting safety in 2022.

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

Among Eagles fans, this could be a very unpopular statement: Epps will be the starter. After all, the Eagles chased down several top safety players this offseason and got nowhere. So now it looks like they’re relying on Epps – maybe in some ways they are – they may be their middle school weakness. But just after the draft, general manager Howie Rothman expressed his confidence in Epps. His teammates share that confidence.

There’s reason to believe that Epps will be fine when he takes the starting role in 2022.

Just look at how he plays in 2021. Epps started last season as a second-tier player, but with some injuries to Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris, Epps’ role has grown in importance. Then he played well enough to basically force Jonathan Gannon to use the rotation in the back end. Epps was too good to get him off the field.

In 2021, Epps has played 48 percent of the Eagles’ defensive fast break, outscoring McLeod and Harris in front of him, according to ProFootballFocus. Epps is the PFF’s 18th best safety in 2021. McLeod and Harris ranked 43rd and 53rd, respectively.

Epps appeared in 16 games last season with three starts, interceptions, five pass drives and 62 steals.

Last year’s success has greatly boosted Epps’ confidence.

“I think I played pretty consistently last year,” he said. “I thought I laid a good foundation for myself to build on this year.”

This offseason, the Hawks re-signed Harris, but let McLeod go. In the absence of any other major additions — even if they’ve shown interest in the likes of Marcus Williams and Tyron Matthews — it’s clear that Epps is ready to start.

Can the Eagles find another safe spot? certainly. But Epps isn’t worried about that. And his teammates didn’t seem worried about him.

“He’s definitely ready to be a starter,” Maddox said. “He came out, he put in his work, he put in his time, he was studying in the film studio, he had a good foundation and detail. He acted. Last year, he acted. He wasn’t afraid to step up and tackle and he was definitely capable of running to the left. 40 yards, 40 yards to the right to block that gradient or help that gradient corner. I’m excited to see how he does this year.”

Epps, 26, arrived in Philadelphia on a mid-year waiver in the 2019 season as the Vikings, who drafted him in the sixth round that year. The Hawks brought in Epps basically to replace veteran Andrew Sendho, who was cut a few days ago. Epps saw some defensive time in 2019, but then saw his role expand again in 2020 and 2021.

He’s been here for two and a half seasons, and Epps just keeps getting better. A former backup for Wyoming, Epps is no stranger to working hard on the depth chart.

“Our coaches kept saying: ‘You have to prove and blame yourself,'” Epps said. “Even in college, I was. I was a Pacer. I had to prove and blame myself. That’s the mentality I’ve always had. My mentality hasn’t really changed that. Always put the chips on my shoulders On, feel like I have to prove myself. Even if I prove myself, I have to blame myself. I’m just going to keep trying to prove that I belong.”

Most agree that Epps played fairly well in a limited role last season. But the big question is whether that success will translate if he’s a starter.

Is Epps doing so well last year because his role is small and good at it? Or is he good because…he is good?

“I mean, some people want to look for sample size,” Harris said last week. “I think you just have to look at the player, the quality and what he’s doing with the opportunities he’s given. No one can predict the future, but he’s doing all the right things to give himself the chance to be as successful as anyone else.

“I think you look at that and you continue to give players more opportunities to keep doing it and use what they’ve got to be successful.”

The Hawks’ defense has improved at nearly every position this offseason. They joined the defensive line with Jordan Davis. They brought a fringe rusher in Hassan Redick. They found legitimate linebackers in Kyzir White and Nakobe Dean. This week, they landed the CB2 in Bradbury.

On the outside, it looks like the Eagles still need improvement at the safety position, and maybe they still will.

But it’s also possible that the Eagles think they’ve got the answer on the roster.

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