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Ranking the NFC East, 2019: Safeties

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Hogs Haven looks at all four teams in the division in an effort to identify the best and the weakest of the NFC East

The draft is done, the free agents have been signed, the coaches have met their players. Now there’s not much to do but wait for training camp. While we wait, it seemed like it might be fun to evaluate and rank the NFC East position-by-position.

Last off-season, Hogs Haven published articles that focused on ranking position groups and head coaches in an effort to identify what the division would look like in 2018. This year, we’re going to look at the division again, but we’re gonna try to ramp things up a bit by adding some film review to some of the position group reviews.


Click here to read previous Ranking the NFC East articles


This article has 4 sections:

  1. A very brief positional overview of where each of the 4 teams is at with the safety position.
  2. A simple film review of 5 of the top safeties in the NFC East this season: Landon Collins, Xavier Woods, Rodney McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins, and Jabrill Peppers.
  3. A list of the top of the depth chart (4-5 players) for each of the 4 teams in the division.
  4. Some poll questions focused on identifying the best safety in the division, as well as the teams with the strongest and weakest safety group in the division.

Let’s start with the brief review.

Positional overview

The biggest change at the safety position in the NFC East came with Landon Collins jumping from the Giants to the Redskins in free agency, with the G-men bringing in Jabrill Peppers from Cleveland as part of the OBJ trade to replace the Giants’ former 2nd round pick.

Individually, Collins, entering his 5th NFL season, and Peppers, entering his 3rd, are each impressive players, however the most interesting safety tandem in the division may be in Philadelphia where Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod have been playing together for 3 seasons, having both come to the Eagles as veteran free agents - Jenkins coming from the Saints and McLeod from the Rams.

In Dallas, things are more unsettled. I thought I would quote this early roster projection published about a month ago in The Star:

The only thing I really know for sure about the Dallas Cowboys current stable of safeties is that Xavier Woods is the only one guaranteed a roster spot. He should be the starting free safety this season, but who plays next to him remains up in the air. George Iloka looks to be the favorite to earn the distinction, but that remains to be seen. I decided to keep Jeff Heath because of his experience and special teams ability, and Donovan Wilson over Kavon Frazier due to his youth and upside. Don’t be surprised if this is a position Dallas tries to upgrade though.

One might use a similar set of ideas to describe the safety position in Washington, where only Landon Collins is a known starter, with Montae Nicholson the early favorite to be the second starter. But the challenges at the position for all 4 teams are real, and getting increasingly intense.

The receivers in the NFC East are faster this season than they were a year ago with veteran free agent Desean Jackson returning to the Eagles, Paul Richardson coming back healthy for the Redskins, and speedy Terry McLaurin being drafted in the 3rd round. In a division loaded with powerful and explosive running backs, the task facing NFCE safeties in 2019 is only getting harder. Speed, sure tackling and flexibility to defend both the run and the pass will be keys to success at the position in 2019.


The film room - Frye’s Film breakdown

In this section, we’ll offer a look at a few of the top players in the division, with an analysis of their styles, skills and limitations written by Joshua Frye, who has volunteered to help me with this series.

As a Skins fan, Joshua says that he grew up with a team that wasn’t winning on the field, and that this lack of success made him look for something other than Superbowls to keep him connected. He focused on the draft. So, even from a young age, Josh watched college football, doing his best to evaluate players, and he read extensively — books written by coaches and personnel evaluators. Josh says that he would love to become a professional scout someday.

Let’s see what Joshua thinks about some of the NFC East’s top quarterbacks. He will look at 5 players, in order:

  • Landon Collins
  • Xavier Woods
  • Malcolm Jenkins
  • Rodney McLeod
  • Jabrill Peppers

Landon Collins, Washington Redskins

Landon Collins, who was a New York Giant for his first four years in the league, was signed by the Redskins to a 6-year, $84m contract this off-season. The 25-year-old is an aggressive and intimidating safety. At 6’0 and 222 lbs he possess a thick frame to be a presence in the run game. He does not have elite speed to sit back in single high all the time, but he has enough to make plays in coverage.

Here Collins is in the flat curl zone, and does a nice job breaking on the ball and making the tackle to allow minimum yards after catch. You can see what a solid tackler he is.


Here we see Collins make an excellent play on the back end by reading the QB and coming up with an interception. While many people think of Collins as a “box” safety, he bristles at the suggestion and insists that he is a capable defender against the pass as well as the run.


On this play against the Steelers, Collins does a nice job at keeping contain and stopping LeVeon Bell from cutting this run back for a big gain.


Xavier Woods, Dallas Cowboys

In today’s NFL there really are 3 safety positions: (a) someone with center field responsibilities, (b) a big hitting intimidating presence, and (c) someone who can come up and play man in the slot and on TEs.

Woods really came into his own this past season with the Cowboys, which provides them with the ability to not panic with regard to the safety position in 2019. Woods really shined in 2018, only missing 9 tackles all year, and providing good coverage inside and on the back end. It will be interesting to see if he keeps trending up this season.

Here we see Woods make a good break on the throw and deliver a crushing blow to Adam Humphries.


Here is a great instinctive play by Woods, and he nearly came away with a pick-6. This is a young and instinctive player - definitely someone people should keep their eyes on.


Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles

Malcolm Jenkins has improved his performance since arriving to Philly from New Orleans in 2014. He’s been manning the back end of the defense for his entire career so he has given up a number of touchdowns with the Eagles, but he also has 11 Interceptions in 5 years in the NFC East, and has been effective against the run as well! I personally think he’s one of the most — possibly the most — well-rounded of the safeties in the division.

Here, against the Redskins, you see Jenkins jump the route being run by Vernon Davis, and grabbing a pick-6. Those ball hawking skills were lacking with the Saints, but plays like this have become more normal for Jenkins now that he’s in Philadelphia, where he’s being asked to do more.


Of course we’ve all seen this. It’s not against the run, but it is a good example of the physical part of Malcolm Jenkins’ game! I guess playing next to Roman Harper for the beginning of your career helps with that.


Rodney McLeod, Philadelphia Eagles

Rodney Mcleod doesn’t have elite speed, but from the time he entered the league he made plays against the run with the Rams. Similar to his teammate Jenkins, in his two seasons with the Eagles, it seems that McLeod has meshed well and improved his play. He creates turnovers with both interceptions and forced fumbles, and provides another physical presence for Philly. In my opinion, McLeod and Jenkins form the best safety tandem in the division.

Although it’s not a good throw, we still can see the physical side of McLeod’s game here. Even if it had been accurate this would have always been a very difficult an impossible catch with this hit.


Here we see McLeod sitting in his zone in the back of the end zone reading Bradford and the rush. He sees that the QB needs to make a decision, and, as the rush is coming in, he’s already breaking on Theilen to come up with the interception. This is smart football.


Jabrill Peppers, New York Giants

There will always be a lot of hype when it comes to Peppers. Any time you’re a safety that is practically 6 feet, weigh over 200 pounds and run in the 4.4s you’re going to generate a lot of buzz. And the Giants brought him in to fill Landon Collins’ shoes. Peppers is a better athlete than Collins in that he is faster and that both players are roughly around the same size. Peppers showed improved play this past season, being more of a hybrid player, which allowed him to showcase how versatile his skill set is.

Here we see Peppers playing deep. He makes an excellent read and breaks on the throw for the interception. It’s ironic, I guess, that in my introduction to the player, my focus was on how he is gonna replace Collins, and the first film clip is of him playing deep.


Here Peppers is lined up 3 yards from the TE and recognizes the slide route coming — he makes the correct read and good tackle!


A look at the top of the depth chart for each team

Of course, no position group consists of just one star player. In a sport that is as physically demanding as football, one in which player injuries are common, the unit depth is as important a factor as the skill of the star players.

Here, we’ll take a look at the top of the depth chart for each team — the pool of players from which the ones on the final 53 seem likely to be chosen. Not all the players listed will make the team, and I might easily miss — especially for the Redskins’ division rivals — players who will make the Week 1 roster, but this list should give some idea of the relative depth of the four positional groups.

Cowboys

  • Xavier Woods
  • George Iloka
  • Jeff Heath
  • Donavan Wilson
  • Kavon Frazier

Eagles

  • Rodney McLeod
  • Malcolm Jenkins
  • Andrew Sendejo
  • Blake Countess
  • Tre Sullivan

Giants

  • Jabrill Peppers
  • Antoione Bethea
  • Michael Thomas
  • Sean Chandler
  • Kamrin Moore

Redskins

  • Landon Collins
  • Montae Nicholson
  • Deshazor Everett
  • Troy Apke

Poll

Who is the best safety in the NFC East?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Landon Collins
    (488 votes)
  • 5%
    Xavier Woods
    (59 votes)
  • 0%
    Rodney McLeod
    (5 votes)
  • 39%
    Malcolm Jenkins
    (402 votes)
  • 7%
    Jabrill Peppers
    (76 votes)
1030 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which NFC East team has the BEST safety group in the division?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    Eagles
    (657 votes)
  • 22%
    Redskins
    (221 votes)
  • 5%
    Giants
    (51 votes)
  • 4%
    Cowboys
    (45 votes)
974 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which NFC East team has the WEAKEST safety group in the division?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Eagles
    (20 votes)
  • 9%
    Redskins
    (92 votes)
  • 34%
    Giants
    (321 votes)
  • 54%
    Cowboys
    (510 votes)
943 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who should be paired with Landon Collins as the 2nd starting safety for the Redskins in Week 1?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Montae Nicholson
    (431 votes)
  • 5%
    Deshazor Everett
    (46 votes)
  • 4%
    Troy Apke
    (40 votes)
  • 17%
    Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
    (142 votes)
  • 4%
    Jimmy Moreland
    (37 votes)
  • 1%
    Adonis Alexander
    (12 votes)
  • 12%
    Someone else
    (97 votes)
805 votes total Vote Now