Super Bowl

Is Eagles’ restocked secondary the missing piece to returning to Super Bowl contention?

Is Eagles' restocked secondary the missing piece to returning to Super Bowl contention?

With OTAs over and training camps still weeks away, plenty of questions are circling the NFL. Charles McDonald is tackling them this summer.

The Philadelphia Eagles underachieved based on the projections that they had for themselves prior to last season. They had a fluky 10-1 record to start before tumbling down the final few games and losing a wild-card matchup against Tampa Bay.

There were several pieces to point fingers at and cast blame on, but one thing had become abundantly clear: The Eagles didn’t quite have the horses they thought they did on the defensive side of the ball. They still have great talent along the defensive line, but their secondary needed an infusion of young talent if they were going to quickly bounce back and resume their role as a title contender in the NFC.

According to Sports Info Solutions, the Eagles defense ranked 21st in expected points added per pass attempt (-0.01) overall in 2023. Over the final six weeks of the season, when their losing streak started, the Eagles ranked 29th in expected points added per pass attempt (0.12). That’s not a sustainable figure for a team with championship aspirations, and they made an attempt to fix their secondary in the draft.

The Eagles had a potential star fall right into their lap with Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell at the 22nd pick. Mitchell checks off all the boxes a team could want in a cornerback prospect and should be an immediate starter with the potential for long-term dominance. Mitchell’s main competition will likely be Darius Slay, Isaiah Rodgers and James Bradberry for playing time — based on the most recent sample sizes (which includes a year-long gambling suspension for Rodgers), that should be a surmountable bar for him to clear.

After Mitchell fell right into their laps, the Eagles got aggressive in the second round and traded up for Iowa’s do-it-all superstar Cooper DeJean. DeJean is the perfect player to nab as the Eagles rebuild their secondary. He can play anywhere from deep safety, nickel, outside corner and in the box. He should play well wherever the Eagles decide to put him, which will probably be as a nickel player to take advantage of his physicality and speed closer to the line of scrimmage. DeJean has some tough competition for snaps with safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson returning to the Eagles this season after playing last year in Detroit.

There’s a world where DeJean and Gardner-Johnson just wreak havoc for the Eagles in the secondary at the same time, but the Eagles might have to get a bit creative to get them on the field on that side of the ball. That’s where newly hired veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio comes into play. He had his ups and downs in Miami, but should be an improvement over the combined efforts of Sean Desai and Matt Patricia from a year ago.

Now the question moving forward is if the Eagles mix of youth and age in the secondary will be a big improvement over the disaster that was last year’s defense. They’ll still be aided by a great pass rush, especially as star defensive tackle Jalen Carter enters his second year. If everything meshes well, the Eagles have a chance to be a real contender in the playoffs, rather than the disappointment they were a season ago.

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