PHILADELPHIA – Let’s continue our look at players the Philadelphia Eagles are likely to focus on when they get to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine next week.
The Eagles seem to have a perpetual need at safety. Last year, they signed cornerback Walter Thurmond to a one-year contract, then switched him to safety. Thurmond played well in 2015, but new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz may prefer a more traditional strong safety than Thurmond.
In Bill Davis’ defense, the Eagles liked having safeties with similar cornerback skill sets to split the field in half. Malcolm Jenkins, another converted cornerback, went to the Pro Bowl this year.
Going into 2016, the Eagles may be better off drafting a young safety who can develop into a playmaker in their defense. Remember: Legendary Eagle Brian Dawkins -- the team’s last great safety -- was a second-round draft pick back in 1996.
Probably the best safety in this year’s draft is Ohio State’s Vonn Bell. He is more of a free safety than a strong safety. Bell is a shade under 6-foot and goes 205 pounds. The Eagles should take a look at him, but he may not fit their needs.
Duke’s Jeremy Cash (6-foot, 212 pounds) and West Virginia’s Karl Joseph (5-foot-11, 193) are both undersized but both are considered solid run defenders who can deliver a hit. The question is whether either will drop into the third round, since the Eagles have no second-round pick.
The lack of first-round safeties and the absence of a second-round pick could convince the Eagles to look for safety help in free agency. There will be several options available.
The Eagles may be better off looking at Husain Abdullah, who played alongside Berry. Abdullah typically played like a strong safety or nickel linebacker, so he may complement Jenkins fairly well.
At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Cincinnati’s George Iloka has the size to take on running backs while still having the skill to cover tight ends. Cleveland Tashaun Gipson is more of a free safety, but he’s versatile enough to warrant a close look.
Thurmond might make sense for the Eagles since he worked well with Jenkins last year. If Schwartz feels he can build his defense around two converted cornerbacks at safety, the Eagles may be better off sticking with the guy they know.