The Best Safety Tandem in the NFL? So Far the Eagles Look to Have It
Heading into the 2015 season, Earl Wolff and Jaylen Watkins were assumed to be the two who’d compete to start next to Malcolm Jenkins at safety. When the Eagles signed Walter Thurmond in the offseason, many, including me figured he’d be depth at the nickel corner position. As time went on, and the Eagles’ coaching staff realized that Wolff and Watkins weren’t good fits, they decided to move Thurmond to safety. Words can’t explain how well this move has panned out.
Currently, through five weeks of the season, Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond are the 4th and 5th best safeties in the entire league, according to PFF. In a league that suffers from bad safety play, having two quality starters, is a huge advantage to have.
A big reason Jenkins and Thurmond have thrived this season is their fit in the scheme. The Eagles ask their safeties to play a lot of man-coverage and come up to the line of scrimmage and play in press-coverage, with run support in the back of their mind. Jenkins and Thurmond, both ex-cornerbacks turned to safeties really excel in pass coverage.
Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond aren’t your typical “thumpers” who hit hard. They’re just not those type of players. For that reason, fans may sort of underestimate just how good this safety duo is. Having a guy like Kam Chancellor who can lay a big hit is nice, but in a league that has transformed into a passing league, I’ll take two safeties that can cover the entire field. Factor in the Eagles having a front seven that is one of the league’s best at stopping the run, it lets Jenkins and Thurmond focus more on the passing game.
Make no mistake about it, Jenkins and Thurmond can still help in run support. On the season, the safety tandem has combined for 59 tackles, and only 4 missed tackles, which is a 93% success rate. PFF has a stat called “stops” which is the cumulative number of solo defensive tackles made which constitute an offensive failure. Malcolm Jenkins has 16 “stops” which is tied for 1st in the NFL among safeties, and Walter Thurmond has 10, which is 14th best.
Perspective: Kam Chancellor, who’s played in 3 games this season, has 14 tackles, and 7 missed tackles, that’s a success rate of just 66%. Chancellor has 4 “stops” as well.
Are Jenkins or Thurmond the next Brian Dawkins? No. There will never be another Brian Dawkins. But, Thurmond and Jenkins do what they’re asked to do really, really well. And that’s cover the team’s slot receiver, play single high and don’t get beat deep. Having safeties that can cover isn’t going to make Sports Center’s top 10, but in a passing league, they’re more valuable to have.
One of the Eagles’ biggest “holes” heading into the season was nickel corner. With Jenkins and Thurmond being able to come down and play inside the slot, it lets the team stay in a base defense. Why’s that an advantage? Eagles can disguise more from a base 3-4 look, and it also keeps an extra defensive end or outside linebacker on the field to help against the run.
Don’t look now, but the Eagles, after many, many years of searching for just decent safety play, may have finally found their starters for years to come. So far in 2015, Jenkins and Thurmond have been the league’s best safety tandem.