In Part II of this series, we'll look at the safeties the Eagles spoke with after Senior Bowl practices. For a list of all the players the Eagles spoke with (as well as a review of the corners), you can go here.
Safety is the most glaring hole on the Eagles' roster:
• Patrick Chung was a disaster in 2013 and likely won't be back.
• Nate Allen is a free agent.
• While Earl Wolff certainly showed glimpses that he can start in the NFL, his play was perhaps a little overrated by the fan base because of the fact that he isn't Patrick Chung. Wolff is a promising player, but he shouldn't be considered a sure thing at this point.
Even if the Eagles are able to retain Allen, the Eagles will have one functional starter, one promising player who might be starter in the NFL, and then a handful of "replacement level" players as depth.
There's a pretty good chance the safety position will be addressed both in free agency and the draft, like it was a year ago. The Eagles spoke with two safeties after Senior Bowl practices. They were Deone Bucannon of Washington State and Ahmad Dixon of Baylor.
• Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State (6'1, 216)
At the Senior Bowl, Bucannon made an immediate impression at the weigh-in, where he may have been the most muscular player among the 100+ players in attendance. His listed size in college (6'1, 216) was also confirmed.
Bucannon is probably best known for his big hits. Unlike a lot of other safeties who get the reputation for being big hitters because they're teeing off on defenseless recivers, many of Bucannon's biggest hits occurred when he was taking on runners who were at full speed with the ball in their hands. Those are the real enforcers. Check out his highlights here, and watch what he does to the poor kid from Auburn at the 1:03 mark. The runner was heading one way, and when Bucannon hit him, his momentum stopped in its tracks, and he went directly backwards, while also losing the football. Monster hit.
In 2013, Bucannon had 3 forced fumbles and 6 INTs. Also noteworthy is that he made plays against Chip Kelly's Oregon Ducks. Here is Bucannon's career numbers against Oregon:
The big question on Bucannon will be his ability in coverage. Washington State didn't ask Bucannon to cover tight ends and slot receivers much in college. "We were a zone blitz team," said Bucannon, "so a lot of it was just straight zone."
When asked what he needed to prove to NFL people, Bucannon said, "(I need to prove that) I can actually cover, that I can actually stay with the slot receivers and tight ends, and that my hips aren't are tight as what people may think because I'm a big safety. Those are the things I'm working on... fluidity in my hips, being able to turn and run with the slot receivers."
Once mock draft season gets into full swing, you'll see Bucannon's name quite a bit in the 2nd round because of his highlight reel. However, you have to be careful with a player like him. 20 years ago, when the safety position was a lot different, Bucannon might have been a highly sought after player who could patrol the middle of the field and lay the wood. More recently, safeties have to also be good cover guys, more so than being enforcers. Bucannon can hit, but can he cover? That's a bit of an unknown because of the way he was used at Washington State. Can you use a 2nd round pick on a safety whose man-to-man cover skills are an unknown? That's a major risk.
• Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor (6'0, 205)
Like Bucannon, Dixon is untested to some degree as a cover safety, but is a physical player. I love this play by Dixon at the 1:02 mark below against Texas Tech. Stud TE Jace Amaro is running against the formation and is within the 5 yard chuck zone, so Dixon runs up and decleats him. Love that attitude.
However, unlike Bucannon, Dixon was not a big-time playmaker in college. In his 4-year college career, Dixon had just 4 INTs and 2 forced fumbles.
Sheil Kapadia of Philly Mag spoke with Dixon at the Senior Bowl:
Asked what he thinks the biggest question about him is, Dixon said: “It’s my coverage ability. And that’s because we don’t do very much man-to-man coverage at Baylor. We’re moreso a quarters-based team so more in zone a lot. But that’s what I’m here for, to show everybody that I can cover and I’m not afraid to do so.
“I’m not very good in [practice] one-on-ones, but in the game I’ll lock you down.”
Dixon was arrested on suspicion of assault in September. He was later cleared of those charges, but that doesn't mean that NFL people won't have questions about the incident. Dixon will have to interview well if the Eagles are to draft him, as it appears that Chip Kelly places a high value on character.
Disclaimer: To note, by the time the Eagles whittle down their draft board to around 150+ players, they will speak with just about every prospect. Still, it is interesting to see who the scouts and assistant coaches spend some extra time with after practices, as it shows at least some level of extra interest.