Over the next three weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 20 most important Eagles for the 2021 season.
17. Rodney McLeod
Rodney McLeod tore his ACL on Dec. 13, which means the Eagles’ season opener is almost exactly nine months from the date of the injury.
Some may doubt that the 31-year-old safety will be ready for the start of the season but McLeod seems awfully confident.
“That is my goal,” McLeod said this spring. “I want to be available for my team not for only eight games but for all 17, so that is my motivation. And so for me, I have all intentions on being there Week 1. At the end of the day, you’ve got to listen to your body and listen to everybody around you, but I am grinding around the clock to be available for my team.”
If McLeod is ready for the opener, that would be a big boost for the Eagles in 2021. Because he’s vitally important to their success.
It’s hard to believe that McLeod is already entering his sixth season with the Eagles. They signed him as a free agent before the 2016 season and it’s become one of their better free agent signings in recent history. No, McLeod hasn’t blossomed into a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro but he’s been a steady force on the back end of the Eagles defense for years now.
And since Malcolm Jenkins has been gone, McLeod has become even more of a vocal leader for the Eagles’ secondary.
It’ll be interesting to see how McLeod fits with free agent signing Anthony Harris. For the most part, both players have filled the deep safety positions for their teams. Perhaps the presence of both will lead to more Cover 2 for the Eagles’ defense under Jonathan Gannon.
In any case, with some serious question marks about the Eagles’ cornerback position outside of Darius Slay, the Eagles will be relying on their safeties to cover up some blemishes. After McLeod and Harris, the Eagles are young at safety too, with players like Marcus Epps, K’Von Wallace and Grayland Arnold.
While McLeod’s leadership has been talked about quite a bit in the last year or so, let’s not lose sight of his ability as a player. Last season, McLeod in 13 games had 66 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 7 passes defended and an interception.
ProFootballFocus ranked McLeod as the 23rd-best safety in the NFL last year and his coverage grade of 77.3 ranked him 9th in the NFL out of 93 qualified players.
And, sure, the Eagles will have a new defense in 2021 but it’s not like McLeod won’t be able to learn it. In fact, he has familiarity with a couple of the most important additions on defense. He had a year of crossover with Harris at the University of Virginia. And McLeod has a long history with new defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson. Wilson coached McLeod with the Rams and also at DeMatha Catholic High School back in Maryland.
McLeod is under contract for the 2021 season but will become a free agent next offseason. Perhaps the Eagles will decide to move on after this year. But McLeod is an important piece for the first year in the Nick Sirianni era.
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