There are a lot of qualities that go into making a good free safety in the NFL. Speed, acceleration, agility, ball skills, leaping ability all play an important role, but the biggest one is awareness.
A safety can have all of the athletic prowess in the world. If he gets caught napping for a fraction of a second or he misreads a deep route it will spell disaster for his defense nine times out of ten. Last year the Eagles were missing this quality in their secondary more than anything else. Philly surrendered more passing yards per game than any other team in large part because they got beat on explosive passes too often.
To address that, the Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year, $16 million contract in March. Jenkins brings experience, durability, versatility, and above all awareness to the third level of the Eagles defense.
For the last five seasons he has lined up with the New Orleans Saints; sometimes at cornerback and sometimes at safety. Over that stretch he missed only nine regular season games, providing continuity. His tireless work in the film room helped make him a defensive captain in 2012 and 2013.
Jenkins does a number of things well on defense but he’s at his best sticking to burners in man coverage. As an example Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had him lined up opposite DeSean Jackson in the Wild card game:
Jenkins is also adept at covering the slot receiver and dropping back as deep safety.
Lest you think that Jenkins is going to magically turn the Eagles secondary into the Legion of Boom you should know that he does have weaknesses. He’s not exactly a ball hawk and has been known to miss tackles at times, particularly on run plays. However, I believe that Jenkins’ intangibles are his most valuable asset for the Eagles.
For his career Jenkins has played in 71 total games. That’s one more than Earl Wolff, Nate Allen and Ed Reynolds combined.
More than anything the Eagles secondary needs leadership and experience and Jenkins has that in spades. If he’s able to help bring the other defensive backs along it will help fix Philly’s Achilles heel.