McMullen: Are the Eagles Actually Ahead of the Curve with Avonte Maddox Move?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - From a conventional standpoint, it admittedly seems silly.
The Eagles are in dire need of a safety in the wake of Rodney McLeod's likely season-ending knee injury and instead of bumping up the 6-foot-2, 206-pound Deiondre' Hall on the depth chart or shifting the 6-2, 210-pound Rasul Douglas from corner to the back end, Jim Schwartz went with Avonte Maddox, the undersized rookie slot corner who once dreamed about being the next Derek Jeter in Major League Baseball.
There was both good and bad from the early returns in Tennessee where veteran Corey Graham slipped into McLeod's three-down role and Maddox was inserted in Graham's typical sub-package workload. The former uncharacteristically got lost on a key 4th-and-15 play during the overtime setback while the latter recorded his first NFL interception as a rangy shortstop patrolling the middle of the field while also getting beat in coverage by the 6-3 Corey Davis for the walk-off winner.
As things move forward Schwartz certainly sounds like Maddox is the one who will continue to get more looks as a single-high safety because at 33 Graham is simply not equipped for a full-time role over 13 games.
“Of all the guys on our roster, we thought Avonte had a lot of the same traits that Rodney had,” Schwartz said earlier this week. “With Avonte playing the nickel position, there's a lot of carryover between nickel and safety, also. So even though some things are new he’s got excellent quickness and great eyes for the football. He’s got the combination of being able to cover and being able to play the run.
“All the things we liked about him as a nickel we also like about him as a safety. And I think we'll see more of him going forward in that role.”
That had people scratching their heads but why?
The answer to that is a failure to understand what the 2018 NFL has become, a league where on any given week Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mitchell Trubisky are able to compile numbers that would make Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw blush.
This is a league in which a Kam Chancellor-type on the back end is no longer an endangered species, it's extinct, at least to those who understand what's going on around them like Schwartz.
Better explained what's the use of having an intimidating presence on the back end in the league which has essentially banned intimidation?
Take Minnesota, the league's No. 1 defense from a year ago which will limp into Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday a mess. The Vikings have two thumpers on the back end and one, Andrew Sendejo, famously wore a hat earlier this year that read "Make Football Violent Again."
Philadelphia might like that mentality but all it has gotten the Vikings is less-than-physical receivers like Cooper Kupp running through an antiquated scheme while Sendejo picks up 15-yard flags and $50K fines.
Whether you know it or not Schwartz is ahead of the curve with the Maddox move.
The combination of an ill-conceived safety dogma with the fear of future litigation has turned the NFL from a fluid enterprise into one moving away from physicality at the speed of Usain Bolt.
And that means the 5-9, 180-pound soaking wet corner who can cover is the better play at safety right now.
“It’s challenging but I’m up to anything,” Maddox said. “It’s fun. ... It’s still football. You’ve got to be able to tackle, you’ve got to be able to cover in this DB position, so you bring guys in here that [are] able to tackle. In this defense, you’ve got to be able to tackle at corner, you’ve got to be able to tackle at safety and nickel.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen