When Chip Kelly was overhauling the Philadelphia Eagles roster over the offseason, it felt like he was forgetting something.
The head coach didn't sign a safety in free agency and didn't take one in the draft, either.
Sure, Malcolm Jenkins was still around, but there was no obvious replacement for five-year starter Nate Allen, who was not retained.
Fast-forward to October, and all of a sudden the Eagles have their best safety combo since the legendary Brian Dawkins paired with Quintin Mikell in 2008. Jenkins is building on an impressive first season with the club, while Walter Thurmond has been a pleasant surprise making the transition from cornerback to safety.
Together, they form the highest-graded safety duo in the NFL through six weeks.
This is according to Pro Football Focus, which gives Jenkins and Thurmond the second- and third-ranked cumulative ratings among all players at the position. But if that's not concrete enough, just look at the numbers.
Jenkins leads all Eagles with 41 tackles and is tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles. Thurmond has 29 tackles and is tied for fourth with three interceptions. Both have been legitimate playmakers.
That's pretty good considering how this unit was put together. Nobody could have seen this coming back in May, when the best option beyond Jenkins was believed to be Earl Wolff, who isn't even with the team.
Jenkins arrived in Philadelphia as an unheralded free agent last year. The New Orleans Saints let him walk in favor of Jairus Byrd, whom many Eagles fans wanted. Instead, the organization paid about $18 million less in guaranteed money, according to Spotrac, and wound up with the player who fit its scheme perfectly.
Jenkins enjoyed a career year last season with 15 pass breakups and three interceptions. His three forced fumbles in 2015 is already a new personal best, and he's having an all-around season that may garner votes for the Pro Bowl.
All numbers and accolades aside, Jenkins' versatility is such a huge bonus for the Eagles, as he can cover over the top, play in the box and is even serving as the defense's primary nickel cornerback this season.
While not many expected Jenkins to become one of the best safeties in the NFL, literally nobody was expecting Thurmond to play safety, period. He had only ever lined up at corner for New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks and even the University of Oregon.
When the Eagles revealed that Thurmond started practicing at safety in May, the move actually made sense. He was one of three corners added during free agency, and three more were taken in the draft, so there was a logjam at that spot. Meanwhile, Philadelphia's defense deploys its safeties in man-to-man coverage quite a bit, so it wasn't necessarily a huge transition.
Still, Thurmond has taken to his new home better than anyone could've imagined. He's been around the ball non-stop, going all the way back to training camp and OTAs, and there's no sign of regression.
As Dawkins himself said, it's not always as simple as plugging an athlete into a new position.
"Thurmond has come in and played well," said Dawkins following Monday's win over the New York Giants. "That was—not a concern—but was something I was hoping would happen, that he would go from being a nickel corner to a safety.
"It’s an adjustment. It’s not quite as easy as everybody thinks, that you can just plug in a good, talented guy in a position, and he’s going to have success. That’s not always the case."
So far, it's worked out unbelievably, and for the first time in recent memory, the Eagles are set at safety. That fact was not lost on Dawkins, who talked about how much of an advantage having two quality players back there can be for a defense.
|2015 Safety Stats|
"Now you do have two playmaking safeties, and the other thing that’s important in this scheme is you have two guys that can cover. I know Malcolm has to play nickel corner now, but when those two guys are at safety, you have two versatile guys, so teams can’t really decide, ‘What are we going to do? Who’s doing what?’ because both can do the same things.
"When you have that, it adds so much to your defense."
Dawkins knows a thing or two about safeties and defense. When the future Hall of Famer is singing your praises, you've done something right.
Whether by luck or design, the Eagles finally have a good thing going at the back end of their secondary.
All quotes and camp observations are the author's.