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Eagles’ Zech McPhearson ready to step up in Year 3

Zech McPhearson

Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

VOORHEES TOWNSHIP, NJ – One of the more interesting developments in what was a light spring for the Eagles was third-year cornerback Zech McPhearson lining up in the slot with the first-team defense in 7-on-7 work.

McPhearson was the placeholder for star nickel back Avonte Maddox, who was still recovering from offseason surgery and a spectator in OTAs, so the first-team work was not the headline, the third-year cornerback moving inside was.

During his first two professional seasons, McPhearson was the top backup outside the numbers for Philadelphia and the Eagles were fortunate through the 2021 and 2022 seasons with health there. Neither Darius Slay and Steve Nelson back in 2021 nor Slay and James Bradberry in 2022 missed a game due to injury, meaning McPhearson totaled just 278 defensive snaps and one start over his first two seasons, the Week 17 affair at the end of his rookie campaign when Philadelphia, already locked into a wild-card round playoff visit to Tamps, rested its starters against Dallas.

Last season it was just 99 snaps for McPhearson behind Slay and Bradberry, both Pro Bowl CBs. McPhearson found his niche, however, as one of the top gunners and coverage players on Michael Clay’s special-teams units. McPhearson has been a core player there, toiling in 687 special-teams reps and matching K’Von Wallace for the team lead in special-teams tackles with 10.

Rewind back to 2021 and many scouts projected McPhearson’s best position as the slot coming out of Texas Tech. Still, the Eagles needed help on the outside and weren’t able to get it on Days 1 or 20 so McPherson and his 4.48 speed was the best fourth-round salve they could find and for much of that offseason, McPhearson was penciled in as the starter opposite Slay until Howie Roseman brought in the veteran Nelson two days before training camp began.

Depth has remained an issue since but the top of the room got even better by swapping out Nelson for Bradberry, a second-team All-Pro.

What changed this spring is that the Eagles added a number of bodies at CB that project best outside due to their length, starting with talented 2023 fourth-round pick Kelee Ringo out of Georgia and Greedy Williams, once a second-round pick of Cleveland. Both Ringo and Willians are 6-foot-2 and can run, and their presence was buttressed even further by undrafted rookies Eli Ricks and Mekhi Garner, who are also both 6-2 and project outside.

The luxury of the offseason roster meant the Eagles could finally pull the trigger and look at McPhearson, now 24, inside and the Baltimore native looked comfortable and like he belonged.

JAKIB Sports caught up with McPhearson at his 7-on-7 tournament in South Jersey on Saturday and asked the young CB about the move.

“I definitely was able to expand my wings with some injuries,” he said. “I had to step into the nickel role so I’m getting some reps there as well as corner.”

The move could be permanent, but it might also be signaling the effort to make McPherason the top backup both inside and outside with the ultimate end game depending on the development of the other young CBs.

“Wherever I can fit in,” McPhearson said. “I’m trying to help the team in any way possible and just be ready when my name is called.”

It’s a luxury for young players to sit and learn behind stars like Slay and Bradberry but there’s also a downside in that the clock is ticking and McPhearson will be eligible for an extension for the first time after the 2023 season.

“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “So I’m really trying to see the field going into the third year.”

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