Underappreciated Eagles: Marcus Epps

Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports

Leading up to the Eagles playing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII on February 12, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will be taking a look at the underappreciated, unsung players on the Eagles roster that have made this NFC Championship and Super Bowl berth possible. Players who were often overlooked but have become key cogs in the machine despite the lack of recognition.

In this edition, we will focus on safety Marcus Epps.

College Career

In the previous editions of this series, we’ve covered some players who were two star prospects and found themselves at the bottom of the barrel. For Marcus Epps, the situation was worse – he wasn’t even in the barrel.

A safety coming out of Edison High School in California, Epps was an unranked player. He received a whopping zero Division I offers. With that, he enrolled at Wyoming and took a shot on himself by walking-on.

When the practices were all done and many walk-ons had been dismissed, Epps found himself with a spot on the roster for the 2014 season. He spent the year redshirting and learning to play in his second season.

As a redshirt sophomore, Epps carved out some decent playing time and was able to record 83 tackles with two interceptions and four defensed passes.

By that time, Epps had proven himself to his teammates and made himself a leader on the team. As a result, he was named a team captain each of the next three seasons that he spent at Wyoming.

It’s also notable that Epps became a father in the middle of that (2017) and was now balancing school, football, and fatherhood.

On that topic, Epps’ then first-year safeties coach at Wyoming told Robert Gagliardi of WyoSports.net in 2017:

He is always prepared. We never have an issue with him in terms of school, and he always gets football work done. Through it all, he does everything with a smile on his face and a positive attitude

Wyoming Safeties Coach Jake Dickert on Marcus Epps

Epps, during his 2016-2018 seasons, registered 241 tackles (16.5 for loss) with two sacks, seven interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 18 defensed passes, four fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.

With Epps’ leadership on the back end, Wyoming was bowl eligible for three seasons in a row. They were selected by bowl games in two of those seasons (2016 and 2017). Wyoming prior to that had only appeared in 13 bowl games between 1893-2015.

By the end of his collegiate career, Epps was a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the top player who started their career as a walk on each season. He was up against some stiff competition with Clemson’s (and now Raiders top receiver) Hunter Renfrow winning that year, but it was an honor to be a finalist nonetheless.

Minnesota Vikings

Despite the rise Epps saw in college football, he was not among he top safety prospects in the 2019 draft. He had made enough of a name for himself in college that put him on draft boards come the end of the draft.

Ultimately, the Minnesota Vikings chose to pick Epps with their pick in the back half of the sixth round.

Epps came into camp with the incumbents Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris starting at the safety position. The Vikings also had Jayron Kearse, who seemed to be a lock for that third spot. This left Epps gunning for the fourth safety spot.

Also looking to make that spot were two undrafted free agents the team signed that year (Nate Meadors and Isaiah Wharton) along with the veteran Derron Smith, who had appeared in parts of 38 games over the previous four seasons.

Epps did not receive many reps from the Vikings, but was ultimately able to carve out a spot on the 53-man roster. While he appeared in the first eight games for the Vikings that season (mostly on special teams – he played only 12 defensive snaps), Epps was ultimately inactive come week nine.

Then, one of the stranger series of moves occurred, which worked out as if a trade had been completed. The Philadelphia Eagles had veteran knuckle head Andrew Sendejo patrolling in their secondary to start that season, but he was bad. In fact, he did more concussing and injuring his Eagles teammates than he did to actually help the team win.

Two days after the game where Epps was inactive, the Eagles released Andrew Sendejo. The Vikings rushed to claim him and, in order to open up a roster spot, released their sixth-round pick Epps. The Eagles, now in need of a safety, claimed Epps two days after releasing the veteran Sendejo.

2019-2020 Philadelphia Eagles Campaigns

A rookie joining a new defense more than halfway through the season does not bode well for playing time, but Epps got to work right away. He played an even larger role in the Eagles special teams during their final seven games than he did with the Vikings special teams.

On defense, injuries pushed Epps into a more active role, including playing nearly half of the defense’s snaps in week 17. He also played 12 defensive snaps in the Eagles wild card loss that season (the game where Josh McCown took over following a Wentz concussion). In far less time with the Birds, Epps had already played as many snaps on defense in the playoffs as he had in the entire first half of the season with the Vikings.

Returning in 2020, Epps was in a better position to earn snaps because he could now learn the defense during the offseason. He was able to earn a spot on the 53-man roster again coming out of camp.

Came to us in the middle of the year last year, we put him in some of our dime packages, but we limited, you know, what he was asked to do in our defense. He played a lot in the post and the other guys like Rodney [McLeod] and Malcolm [Jenkins] sort of covered up. With the whole gaining some experience last year and just another year in the same system, from the first day of training camp, not only has he improved mentally …but he was improved physically, too. Faster, more explosive.

Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Marcus Epps (September 8, 2020)

That season saw Epps ebb and flow in his value to the team. He went from being a primary backup to injuries making him one of the primary defenders in weeks four and five. By week six, he was injured. When he was in the process of returning, he hit the COVID list and missed a few more games recovering from that.

In week 14, he was fully back and had worked himself up to the top of the ladder among the other injuries going on. He started the Eagles final three games of the season, registering 20 tackles and two interceptions with three defensed passes in those final three games.

Now a starter showing some skill, Epps looked like he could be in line to be a starter for a team that could see a lot of turnover at the position in the offseason.

2021 Philadelphia Eagles Campaign

Unfortunately for Epps, the turnover was not only with the players. Doug Pederson was fired and Jim Schwartz took a step back to take a break from coaching. With a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator, Epps would have to prove himself once again.

His new defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon, brought with him a pair of his own players. One of these “Gannon Guys” was Anthony Harris, one of the safeties that Epps had to sit behind in Minnesota when he was drafted. The team also brought back Rodney McLeod, leaving both of the starting positions seemingly filled.

Ultimately, Epps was able to prove himself as the team’s third safety and would appear in every game the Eagles had that season (besides the week 17 game where starters did not play). He would make two starts while Harris was out with injury and make his second appearance in the playoffs with the team.

Over the course of the season as a part-time defender, Epps recorded 62 tackles, an interception and five defensed passes.

2022 Philadelphia Eagles Campaign

Coming into OTA’s following his first season in the new defense, Epps had earned Gannon’s trust.

He’s played at a high level the times that he’s played for us, and you gotta be able to do that over the long haul snap after snap. Really excited to see him play this year.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon on Marcus Epps during 2022 OTAs

With the team having moved on from long-time starter Rodney McLeod, Epps seemed to be in line to start. The team had also brought back Anthony Harris and the thought among nearly everyone covering the team was that Epps had the inside track to the second starting spot behind Harris.

With a strong camp, Epps actually proved to be perhaps the team’s best safety and seemed to have locked down a starting position. The team then acquired Chauncey Gardner-Johnson via trade. It left a brief time where many questioned whether Harris or Epps would be bumped to the bench.

In a shocking move, the Eagles actually cut Harris during final cuts. This left Epps as the clear lone starter, especially with Jaquiski Tartt also being among the cuts. With the season starting soon, Epps had to try and mesh with an entirely new running mate at safety.

The duo did not miss a beat and Epps actually started and played almost every snap this season as the Eagles locked up the top seed and the bye in the NFC. He recorded 94 tackles, a forced fumble and six defensed passes for a secondary where pretty much every other player than him was a well-know player across the league. The star-studded secondary relied on the constant presence of Epps, who played in 1096/1106 defensive snaps. Those 10 missed snaps came in the blowout of the Titans where the Eagles had benched Epps to keep him healthy.

In the playoffs, Epps had done the same thing, appearing in 90/98 snaps with his breaks coming at the end of each blowout win.

While Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson are the often-discussed defensive backs with Avonte Maddox frequently being added in as the “forgotten” player in the Eagles secondary, Epps is rarely even mentioned. He may not be a name that Eagles fans hear much on the broadcast during the Super Bowl, but they can count on him being back there to hold down the safety position for a Birds secondary that’s better than any other we’ve seen from the team in recent history.