Eagles Outlook: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a near perfect fit for Jonathan Gannon’s defense
Howie Roseman and his Eagles have stolen headlines all offseason.
After failing to agree on a new deal, the Saints opted to trade their budding defensive star, for the small price of a fifth and sixth-round pick in 2023 and 2024 respectively. This was a prototypical Howie Roseman move, to a tee.
Now that veteran safety Anthony Harris is no longer in town, Gardner-Johnson figures to be the starting safety opposite of Marcus Epps in the Eagles defensive backfield.
Versatility is key for the Eagles defense
Though he may seem like a weird fit for Gannon’s defense on paper, CGJ has the one thing that Gannon values most in his defensive backs: versatility.
In 2021, CGJ saw playing time at five separate alignments. Here’s his snap breakdown via Pro Football Focus:
- Defensive Line: 52
- Box: 66
- Free Safety: 9
- Slot Corner: 477
- Corner: 23
Obviously, he won’t spend the majority of his snaps at the nickel here in Philly like he did with New Orleans. Avonte Maddox is the unquestioned nickel at the moment. But, his experience from that alignment lends itself to transitioning to a primary box safety, a position he’s spent 257 snaps at over his three-year career.
While Marcus Epps typically gets painted as a box safety by trade due to his excellent tackling ability, he’s never spent more than 100 snaps at the position during any season of his career. The majority of his playing time has been as a free safety, where Epps has played a total of 646 snaps during his career, compared to just 191 in the box.
Gardner-Johnson is at his best when he’s close to the line of scrimmage, but his coverage ability on the backend is still noteworthy. Last season, CGJ allowed a completion percentage of 68.2 and a passer rating of 80.2 when targeted while snagging three interceptions.
He’s also shown solid pass rushing ability for a defensive back during his career. Per PFF, Gardner-Johnson has a career pass rushing grade of 76.4, the highest mark he’s posted in any PFF category. He tallied two sacks, two quarterback hits, and six hurries on just 28 pass rushing snaps in 2021.
While it’s hard to call CGJ elite at any one thing, he’s solid at nearly everything that goes into playing defensive back in the NFL. That can go a long way in this league and Gannon has always valued versatility over everything, especially with his safeties.
At just 24 years old, CGJ is only scratching the surface of his potential. Given everything he’s able to do on the field, a full transition to box safety or even free safety is certainly plausible.
It wasn’t that long ago when the Eagles traded for another versatile Saints defensive back and turned him into one of the best safeties in the league. I’m not saying Gardner-Johnson is about to be the next Malcolm Jenkins, but we’d be foolish not to acknowledge to eerily similar comparisons.
With CGJ in the fold, the Eagles front office has finally put a bow on what may be the best offseason in team history. With the versatility and tenacity he brings to the field, Gardner-Johnson can be a real difference maker for this defense and help propel the unit into elite territory.
Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz | USA Today Sports