It almost goes without saying that safety has been a position of need for the Philadelphia Eagles since Brian Dawkins was allowed to waltz his way to Denver via free agency in 2009.
Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Kurt Coleman, Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips have all been signed or drafted by this team looking to fill perhaps the most glaring void in its defense. Now, add Earl Wolff to the list — and there is potential for the NC State product to finally seize the job.
Or, perhaps it’s just be the latest round fired in the Eagles’ recent game of safety roulette.
At 5-foot-11 and 209 pounds, Wolff isn’t a physically imposing force by any stretch of the imagination. However, the 23-year-old plays a physical brand of safety, and appears equally adept at playing center field in the passing game, or stepping up into the box in run support.
The three-year starter at NC State rounded out his collegiate career with a team-high 145 tackles and was a first-team All-ACC player as a senior.
“He’s very explosive,” Chip Kelly told reporters moments after hanging up the phone with Wolff on draft day. “[He] can run, can jump, a hard-nosed, physical player. Talking to their coaches, just before we picked him, they just couldn’t say enough good things about him.”
Already possessing the versatility to play both safety positions and contribute on special teams, it isn’t a stretch to believe Wolff could see the field immediately for the Eagles and ultimately compete for, and possibly win, a starting job early in the season.
The Eagles ranked only 27th in the league in kick return average last season, averaging just 21 yards per return. Wolff could be the type of player that can change a game with a big return.
“He’s an impressive guy,” general manager Howie Roseman said of Wolff to ESPN South Jersey’s Mike Gill, after using a fifth-round draft choice on him. “His ability to come right in, contribute on special teams as well while he is learning safety spot and then compete. Explosive player, tough player, productive player in a big time conference. We have some relationship with people at N.C. State and when you talk to them about their team this year they had a disappointing team this year and their defense, he was the leader of that defense.”
In addition to his 145 tackle performance as a senior, Wolff notched over 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons and has forced seven career fumbles.
In free agency, Kelly and the Eagles sought players who came from winning programs, mining the Houston Texans for James Casey and Connor Barwin, along with plucking Carey Williams from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and nose tackle Isaag Sopoaga from the San Francisco 49ers.
Those moves were made not only to add talent to the roster, but also instill a sense of leadership that comes with a winning culture, which has been lacking in Philadelphia in recent years.
After drafting Wolff, the Eagles added a young player who not only has the opportunity to win a starting job early in his career, but also showcased himself as a leader during his time at NC State. The question for Wolff now becomes, will he finally be the player who stops the carousel in search of a safety presence in the Eagles’ defensive backfield? Or simply another empty chamber click in the Birds’ search?
Only time will tell.
But, as a fifth-round choice, he could be a bargain for the Eagles.
Matt Lombardo is also an on-air personality on 97.5 FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia. Join the conversation and follow Matt on Twitter.