The Eagles waited until the fifth round to address their secondary, and did so by selecting N.C. State safety Earl Wolff. General manager Howie Roseman hinted that Wolff would not be in the mix for a starting job in his rookie season, but without any stars in the defensive backfield, Wolff’s number could be called before long. Here’s what to expect from him:
Displays great speed and range and projects well as a high safety, either in a single high or 2-deep look. Has speed to stick with TEs and most WRs in man coverage, but was rarely asked to play man in college. Struggles to identify routes in zone coverage. Opens hips immediately, often turning his back to the play. Bites hard on play action fakes and can get beat deep. Reads the QBs eyes, but sometimes neglects to look at WRs. Average ball skills. Will deliver a hit at the point of the catch and can knock the ball free. Height may be a slight concern against big TEs. Does not break on the ball very quickly. Has great speed, but must do a better job of recognizing routes in zone coverage.
Fundamentally sound tackler. Will wrap up, but can also deliver the big blow. Whiffs in the open field occasionally. Generally takes good angles. Cannot get off blocks or even avoid them. Often gets caught up in traffic. Very slow to recognize the play and often fills the wrong hole. Appears almost reluctant to come up in run support and does not trust his instincts.
A little short at 5’11″, but adequate bulk at 209 and excellent speed (4.44 40-yard-dash). Explosive leaper with good acceleration. Can pack a punch on contact and has good strength. Change of direction skills are not very fluid, mainly because he over-commits to one side when the ball is snapped. More of a straight-line athlete, but range and timed speed are very impressive.
Other (durability, character, etc.)
Very durable and no injury concerns. By all accounts, a high-character person and respected teammate. Main concern is football I.Q. Instincts are questionable at best on tape. Reportedly struggled with X’s and O’s portion of Combine interviews. Rumors say Wolff did not have a good command of college playbook. Does not see the field well and feel for the game is suspect.
Fit in Eagles system
The Eagles do not have any special preferences for safeties that they have made known. Wolff is at his best as a free safety, either in a center field role or in a deep cover-2 look. His slow diagnostic skills can only be hidden if he plays far behind the line of scrimmage. Would have to beat out Kenny Phillips or Nate Allen for a starting job, which appears highly unlikely. Destined for special teams role as a rookie.
I don’t want to rip Wolff too much before I see him at the pro level, but he shouldn’t be handed a roster spot. Kenny Phillips, Nate Allen, Patrick Chung, and Colt Anderson are clearly more valuable players. Safeties must be able to trust their instincts and diagnose plays quickly and accurately. That’s Wolff’s biggest weakness, and unless he improves his football I.Q. dramatically, it won’t matter how fast he is. Until he proves me wrong, I will assume that the Eagles missed on this pick.