Often overlooked and underrated.
That’s been the Marcus Epps story up to this point in his career.
“I’ve always been the underdog, I’ve always been overlooked,” Epps recently told Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro.
“I’ve always been doubted, but my biggest thing is I’ve never needed anybody else to believe in me, because I believe in me,” Epps continued.
A huge portion of that belief in self was shaped at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California where Epps played high school football.
The Edison Chargers were coached by Dave White for 31 seasons up until 2016. Epps played under White during his junior and senior seasons.
“I tell people I coached 40 years at that school. We’ve had a lot of guys play college football, but very few get make it to the pros. And people always say so, was he (Epps) the best player you ever coached?” White told The Philly Blitz.
“I said no, but he was probably the hardest working, smartest player I’ve ever coached.”
In two years under White, Epps went from playing mostly junior varsity football as a junior to starting and excelling as a senior.
In his senior season at Edison, Epps amassed 74 total tackles (up from 25 as a junior) and three interceptions (up from one as a junior).
Despite this strong showing, it still wasn’t enough to earn Epps a scholarship, let alone a collegiate offer.
The chip on Epps’ shoulder would grow even more when he decided to walk on at the University of Wyoming.
After redshirting his freshman year, Epps would go on to earn a scholarship through sheer determination and belief in self. From the moment he stepped on the field in Laramie, Wyoming, he was an impact player for Craig Bohl’s defense.
“His competitiveness and willingness to outwork everyone in the building and beyond stuck out. He did things that weren’t asked of him,” Wyoming Director of Player Personnel Gordie Haug told The Philly Blitz.
Epps’ hard work wouldn’t go unnoticed, as he worked his way into being named a three-time captain at Wyoming.
“He was obsessive in his ability to know the game throughout. He is by far one of the hardest working players we’ve had,” Haug said.
Epps would go on to start 50 games, rack up 325 total tackles (11th in Wyoming school history), 18.5 tackles for a loss, nine interceptions, 22 pass break-ups, and five forced fumbles across four seasons.
Anthony Makransky played alongside Epps for two seasons at the University of Wyoming.
“Marcus earned the starting job. He was one of the hardest workers on the team. He just worked his ass off,” Makransky told The Philly Blitz.
After his senior season, Epps was honored as one of three national finalists for the 2018 Burlsworth Trophy, which is awarded to the most outstanding player in the nation who began his career as a walk-on.
“That’s amazing to me and it just shows his work ethic and his perseverance,” White said.
“To go from no scholarship to walking on to a division one program and proving yourself by earning a starting spot and being voted captain by your teammates and coaches, just how many times you have to keep battling back over and over again, the work ethic and the perseverance is amazing,” White continued.
“And it doesn’t surprise me really, and he’s a class kid.”
Epps was drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. After selecting Epps with the 191st pick in the draft, former Vikings General Manager, Rick Spielman cited Epps’ instincts and “high character” as traits that stuck out to Minnesota’s scouting staff.
However, despite making the Vikings initial 53-man roster following a strong preseason and training camp, receiving rave reviews from former Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and even earning first team reps, Epps was waived in November of his rookie year after the Eagles released safety Andrew Sendajo, who Minnesota swiftly signed.
Philadelphia would claim Epps off waivers on November 6, 2019.
Since then, Epps has been a staple in the Eagles defensive back room.
After being claimed on waivers, Epps played in 22% of the team’s defensive snaps. He averaged 26 snaps per game (364 total snaps, 38% of defensive snaps) in 2020. His snaps increased to 32 per game (505 total snaps, 48% of defensive snaps) in 2021.
And with that increase in snaps, Epps play has rapidly ascended.
He displayed great route recognition and trust in his eyes when reading opposing quarterbacks.
He also showed he wasn’t afraid to stick his nose in the dirt as a tackler.
Over the last two seasons, opposing quarterbacks have targeted Epps as in coverage 44 times. Epps has snagged three interceptions and allowed a 56.3 passer rating in coverage.
Per Pro Football Focus, Epps graded out as the highest graded Eagles safety with a 72.8 overall grade. He ranked 18th out of 92 qualified safeties in the NFL last year.
Throughout the offseason, the Eagles have been linked to many free agent safeties, however, their support of Epps has been staunch.
“We have a lot of confidence in Marcus,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. “Marcus played really good football for us last year. We’re excited about him.”
“He’s played at a high level the times that he’s played for us, and you have to 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 said to reporters at Eagles OTAs.
And they have every right to be excited about him.
“I think his time has come. And I think he’ll prove that,” White said.
A true story of self efficacy and hard work, Marcus Epps has positioned himself well. Epps currently heads into training camp as the Eagles’ starter opposite Anthony Harris.
The chip on his shoulder has led him to the doorstep of NFL superstardom and if his past is any indication, he is prepared to knock the opportunity out of the park.
“He’s got the right mindset. He believes in himself. He always has even when no one else did. He’s always had a chip on his shoulder. And he’ll give you all he has,” Makransky said.
“That’s who Marcus is.”
Cover Image Credit: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images