With the meat of free agency out of the way, there is a significant hole that the Eagles created for themselves. With the Byron Maxwell trade, though the team was able to unload a salary and move up in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Eagles created a need at the second cornerback spot opposite of Eric Rowe. While the team did sign Ron Brooks and Leodis McKelvin, both of those players are better as nickelbacks and depth players rather than starters outside. The team also has JaCorey Shepherd coming back from injury and he was having a very strong camp last summer before getting hurt. However, it is risky to depend on a combination of Brooks, McKelvin and Shepherd to hold down the competition for the CB2 spot. Unless the Eagles can get Nolan Carroll back on a new contract, which is still possible, the team may be caught in a situation where they will need to address the cornerback position early in the draft.
Though this draft has some questionable talent at various positions, the cornerback position is one where it feels very strong at the top. This draft has three players that can play cornerback at a high level early on in their NFL careers and after that, there are players who have excellent potential to become solid NFL starters. Here are a few of the top cornerbacks in the draft and players the Eagles should keep an eye on.
- Jalen Ramsey, FSU: This is the one player that will be out of the Eagles' reach, even at pick number 8. Ramsey is probably the best defensive player in this class and has All Pro potential at any position in a defensive backfield. It is said that NFL teams want to keep Ramsey at corner, which I believe limits his abilities. However, it says a lot if I think he is more limited at corner than he is at safety yet he is still the best cornerback in this class. Ramsey has an outstanding blend of size and athletic ability paired with a physical, aggressive playing style. He has the length and physicality to dominate in press, but the recognition skills and explosive athletic ability to play off. He is as versatile as players come and it would be a no brainer to pick him if he falls to eight.
- Vernon Hargreaves, Florida: The perception of Hargreaves has fluctuated over the past few months, especially after having a forgettable showing in the Gators' bowl game. Hargreaves, however, remains one of the top players in this class. While he is a tier below Ramsey, Hargreaves has an excellent skill set that lends itself to being a quality NFL starter sooner than later. While he is a bit smaller, Hargreaves is incredibly well built and has very good athletic ability to keep him on the move. He is outstanding in zone coverage and also brings a nasty mindset to man coverage. Hargreaves is more than willing to bring the hit against the run or in the passing game and he will do his best to get into the heads of the players across from him. While taking him at eight is a bit of a reach, his skill set is undeniable and he will be an impact starter very early in his career.
- Mackenzie Alexander, Clemson: Mackenzie Alexander has taken some heat from the draft cycle recently for not being productive enough in college. While the complete lack of interceptions is a worry, the truth is that he was just not thrown at in college very much. Alexander was tested with some of the best receivers in college football the last two years and rarely gave up the big play. He has excellent footwork and can change direction on a dime. He is a very physical football player and is not afraid to get into it with receivers in coverage or as blockers. Alexander does not have a lot of experience working through a backpedal and that will hurt his learning curve in the NFL, but his mirroring ability in coverage and football IQ will help him become a high level NFL cornerback.
- Eli Apple, Ohio State: Apple provides a lot of intrigue because of his excellent size (6-1, 200) and speed. His speed is evident when he is staying with guys on the field in man coverage and he uses his size well in press to body receivers. Apple's physical tools are incredibly enticing, but there is still a good bit of rawness to his game. His ball skills need a lot of work as he rarely was able to locate the ball in man coverage and he is also a very inconsistent tackler. Despite his flaws, it is hard to not love Apple due to his physical tools, though he would be a projection in a Jim Schwartz defense that often employs off coverage.
- William Jackson, Houston: Nothing is more important on the defensive side of the ball than turnovers and if there is a player who has a knack to create turnovers, they should be held in high regard. William Jackson has the best ball skills in this draft class. The six foot corner out of Houston had over 20 pass defenses last season to go along with five interceptions. Jackson looks like a receiver in coverage sometimes the way he is able to recognize and trail routes and play the ball. Jackson lacks a certain brand of physicality in coverage and against the run, but his ability to create turnovers should not be understated. While taking Jackson in the top ten or even top 20 is a bit rich, he provides excellent value at the back end of the first round.