If any of you happened to read my film room posts last offseason, you may remember that I went through all the Eagles young players and broke down their 2015 film and then projected how they would do this year. This year I'm going to do the same thing with the Eagles 2016 draft picks. I was pretty successful with my projections last year (I talk about them in a string of tweets here), so hopefully I can be just as successful as last year!
I'm starting with Jalen Mills, someone who certainly divides opinion. Regardless of your opinion of him, there's a very good chance he plays important snaps next year because the Eagles cornerback depth chart at the moment is pretty weak. Obviously I can't post clips of every play, so I'll post clips of things I see multiple times. You may have seen some of these clips throughout the season if you've read all my film room stuff but this gives me a chance to go into more detail and there's plenty of new clips too. I'll start with the good, then look at the bad and then conclude my overall thoughts on Mills. Final point, Mills is pretty good in zone coverage. But this breakdown will deal with his man coverage skills only, I find it's the best way to judge cornerbacks.
For someone who got as beat as regularly as Mills did last year, he actually better technique than I realised. I really do think he has some talent too. He has loose hips which means he can run with receivers on inside breaking routes and he also has pretty quick feet which means he can break on the ball quickly on deep comebacks and curl routes.
These plays are a perfect example of his quick feet and hip flexibility. Play 1 he's at left CB, the ball is overthrown but you can see he has the ability to break on the football really quickly. That ability to break out of your retreat and accelerate forward is a hugely underrated part of playing cornerback. Play 2 he's at right CB, you can see the ability to turn his hips quickly and keep tight coverage on the receiver. He makes a great break and knocks the ball away.
Mills doesn't have a great deal of speed (more on that later), so he has to do things to compensate for that. The best thing to do if you don't have real speed, is to get aggressive with receivers and use your hands to stop their momentum and slow them down.
Mills is at left CB here and although he gives up the catch, you can see how physical he's getting with Antonio Brown. Although Brown makes this catch, Mills makes him work extremely hard for a 6 yard gain. Mills had to cover Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham at times this year and he always got really physical with them, which is good. The Eagles play a lot of cover 2, so Mills physicality at the line of scrimmage fits well.
Mills is on Brown here again, once again he gets extremely physical with him at the line of scrimmage and you can see him forcing him to the sideline. Brown tries to rip Mills hand away but Mills swats him away and stays extremely tight to him. Mills shows the ability here to mirror receivers from a press position and it's something I think he's pretty good at. He also does a good job getting his head around to make a play on the ball when he's in position. In the end there's just no chance Brown can make this catch. Mills will almost certainly give away holding penalties and pass interference penalties playing this style. He has no choice though in my opinion. He needs to get physical and compensate for his weaknesses.
Once again, here is Mills at left CB getting extremely physical with the wide receiver and practically running the comeback route for him. On tape you frequently see Mills covering these comeback routes perfectly, he shows really quick feet and the ability to transition and change direction quickly. He uses his hands when covering downfield too which is something you repeatedly see.
Another clip of Mills covering a comeback route perfectly at left CB here. Here he doesn't even get his hands on the receiver, he maintains a good distance away from him though and once again you can see the acceleration when he breaks towards the ball again. I have a lot of clips of Mills covering these routes but you get the point. Mills ability to burst towards the ball is something a lot of cornerbacks just simply don't have so it's good to see.
Mills gives up a catch here on the slant route to Julio Jones, but I still think it shows off his ability. Mills plays this almost perfectly, his technique here is really impressive. He's staring at Jones' hips and is slightly facing outside to prevent Jones from getting a free release deep against him. Mills really quickly flips his hips when he sees Jones break inside and he also uses his hands to fight off Jones attempt to swat him away. He also breaks on the ball and manages to get a hand inside. Sadly for Mills, Jones makings an awesome catch and sometimes this happens as a cornerback. I think his technique here shows some really promising signs though.
One of Mills' weaknesses coming out was the fact that he's pretty small and lean around the waist. However, as he shows above with Jones, I think he was able to deal with some of the bigger receivers pretty well at the line of scrimmage by getting his hands on them and not letting them get on top of him. It would be interesting to see him against receivers like Mike Evans and Alshon Jeffrey though who win with size on a frequent basis.
Right, this is the final clip I'll show of Mills' good stuff but I think it's an important one. I'm not focusing on the coverage here really, I like what happens after the play. Mills lets the receiver know that he's winning this match-up. Mills is confident and incredibly arrogant. I think that's awesome. Mills has an unbelievably short memory. He'll get burned for a big play, then make a pass breakup and start wagging his finger (I'm a big fan of the finger wag). I love that stuff. Mills has the confidence, swagger and mental ability to play cornerback in the NFL.
Cornerback is unlike any other position on defense. You can have a terrible game as a defensive end and nobody will really know because you may not have been individually at fault for any touchdowns. As a cornerback, you will get beat every single game, probably more than once. Every single person on the field, in the stands and at home will know when you get beat in man coverage. Anyone who's ever played sport knows that feeling when you individually get beat in a team sport and it's a horrible feeling. Sometimes it will be for a big play or a touchdown. You better have a short term memory and forget about that play by the time the quarterbacks next takes a snap. Mills most definitely has that confidence in abundance. Keep wagging that finger buddy!
Jalen Mills has one major weakness. It's a big weakness and it may stop him from ever being a starting cornerback in this league. Mills has a severe lack of recovery speed. If you're running a go route against Mills and you beat him off the line of scrimmage and get a yard on him, there's no chance of him ever catching you up.
On this play, Mills is at left CB against Sammie Coates. What's concerning about this play is that Mills is in perfect position to cover this. He opens his hips early and begins running back when Coates is just in front of him. The problem is, Coates is simply faster than him. There a lot of examples on tape of Mills just getting outrun by wide receivers.
I mean, look at this example. Luckily, Ryan throws it to the wrong side or this is a long touchdown. Mills opens up his hips slightly too late and he's just beat by a distance. The receiver creates yards of separation here. Mills has to be nearly perfect when covering one on one because if he takes one bad step, he simply isn't able to recover. This is clearly concerning. The Eagles struggled to prevent big plays last year and Mills lack of recovery speed is a big reason why.
Here once again the ball isn't thrown to Mills side but he gives up a little bit of separation. You might be thinking it's a bit harsh to criticise him here, after all he's only giving up a small amount of separation and he plays the route pretty well. There's 2 big issues here though. Firstly, he plays this play pretty well technique wise. That's one of the major issues though to be in a strange way, the fact he is in a good position and opens his hips up quickly and starts running back straight away yet still can't keep up is concerning. A cornerback with reasonable speed should be able to stay closer to the receiver here. The second problem is bigger though. The guy out running him here is Victor Cruz. I'm not actually if Cruz has any knees at this point in his career. He's not very good and he's certainly not very explosive anymore.
So what do you do as a cornerback if you simply can't keep up with faster receivers on the outside? Does this mean you can never start? It doesn't in my opinion. If you look at the examples of Mills getting beat above, you'll notice something. He never gets his hands on the receiver, he never gets physical or presses the receiver well in the big plays he gives up. When you have a lack of speed, I think you need to get grabby and sometimes pull back receivers and hope the officials don't always throw the flag. It's not ideal, but I think you can compensate for a lack of deep speed with really good technique, film study and a little bit of holding. If you do get totally blown off the line of scrimmage (like the Falcons clip above), just grab hold of your guy and take the 10 yard penalty. It's better than giving up a long touchdown.
I think Mills' technique has improved a lot this season. Here he gets beat bad but it was in week 3 and I think he's a better player now. I think he has a better understanding of how to cover certain routes and use his hands to prevent getting beat like this. However, it is worth noting that once again you can just see that lack of recovery speed on show. It's boring to continually go on about his lack of deep speed but it is clearly Mills' biggest weakness.
I decided to end on this play for a reason. Firstly, Mills is in the slot and once again he gets burned deep without getting a hand on the receiver. Just look at the separation he gives up here, it is concerning. Especially when you consider I don't think he was beat too badly off the line of scrimmage really, but if he lets the receiver get up to full speed he will always just run past him. I decided to bring up this clip though because I wanted to give my thoughts on Mills' ability to play the slot. Simply put - I don't think he can play in the slot.
I'm pretty sure the coaching staff agree with me too, because he didn't play there much last year and the slot was available after Ron Brooks' injury. I actually think Mills' major weakness (speed) is highlighted more in the slot because it's harder to get physical with receivers. I think it's much easier to get physical with receivers and force them to the sideline when you are playing on the outside which helps Mills to overcome his weaknesses. Mills does have the foot quickness and hips to be able to cover receivers from the slot, I just think he'll get killed on seam routes and drag routes where receivers can literally run away from him. Who knows though, maybe with some help he could be a slot cornerback, I personally see his future on the outside.
So, is Mills a starting cornerback? The honest answer is I don't know. I really want to say yes but I'd be lying if I said I was sure because I can't foresee him getting any faster. I think some people will completely write him off and simply say he doesn't have the speed to be able to ever start on the outside. Those people may be right, I'm not ready to give up on him after 1 season though. I'm not convinced the Eagles can find 3 new starting cornerbacks in one offseason, so if they decide that they need to bring back 1 of either Mills, McKelvin or Carroll. I would much rather they give Mills a chance. Hopefully they bring in a veteran or two and a rookie, and give Mills a chance to compete for the number 2 cornerback spot.
I think technically he's pretty good and for a rookie cornerback I think he showed quite a lot of promise. Mills has quick feet and loose hips which means he can mirror receivers and he's pretty good at this from a press position in particular when he can get his hands on the receiver. Although I didn't focus on his zone coverage, he's very solid in zone and not at fault (based on what I watched) for any busted overages. He shows good ball skills and he also locates the ball, when he's in a good position he does show the ability to get his head around. He's also good in the red zone because he doesn't have to worry about getting deep beat.
There are ways to compensate for his lack of speed, but it won't be easy for him. If he does start, I would expect a few holding calls if he gets slightly too grabby with his hands but I'm okay with that. I would rather him be called for a holding penalty than get burned for a long play. The Eagles defense did give up a lot of big plays this season and I'm sure it's something Schwartz wants to fix. He may decide that Mills' lack of recovery speed just makes him too much of a liability to start on the outside. I think Schwartz is a big fan of Mills though and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Mills out there starting week 1.
If you have any questions about Mills, feel free to comment below and ask. Also, I've set up an Eagles podcast recently with a friend of mine. He writes all22 posts too so the pod is focused on what we both see on film. It's called 'Birds Breakdown' and you can check it out here (iTunes and SoundCloud), the latest episode is all about the defense and I discuss Mills in depth (around the 51:45 mark) so it's worth checking out after reading this piece. Thanks guys!