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Eagles really need someone to step up at cornerback

Eagles training camp position preview.

Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2017 is almost here. The first practice starts on July 24. The Eagles' entire training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We continue today by taking a look at the cornerback picture.

Cornerback is without question the biggest weakness on the Eagles’ roster. The team has some young players with potential who could be long-term solutions, but the 2017 outlook is bleak. The Eagles could desperately use someone to step up at this spot this season.

The players

Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Aaron Grymes, Ron Brooks, C.J. Smith, Mitchell White, Dwayne Gratz, Randall Goforth, Jomal Wiltz, Sidney Jones (injured)

Mills struggled as a rookie. There were some positive flashes, but there was more bad than good. Pro Football Focus graded Mills as the worst corner in the NFL last year. Mills’ weakness is obvious: he’s vulnerable to getting beat deep due to a lack of long speed. His biggest strength is also obvious: Mills is an extremely confident player who won’t back down from a challenge.

The Eagles’ coaching staff seems to really like Mills. Jim Schwartz has praised him on multiple occasions. Malcolm Jenkins also said the team expects him to be a breakout player this season. Now it’s up to Mills to live up to expectations. He had some strong moments during spring practices this year, but there were also multiple times when he got beat over the top. I think he’ll make some plays this year but also give up a bunch.

Robinson is easily the most experienced Eagles corner challenging for playing time. The former first round pick turns 30 in September. Injuries plagued Robinson last year, but he’s not a total lost cause. He’s shown signs of being a capable starter throughout his career. At the same time, no one is mistaking him as a long-term solution by any means. Robinson seems destined to be a one-year stop gap for the Eagles. That’s fine.

The Eagles drafted Douglas with the No. 99 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The West Virginia product is great at making plays on the ball. He was tied for the NCAA lead in interceptions last season. He also was very active during spring practices. Douglas received some first team reps in OTAs/minicamp so he’s pushing for a starting job. The thing that could hold him back, however, is his tendency to get too grabby while in coverage. He committed three straight defensive holding penalties during one practice this offseason. Douglas has potential but he needs to work on his game.

Grymes had a very good spring. He broke up a pass or came up with an interception at least once in every practice open to the media. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because he looked good last offseason prior to getting hurt in a preseason game. The Eagles gave Grymes some looks at first team nickel cornerback. If he continues to look good in practice, it’ll be hard to keep him off the field in the games.

Brooks is battling back from injury after suffering a ruptured quad tendon last October. As a result, he did not participate in team drills this spring. The veteran corner took a pay cut this offseason, which might help his chances of making the final roster. But he’ll need to play well in order to earn playing time either on the outside or back in the slot.

Smith snuck on the roster last season after being called up from the practice squad. The “other” North Dakota State alumnus on the roster showed some potential last offseason. He’ll need another strong summer to push for a roster spot as a backup this year. Smith, White, Gratz, Goforth, and Wiltz are all competing for a potential sixth cornerback job.

I left Jones for last because I feel like Eagles fans should not be expecting much from him in 2017. It remains to be seen if he’ll even play at all this season. The hope is that Jones will fully recover and be a great cornerback option for the Eagles heading into the 2018 season. Once believed to be a potential top 10 selection, Jones could end up being a second-round steal for Philadelphia. But there’s still a lot of time left before he can prove himself. The feeling here is the Eagles should be very cautious with Jones.

How will it play out?

I’m of the belief Mills and Robinson will be Week 1 starters on the outside. The nickel corner spot could come down to Grymes versus Brooks, and I’m currently leaning towards the former getitng the job. Even though Douglas might not be starting I still think he’ll play. The Eagles split snaps between Leodis McKelvin and Mills last year. They could go with a similar setup this year with Robinson and Douglas.

That’s clearly not a very inspiring group. The hope is that the Eagles’ improved pass rush and Philadelphia’s solid starting safety tandem can mask the weakness at corner to some extent.

The sixth corner spot, if the Eagles keep that many, is up for grabs. Smith showed enough potential to make it on the roster last year. White quietly had a nice spring. Those are the depth names to keep an eye on.

The Jones situation is unclear. Again, I’m not counting on him to play this season.

Who could be a surprise cut?

Brooks could be the odd man out here if: 1) Grymes steps up and takes his nickel job and 2) the Eagles only keep five corners and go with the younger Smith over him. Keep in mind Brooks turns 29 this season and is coming off a significant injury.

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