When the Eagles released Ron Brooks, they ensured that they won’t have the same starting nickel cornerback that they had last season.
Some might not consider the slot corner as a starter, but they should. In some cases, NFL teams are using nickel packages more often than their typical base defense. That was the case for the Eagles last year and it’ll probably hold true in 2017 as well.
So, who is the Eagles’ new nickel corner now that it won’t be Brooks? It might not be as simple as a one-for-one replacement. Philadelphia has a number of options.
Robinson is the favorite to be the Eagles’ slot corner, assuming he makes the team. This might come as a surprise given how Robinson struggled early in training camp. The truth is he’s been a lot less awful while playing the first team defense in the slot, however. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because that’s where Robinson has played his best football during his career. Shortly after Robinson signed with the Eagles, we wrote a post titled: “Patrick Robinson could be a solid slot cornerback for the Eagles.” That might be the case.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz praised Robinson earlier this week.
Well, he's quick. I think that helps. He's played nickel before. He played it a little bit at New Orleans, played it at San Diego, and played it a little bit at Indianapolis. It's not a new position to him.
But he's got really good quickness to be able to handle some man-to-man situations. We also have the ability to play Malcolm Jenkins in there, and get a bigger guy in there, so I like that complement.
You look across our division, particularly Dallas, they got some guys that are tough matchups for bigger slots or bigger corners. You need guys that have that short-area quickness. I think Pat has that. He has experience at the position. It's been good getting him up to speed in there.
Schwartz’s comments indicate Robinson’s playing time could be matchup specific. It sounds like the Eagles plan to use him on smaller slot receivers while Jenkins, who struggle with those types, could be use against bigger guys.
Robinson isn’t a player the Eagles should want playing a ton of snaps. But if he’s used as a situational role-player, he could be serviceable.
The Eagles defense took a hit when Brooks got hurt last year and Jenkins had to move into the slot. Philadelphia had Jaylen Watkins filling in at safety for Jenkins, which isn’t ideal.
Now the Eagles have more depth on the back end. Corey Graham fits nicely into that No. 3 safety role. If the Eagles want to match Jenkins up against a bigger slot receiver, they can feel comfortable moving Jenkins down and putting Graham. The presence of Robinson also allows the Eagles to be more selective about how they used Jenkins in the nickel corner role.
Graham’s versatility makes him a valuable player. He has experience playing outside cornerback, nickel, and safety. If Robinson and/or Jenkins struggle in the slot, the Eagles can try giving him some snaps at that spot.
McDougle isn’t necessarily a lock to make the roster but the feeling here is the Eagles want to keep him after targeting him in a trade. McDougle has reportedly been having a good summer. He’s still in the process of learning Schwartz’s defense and building chemistry with his teammates, so it seems unlikely he’ll be ready to play a lot right away. But he offers depth in the slot.
The Eagles used Mills in the nickel corner role during the spring when they brought in Rasul Douglas to play with the first team on the outside. That experiment didn’t last long, though. It seems like the Eagles prefer Mills on the outside.
Grymes had a good spring but hasn’t stood out as much in the summer. The Eagles gave him some first team nickel reps in minicamp. He’s mostly been running with the backups since, though. At best he’s a backup guy. More realistically he’s probably a practice squad candidate.