One of the harder groups to evaluate this offseason for the Eagles is definitely the secondary. While the defense certainly improved into year two with Jim Schwartz, the back end of the unit was ultimately among the weak spots on the team. However, the secondary is full of youth and showed some promise, and the best days could be ahead.
Ronald Darby is heading into the last year of his contract after being traded to the Eagles last pre-season. Darby was definitely the best outside cornerback the team had, but also missed half the season with an ankle injury. There has been little to no rumblings about the team wanting to extend his contract at this point, so it may be a wait and see situation in 2018.
Jalen Mills massively improved from his rookie year to turn into a tone setter in the secondary this year. Despite his improvement, he still was outmatched by top tier pass catchers. While it would make sense to bet on another offseason of improvement, he is a player who can be upgraded on based on his 2017.
Patrick Robinson was the best cornerback the Eagles had last year. He was incredibly dependable as a slot defender and led the team in interceptions, of course adding his memorable, tide turning interception in the Playoffs against the Vikings. The 30 year old defender is heading back into free agency and it will be interesting to see if the Eagles let him walk.
The Eagles got some bright flashes out of Rasul Douglas last season during a stretch of games where he saw playing time. Douglas was third on the team with 11 passes broken up and chipped in two more interceptions during that time. He certainly has promise given his size and ball skills, but he was also inconsistent enough last season that the Eagles went away from giving him snaps in the later part of the season. This will be a big offseason for him.
The biggest wildcard among the cornerbacks is Sidney Jones. Of course, everyone knows Jones would have been a first round pick had he not suffered an achilles injury last offseason. The team essentially gave him a redshirt season with a few snaps down the stretch to shake some rust off. The expectation will be that he spends this offseason getting healthy and can come back in full form next year. If he is able to do that, that can wash away a lot of uncertainty this offseason.
The safety situation is a little strange as well. The team has gotten consistently great seasons from Malcolm Jenkins but other than that, the positional group is underwhelming. Rodney McLeod is certainly talented and has flashes, but is not dependable on a game to game basis. The team gave him a big contract, however, and may want to stick it out another year before reevaluating. However, the depth behind those two is pretty uninspiring with Corey Graham likely headed to free agency.
The team could definitely add some more depth to their secondary this offseason. They have a lot of youth in the group and, with that, a lot of uncertainty. Betting on their own talent certainly would make a lot of sense; but if they drafted a cornerback or even safety anywhere from day one to day three, it would make sense.
Here are some early round cornerbacks the Eagles should be interested in...
- Joshua Jackson, Iowa: This is a bit of a pipe dream but the Eagles should sprint to the podium if Jackson is even within range at pick 32. The long armed, athletic ball hawk was a playmaker at Iowa last season and could really take this defense to the next level.
- Donte Jackson, LSU: Jackson is a guy who has been getting more run this offseason. The LSU products is expected to burn up the combine. With his athletic ability, teams will probably salivate over his potential and while he is not the most physical player; game breaking speed is always enticing with cornerbacks.
- Carlton Davis, Auburn: Davis is going to be fan favorite this offseason. The 6’1” cornerback is a nasty, physical player with great length. He is a true press cornerback and teams will fall in love with the attitude he brings to the position.
- Isaiah Oliver, Colorado: Colorado had two cornerbacks highly drafted last year and Isaiah Oliver could be drafted even higher. Oliver has a great combination of size, speed and coverage savvy. He is not the most physical player but people will love what he can do on passing downs.
- Mike Hughes, UNC: Mike Hughes does not have a ton of playing experience but could still be highly picked based on upside. He is a stout, athletic defender who has very nice flashes against the run and in coverage. He could be a guy who teams bet on in the top 50 and try to develop.
- Jaire Alexander, Louisville: Jaire Alexander was one of the elite cornerbacks in 2016 but had his hype fade in 2017 due to injuries. If he is fully healthy, Alexander is a scrappy cornerback who brings a lot of playmaking ability to pass defense. He could end up being a steal in this draft.
Here are some safeties who can be had after day one of the draft...
- Jessie Bates, Wake Forrest: Jessie Bates decided to enter the draft after only his redshirt sophomore year at Wake Forrest. The 6’2”, 195 pound safety has tremendous athleticism and flashes serious playmaking ability. Bates will need to add some weight to his frame, but he is a versatile defender whose upside teams will fall in love with.
- Kyzir White, WVU: White might be a guy teams consider closer to the line of scrimmage. At 6’2” and 217 pounds, White is in the mold of the modern linebacker. He is a hard hitting, tone setting player against the run. His coverage abilities are limited and could be relegated to just being a box player if he stays at safety.
- Armani Watts, Texas A&M: Watts is a bit smaller but he is a scrappy, hard hitting player with great athleticism. Teams will love Watts’ football IQ and the motor he plays with. Watts’ size may be a bit of a deterrent, but he is a free safety prospect who loves to bring the hit.
- Marcus Allen, Penn State: Marcus Allen is a really solid prospect at the safety position. He is unspectacular in a lot of regards, but brings exciting physicality to his run defense. The 6’2” defender may be better suited as a strong safety due to his lack of range, but Allen will be a contributor on an NFL defense.