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5 Nickel Cornerback Targets For The Eagles On Day 3

Who should the Birds pick?

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles have shown a clear pattern during the pre-draft process, one that indicates that the team is looking heavily at adding a piece at nickel cornerback in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Beyond the more well-known names like UCF’s Mike Hughes, Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, and LSU’s Donte Jackson, there exists a crop of corners that possess similar skill sets and athletic/physical profiles. With that in mind, here are five defensive backs the Eagles could target on Day 3 of the draft.


The ultimate consolation prize to LSU’s Donte Jackson, Nickerson has a similar, wiry, short armed frame (5’10”, 182lb, 30 ¼” arms) and a similar athletic profile to Jackson (4.32 40-yard dash). Twitched up with fantastic recovery speed with hips to make all the turns, Nickerson has everything you’re looking for in a nickel corner from a coverage standpoint. The ball skills are there too, as he amassed 3 forced fumbles, 47 pass breakups and 16 interceptions during his 48-game college career.

The issue with Nickerson comes with his diminutive size, that often trumps his aggression in defending the run and against bigger wide receivers that can muscle him off the spot. In his freshman year, he suffered a knee injury that required, from he was told, career ending surgery. Nickerson bounced back to the amazement of the Green Wave coaching staff and his doctors. If his knee is medically cleared, Nickerson checks a lot of boxes and could be a surprise rookie contributor due to his athleticism, football intelligence, and playmaking ability.


Starting his collegiate career as a wide receiver, Phillips made the transition to wide receiver as a redshirt sophomore and his hands proved an asset on defense. Collecting 12 interceptions in his 3 years as a starter, Phillips playmaking ability show up throughout his tape, with 5 interception returns for touchdowns, 5 kick return touchdowns, 1 punt return touchdown and a fumble recovery taken to the house.

The first game I sat down to watch of Phillips was his dynamic performance against Michigan State. You’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive single-game showing from any of the prospects in the draft.

Phillips has the speed to stay in the hip pocket vertically and close downfield with top-notch competitiveness that permeates throughout his play. Despite his size (5’9”, 193lbs) and some needed refinements in his technique, Phillips is an electric Day 3 steal if his draft projection holds up.


Nelson is tremendous with the ball in the air despite his 0 career interceptions, bringing physicality, tracking, and timing to the catch-point. He’ll earn his money to start his career competing for a nickel job but will give early returns as a special teams ace with his thump as a tackler and as a return man.

Nelson can struggle transition and tends to pop out of his pedal high, scrubbing speed from his turns, which will lead to easy separation early in his career. Still, he offers a lot upstairs in terms of his mental acuity and competitive toughness. Nelson will come with a discount sticker after tearing his meniscus during his private workout with the Detroit Lions, which carries a 3/4-month recovery time frame.


A former no-star walk-in at Fresno State and Cerritos College transfer, Reed finally wound up at Kansas State and became an instant starter. In just 24 games he notched 7 interceptions and 32 pass break-ups and decided to bet on himself again by declaring early for the 2018 NFL Draft.

A heady player that doesn’t panic, Reed has the temperament required to succeed at the next level. Coming in at 5’9” and 188 pounds, he has the mentality of a 6’2” 215 defensive back, but he will struggle when dealing with size, thus making him a fit at nickel. Racking up a kick return and punt return for touchdowns in 2017, Reed is yet another corner from this class to provide added special teams value.


For small school prospects, production matters, and Smith had plenty of it (15 INT, 53 PBU in 48 games). It’s also important to test well, as it can be hard to gauge athleticism when put up against wide receivers from, for example, the WR factory known as Houston Baptist. Smith checked that box as well, blazing a 4.32 40 time and 4.01 short shuttle.

Dynamic with the ball in his hands, Smith will have to earn a spot returning punts and kicks while he refines the rest of his game. He tracks well and possesses the make up speed to make plays, but too often he was initially beat and seems overly reliant on his athleticism. If he can become more disciplined early in routes, Smith possesses baseline size (5’11” 192lbs) and an attractive athletic profile that could result in his getting his name called late in Day 3.

The Eagles have vetted Smith heavily, including treating him to dinner before his pro day and bringing him in for an official visit (per BGN’s own Brandon Lee Gowton).

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