Coming into the NFL Draft, it was clear that Philadelphia wanted to target a starting nickel cornerback. Patrick Robinson proved far more valuable than his one year rental contract, playing a key role on the inside of Philadelphia’s much-improved secondary during their Super Bowl run.
As such, the Eagles brought in Avonte Maddox out of Pitt with their fourth-round selection. A four-year starter from Pitt, the coaching staff raved about Maddox’s presence in the locker room and work ethic. His efforts showed up at the Combine, as Maddox’s testing numbers drew the attention of many NFL teams.
The 60-yard shuttle, 20-yard shuttle, and 3-cone all stand out as scores that indicate excellent stop/start ability, as well as fluid change-of-direction. Those traits project well to slot play, wherein receivers have a two-way go, and less linear paths of play are expected.
Also notable on Maddox’s chart is his shockingly poor arm length: 29 1/2”. Arm length is valuable for corners in that it leads to disrupted plays (PBUs; INTs), and also lends itself to press coverage. When we look at Maddox’s college stats, we do find a player competitive among his peers in PBUs (3rd most career PBUs in ACC) but rather low in INT numbers. So that’s something to watch.
After going through Maddox’s tape, I can see the upside on which Philadelphia gambled, but I believe there were several pro-ready nickel prospects on the board. Maddox will benefit from DB coach Cory Undlin’s tutelage, as he has some similar qualities to Jalen Mills, who was coached up into a serviceable player by Undlin. A year on the roster before seeing starting reps may prove best for Maddox, which is entirely possible given the Eagles’ current depth chart.
Maddox is a very fluid mover who is exceptionally loose in the hips. His backpedal is clean and controlled, and he can run circles around the field without much laboring.
At the bottom of the screen playing turn-and-run coverage, you can see how quickly Maddox reacts to the stop route and how explosively he gets into the receiver’s cylinder. However, when the wideout recognizes that he needs to gain depth in the scramble drill, Maddox is able to maintain his position, re-flip his hips, and stay in phase with the freelancing wide receiver.
Not many corners are lose enough to make that hairpin turn. Maddox tends to struggle a bit as a pure mirror corner—more on that later—but it’s not due to any physical deficiency. He certainly has the feet and hips to successfully track receivers across the football field.
Maddox’s free-flipping hips show up again here, in this rep against Oklahoma State’s James Washington, a dynamic CFB WR who went #60 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers (top of the screen).
Maddox heavily over-plays the fade route here, but I don’t hate that—Oklahoma State frequently called the fade at this down and distance. That’s why he immediately closes his hips to the field and gains depth with the side shuffle. Inherent in this technique, however, is the prerequisite to possibly flip the hips all the way back into the field and still stay in phase. That’s not easy, and Maddox pulls it off.
We also here Maddox’s knack for PBUs. He understands he’s not in a strong position to defend this ball, but does very well to elevate early and just hang in the air (37” vertical jump), striking the receiver’s hands once they flash/the ball arrives to prevent the touchdown catch. This is an excellent play.
You start to notice a theme among Maddox’s PBUs. For one, Maddox plays the hands better then he does the ball (which isn’t a bad thing at all), regularly getting his paws inside of the receiver’s cylinder and disrupting the location of the hands just as the ball arrives. Maddox’s diminutive frame prevents him from playing with any great degree of physicality, but he’s super feisty and combative (Jalen Mills-esque) and when he does get his hands involved to redirect route stems, he often his able to turn that hand usage into a PBU.
Given his starting experience, the reports from his coaching staff, and the plays he makes on tape, I can comfortably say that Maddox is a good film study. His awareness and anticipation are only average in between the 20s—a lot of that has to do with his poor deep ability, which we’ll get too—but when the field shortens in the red zone and play calling often becomes a bit more predictable/limited, Maddox’s ability to anticipate likely route concepts shines.
This is the best play on Maddox’s tape I’ve seen, and illustrates the ability I spoke of above. Maddox recognizes the likely two verticals look away from the rotating safety and overlaps the coverage on top, squeezing the route and making the interception.
Maddox projects will to the nickel because he is explosive, a free mover in space, and knows how to affect the catch point. He’ll also benefit from his tape study and situational awareness when working there, and his feisty attitude would help him no matter where he played.
While Maddox has those clean hips and quick feet, he’s a bad leaner, and accordingly, he plays without body control. Maddox’s upper body moves before his lower body as he initiates his path, which elongates his change of direction periods and makes him far too susceptible to head fakes and route stems from smart receivers.
Maddox is currently an example of a player who needs to better hone his skills to match his traits. Traits-wise, Maddox has excellent stop/start ability (see 20-yard shuttle; 60-yard shuttle) and change of direction (3-cone). But when put into game situations that necessitate either/both skills, Maddox lacks crispness and struggles to stay connected because of his upper-weight distribution problems. He doesn’t have the skill of body control/patience to yet maximize the trait of change-of-direction.
When your weight is displaced and your feet are slow, you overreact, and it takes you longer to gather and redirect. You immediately get put into a trail position, and given Maddox’s poor length, it’s tough to affect the catch point from therein. He has good recovery speed to get back into phase, yes—but he shouldn’t be getting out of phase in the first place.
This area is the primary area in which Maddox needs improvement, if he’s to stay on an NFL field with any degree of success. All of the natural talent in the world will not help you against detailed NFL route runners unless you play under control and don’t jump at shadows.
Another issue you see from Maddox there is his inability to play through physicality. Often the plays on which Maddox ends up out of phase are the plays in which he’s playing closest to the line of scrimmage in a turn-and-run/quasi-press technique. But because he lacks length or power, he often doesn’t attempt to throw a punch at all, and now is forced to play back on his heels, and his weight tumbles, and he loses the rep.
When Maddox does attempt to throw a punch, we see that it barely lands with any power, and he can get muscled to and through the catch point. Again, length is an issue.
The final weakness we see with Maddox is a big one that strictly limits his ability as a slot corner. He struggles greatly more than 20+ yards down the field (despite have strong long speed) because he does not track the ball well at all, and does not have the ability (or size) to generate any leverage against a deep wide receiver.
Maddox regularly flips his hips the incorrect direction when addressing a deep ball, which indicates he struggles to locate the ball and estimate it’s trajectory down the field. He is far better when playing through a wide receiver than he is playing the football.
Maddox cannot be trusted to regularly carry routes deep. As a nickel corner, he’ll be able to stay with mostly underneath routes, and often have a capped safety to protect him deep. But teams would be wise to attack him downfield, as even when he’s in position, he can be easily beaten to the catch point and embarrassed in the air
With Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Sidney Jones almost undoubtedly the Top 3 CBs on the Eagles’ depth chart in some order/deployment, I do not think Maddox will see starting nickel reps in his first year. If/when the Eagles move on from Darby (his contract expires after this season), they would like for Maddox to be technically refined enough to slide into the starting nickel position. Maddox may compete for dime looks with a strong camp, but I would imagine the Eagles try to go for three-safety looks at those times, as they did last season. He is not a shoe-in to make the starting 46, given the 4 CBs (Rasul Douglas) above him on the depth chart, but it’s very likely.
A returner as a freshman but not much for the rest of his career, Maddox would solidify his spot on the starting 46 with good performance on special teams. The Eagles no longer need a designated punt returner this season (Darren Sproles is back!) but they could use one in the seasons to come. Kick returner may be a more likely avenue.
With better nickel corners on the board, I gave the Maddox pick a B-. He has a nice outlook in front of him, but size concerns are quite warranted, and I believe players with more immediate impact (D.J. Reed; Parry Nickerson) made more sense for the Eagles. That being said, they have a good environment in place to build Maddox into a strong player.