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Eagles cornerbacks: youth, talent, and uncertainty

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Eagles training camp positional preview: cornerback

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2018 is almost here. Players report to the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday, July 25. The Eagles’ summer 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 cornerbacks.

The Players

Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avante Maddox, De’Vante Bausby, Randall Goforth, D.J. Killings, Chandon Sullivan

Ronald Darby is likely the only corner who comes into camp with a starting job locked up. It’s easy to forget that the Eagles gave up a decent package for Darby (WR Jordan Matthews and a third-round selection) not one year ago. His Week 1 injury kept him off the field for long enough that the Birds were already good by the time he came back—and as such, how he impacts the defense is a little unclear. He’ll have a starting role by virtue of the capital spent on him, but Philadelphia is not tethered to him beyond this season (contract year), and with many young players waiting in the wings behind him, 2018 represents a key season for Darby. His second contract hinges on a healthy, productive year.

Jalen Mills should have job security, given that he was only 18 snaps shy of being the most frequently deployed player on the defense last season—but, like Darby, he’s threatened by youth. As handsome BGN contributor Michael Kist noted, Mills is not a sure bet on any given week: his highs are great, but his lows are devastating. Unlike Darby, Mills does not benefit from high investment/capital. Lest we forget, Mills saw 65% of the snaps in 2016, and the front office went and acquired four potential starting cornerbacks in the ensuing offseason. Sure, Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin also departed in that offseason (and good riddance), but Mills didn’t lock up the job in 2016, and his 2017 play also doesn’t cement his position. A fierce competitor who always impresses in camp, expect Mills to get reps at both boundary and nickel corner, sinking his teeth into any starting reps he can get a hold on.

The biggest threat to Mills is, of course, second-round sophomore Sidney Jones—who was drafted despite the inevitable redshirt year his Achilles injury necessitated. Built in a similar physical mold as Mills but drafted 190 picks earlier, he clearly represents a challenger to Mills’ starting spot, and will likewise see training camp snaps on both the inside and outside. Jones is by all reports 100% recovered, and as such, can use his first training camp to demonstrate the characteristic quickness that made him such a desirable draft pick. Expect a motivated Jones—nobody likes missing a year of football, especially when your team goes on to win a championship without your help. I’m excited to see him play.

SUUUUUUL! Rasul Douglas is such an interesting player for Philadelphia right now. When he was selected, Philadelphia’s corner room was Mills (6’0, 190), P-Rob (5’11, 190), Jones (6’0, 180), and Ron Brooks (5’10, 190). Brooks was, of course, eventually released in preparation for the Darby trade (5’11, 190). All 6’2, 210 lbs of Rasul Douglas brings an unteachable skillset to Philadelphia’s cornerback corps: size! He’s long, and he uses his length well, playing the line of scrimmage and catch point alike with disruptive physicality. Sul has an outside shot at starting boundary reps, but a far more likely proposition is that of a match-up corner on the big boy receivers of the league. Mills and Jones share a struggle with physical bodies on tape; Douglas might be the answer.

The notable newcomer to camp is Avonte Maddox, the fourth-round selection out of Pitt—which is crazy, given how young Philadelphia’s cornerbacks are.

Maddox is one of the 22 year olds, and he represents the biggest wildcard within the group. A long-time starter on the boundary at Pitt, his path to starting reps comes on the interior. Clearly drafted as a potential replacement for the free agent loss of Patrick Robinson, Maddox has the change of direction skills to prove a sticky cover man from the slot—but his college tape has the signs of a rookie who will take some time to grow. Maddox plays instinctively and wildly, often out of control and unprepared for a potential wrinkle. Offensive coordinators love when those rookies start, picking on him with misdirection and double moves. Maddox will need to prove across training camp and preseason that he can play with discipline and technique, as well as overcome his size limitations.

The only other buzzworthy name on the list is De’Vante Bausby, who took the doldrums of mandatory mini-camp as his opportunity to shine. As many beats noted, Bausby looked quick and intuitive out there, especially impressing in the slot—which, again, is the big spot to fill for Philadelphia. Training camp will be an “open” competition, but Bausby will be largely running against second- and third-teamers while Jones/Mills/Maddox battle against the first string. It will be interesting how often—and how quickly—Bausby plays against the ones. That will be a good indicator to how seriously he’s being considered for a roster spot. 6th corner is not a guaranteed place.

Between D.J. Killings, Randall Goforth, and Chandon Sullivan, it’s all question marks. Philadelphia did give Killings a pay raise on their practice squad in November to keep another team from poaching him, so that’s worthy of note. They also stored Goforth on their injured reserve when he was injured in camp instead of exposing him to waivers. With five players locked on the roster, these three are fighting with Bausby for a final slot that may not even exist, so the battle is about as uphill as it gets.

How will it play out?

I can say with 95% certainty that the starting 3 corners for Philadelphia on opening night against Atlanta will be Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Sidney Jones. (The remaining 5% is Rasul Douglas.) Who plays where is yet undecided. Darby is likely on the outside, but he can take some inside reps, and Mills and Jones could both win that job as a starter. Let’s not forget how often Malcolm Jenkins plays near the line as well. There’s a lot to suss out.

The big picture? The Eagles have five CBs worthy of dressing on game day, and all five of those players are 24 or younger, and four of the five are signed through 2019. Good spot to be in, folks. With how frequently Jenkins plays as a quasi-corner, I’d expect them only to roster those five: Darby, Mills, Jones, Douglas, Maddox. Look for Maddox to get reps as a return man/gunner, and for Douglas to be used as a vice/situational cover man.

Who could be a surprise cut?

With the youth and talent shaped as is, a cut would be shocking; a trade less so. If you don’t plan on retaining Darby in 2019 free agency (Brandon Graham and Carson Wentz extensions loom), then you should see what you can get for him on the trade market. It would, of course, have to outweigh the likely 4th, maybe 3rd round compensatory selection that would come were Darby to walk.

Poll

On a scale of 1-10, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ cornerbacks? (10 being the most.)

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    10
    (121 votes)
  • 15%
    9
    (262 votes)
  • 42%
    8
    (720 votes)
  • 26%
    7
    (451 votes)
  • 6%
    6
    (116 votes)
  • 1%
    5
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    4
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    3
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    2
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    1
    (2 votes)
1710 votes total Vote Now