As the metaphor goes, your team, or in this case, your defense, is only as good as the weakest link and for the Philadelphia Eagles as they enter training camp, Jalen Mills is that link. In 2017, Mills personally gave up 9 touchdowns, which is more than any other cornerback or safety in the NFL has since a guy named Delvin Breaux gave up 10 in 2015 for the New Orleans Saints. Mills also allowed a passer rating of 94.7 (which was 78th out of 124 CBs with at least 165 coverage snaps per Pro Football Focus) which is not too great and he missed 9 out of 56 tackles (83.8% conversion rate good for 76th out of 113 CBs who tried to make at least 20 tackles). While Mills played his best professional season yet last year, he was far from a good cornerback.
Anyone half decent at math can deduce that if there are 2 outside cornerbacks and 1 slot cornerback that are considered starters on every team, there are 96 starting cornerbacks in this league. Judging by the numbers above (which include the three most imperative things a member of the secondary should be able to do: prevent scoring, hold his own in coverage, and complete tackles) Mills should be somewhere around in the 75-80 range in terms of overall cornerback rankings. This would make him a (75/32 = 2 with an 11 remainder) about an above average cornerback 3.
For now, let’s assume that Sidney Jones, who was once looked at as elite cornerback prospect, remember, takes the starting job opposite of Ronald Darby and Mills finds himself in the slot. Think of it like fantasy football, if your second WR is putting up above average WR3 numbers, that’s bad, but if your third WR is putting up above average WR3 numbers, that’s good! Well, that’s exactly what happened here.
So what gives? Why am I ripping on one of your favorite players? I’m not. Truth is every defense has to have a weak link. If it wasn’t Mills, it would be another player, like maybe Rodney McLeod or Tim Jernigan. Mills being the worst starter on this defense is not a bad thing; in fact, it’s a very good thing. In fact, one might even say it’s one of the reasons the Eagles won the Super Bowl (I still go out of my way to type that sentence as often as possible). Entering 2018, the starting defense should look something like this:
Sidney Jones – Jalen Mills – Rodney McLeod – Malcolm Jenkins – Ronald Darby
Nigel Bradham – Jordan Hicks
Derek Barnett – Haloti Ngata (Tim Jernigan once healthy) – Fletcher Cox – Brandon Graham
(Note: If you currently have your face scrunched up like a snobby little shit who just found out your mom accidentally bought you Neapolitan ice cream instead of chocolate because the “base defense” has 3 linebackers and 2 cornerbacks but I listed 2 linebackers and 3 cornerbacks, I just want you to know that you’re wrong. On 73% of defensive snaps last year the Eagles had 5 or more members lined up in the secondary. The defense was in a true 4-3-4 in only 24% of the time, so eat the damn ice cream you little brat. Turns out Strawberry is the best flavor anyways)
From this starting line-up, I would divide the players as such:
Elite (All-Pro potential):
Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham
Very Good (Pro Bowl potential):
Malcolm Jenkins, Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Ronald Darby
Above Average and/or promising:
Derek Barnett, Sidney Jones
Average at worst: Haloti Ngata,
Rodney McLeod, Jalen Mills
It is too early to tell just how good Derek Barnett and Sidney Jones will end up being at the NFL level, but there are reasons to believe both will above average players at their respective positions. While Ngata is a part time player at this point in his career, he is better at his role than Mills has been at his role.
So again, in the grand scheme of things, Mills might be the worst player on the defense, but having the worst player on your defense be above average at their position (cornerback 3 in this case) is a pretty damn good spot to be in.
What is the best flavor in Neapolitan Ice Cream?
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