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What the Eagles should do at cornerback

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Eagles roster outlook: position-by-position.

NFL: New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles. Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson have a lot of tough decisions to make as they try to get this team back to Super Bowl contention. Today we continue our position-by-position roster outlook series by examining the cornerback position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center | Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker.

THE PLAYERS

RASUL DOUGLAS

Regular season stats: 583 defensive snaps, 261 special teams snaps, 35 tackles, 10 passes defensed

Playoff stats: 8 special team snaps

Review: Douglas made five starts and played a majority of the snaps in the Eagles’ first seven games. He didn’t really make positive impact plays. He instead got roasted down the field to allow big gains and touchdowns. Douglas was sent to the bench when both Darby and Mills came back and he only played sparingly on defense until Mills got banged up late in the season. The 2017 third-round pick didn’t even log a single defensive snap during the team’s playoff loss to Seattle. He finished the 2019 season with a 103.5 passer rating when targeted and tied for the eight most penalties among NFL cornerbacks, per Pro Football Focus.

Outlook: Douglas failed to seize the opportunity to prove himself as a starting cornerback for this team. Had he played well early in the year, the Eagles wouldn’t have felt the need to bench him. I don’t think Douglas is some terrible player but I do think he might be akin to what Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been for Philly: a guy who’s more ideally suited as a backup than a full-time starter. He can fill in and play well at times but he’s just not the permanent solution. Some have called for the team to move Douglas to safety but the Eagles’ coaching staff has shown zero interest in doing that ... and I think it’s naive to believe that’s some magical fix. I do wonder what the future holds for Douglas after two straight seasons where he played the most snaps of any Eagles corner. He’ll be a free agent in 2021. Do the Eagles bring him back as a backup for the 2020 season? Or do they try to trade him and still get some kind of value for him (Day 3 pick) while they can? Either way, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to be a long-term fixture in Philly.

Poll

Rasul Douglas: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Stay
    (1851 votes)
  • 43%
    Go
    (1440 votes)
3291 votes total Vote Now

AVONTE MADDOX

Regular season stats: 517 defensive snaps, 100 special teams snaps, 47 tackles, 10 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack

Playoff stats: 60 defensive snaps, 8 special team snaps, 3 tackles

Review: Maddox looked poised to take a step forward in 2019 after an impressive rookie season but that didn’t really happen. It was more of just an average to below average year for him as the team’s nickel cornerback. It probably didn’t help that Andrew Sendejo hit him so hard in Week 4 that he had to be stretchered off the field and hospitalized. That concussion/neck injury caused him to miss four games.

Outlook: Maddox projects to be the Eagles’ slot corner in 2020 ... unless the team moves him to safety? Maddox lined up on the back end when the Eagles suffered multiple safety injuries in 2018. The team hasn’t really shown a lot of interest in having Maddox line up at safety since then but that could change with Rodney McLeod set to be a free agent and Malcolm Jenkins demanding a new contract. Still, my guess is that Maddox remains in his nickel role. The Eagles will hope the 24-year-old makes a leap in his development.

Poll

Avonte Maddox: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 96%
    Stay
    (3194 votes)
  • 3%
    Go
    (130 votes)
3324 votes total Vote Now

RONALD DARBY

Regular season stats: 506 defensive snaps, 7 special teams snaps, 37 tackles, 11 passes defensed, 2 interceptions

Review: Darby was targeted early and often by opposing teams in his first three starts. It was very clear that teams viewed him as a weak point as he was still coming off an ACL injury that occurred in November 2018. Darby got banged up in Week 3 and didn’t return to the lineup until Week 8. Darby settled in a little bit before getting victimized by DeVante Parker in the Eagles’ loss to the Miami Dolphins. Then it was New York Giants rookie wide receiver who gave Darby a lot of trouble in Week 15. Darby got hurt again in Week 15, this time it was a hip issue. He tried to play in Week 16 but he didn’t last long before coming out. The Eagles then placed him on injured reserve, ending his season on IR for the second year in a row.

Outlook: The Eagles re-signed Darby to a one-year, “prove it” contract last year. Darby did not prove he’s worth keeping around. His durability issues are a real concern considering he’s only played in 57% of the team’s games since he was acquired by Philly. And he clearly wasn’t an effective contributor even when he was healthy. PFF has Darby graded as their seventh worst corner from 2019. He’s gotta go.

Poll

Ronald Darby: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Stay
    (103 votes)
  • 97%
    Go
    (3342 votes)
3445 votes total Vote Now

JALEN MILLS

Regular season stats: 501 defensive snaps, 7 special teams snaps, 41 tackles, 7 passes defensed, 1 interception

Playoff stats: 64 defensive snaps, 4 tackles

Review: Mills began the season on PUP after still recovering from the foot injury he originally suffered in October 2018. Mills was then immediately inserted into the starting lineup as soon as he was eligible to be activated in Week 7. Mills’ return helped to stabilize the Eagles’ secondary to some extent but it’s not like he was playing great. He finished the season ranked 101st out of 134 corners graded by PFF.

Outlook: Mills is going to be a free agent this offseason. A number of fans aren’t going to want to see him back but I don’t think they’ll get their wish. Jim Schwartz loves Mills’ confidence. I think the Eagles will be able to re-sign Mills at a reasonable rate considering how he might be perceived and how he’s missed 15 games the past two years. On that note, it’s only fair to point out that Mills could benefit from having a full offseason to get ready for the 2020 campaign. We’ve previously noted how 2019 Fletcher Cox and 2018 Brandon Graham underwhelmed after long offseason recoveries.

Poll

Jalen Mills: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Stay
    (2227 votes)
  • 34%
    Go
    (1174 votes)
3401 votes total Vote Now

SIDNEY JONES

Regular season stats: 293 defensive snaps, 42 special teams snaps, 21 tackles, 8 passes defensed, 2 interceptions

Playoff stats: 4 special teams snaps

Review: Jones had a great start to training camp. He was making plays on a daily basis. Then he kind of tapered off as the season approached. Jones spent time in a corner rotation with Douglas early in the year before injuries forced him into a starting role. Jones did not play well and he suffered yet another hamstring injury that caused him to miss most of Week 4 and all of Week 5. Jones returned to the starting lineup in Week 6 and got torched by the Minnesota Vikings’ wide receivers. He also struggled against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7. Jones was eventually relegated to being a healthy scratch as the seventh cornerback on the roster. He didn’t play again until injuries forced him back into the rotation in Week 14. The 2017 second-round pick came up with a huge pass breakup against the New York Giants in that game. Jones barely played in the Eagles’ next two tilts before making another huge play against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 when he breakup a potential game-tying touchdown thrown from Dak Prescott. Jones then ended the season on a low note as he barely avoided being a healthy scratch in the playoffs.

Outlook: Jones, who turns 24 in May, showed some flashes late in the season that make you wonder if it’s too soon to write him off. But one can’t simply overlook all his struggles and injury issues. The Eagles can’t and won’t be counting on him as any kind of sure contributor moving forward. The team might opt to trade either him or Douglas this offseason. If Jones isn’t traded, he could enter the 2020 season as a backup.

Poll

Sidney Jones: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Stay
    (2559 votes)
  • 23%
    Go
    (800 votes)
3359 votes total Vote Now

ORLANDO SCANDRICK

Regular season stats: 83 defensive snaps, 7 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 defensive TD

Review: The Eagles signed Scandrick in training camp after Strap went down with a foot injury. He didn’t make the original 53-man roster but the Eagles did bring him back after Maddox got hurt in Week 4. Scandrick had a great game against the New York Jets in Week 5 before struggling the next two weeks. The Eagles cut Scandrick after their loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He went on national television and took shots at the team itself and some of his former teammates, such as Malcolm Jenkins. Not everything Scandrick said was totally off-base but a lot of it was attention-seeking nonsense. Good riddance.

CRE’VON LEBLANC

Regular season stats: 82 defensive snaps, 6 special teams snaps, 8 tackles, 2 passes defensed

Playoff stats: 54 defensive snaps, 3 tackles, 2 passes defensed

Review: LeBlanc unfortunately got hurt on the first day of training camp. He began the season on injured reserve and wasn’t healthy enough to be activated until Week 13. He barely played upon returning until Maddox shifted to the outside and LeBlanc took over in the slot in Week 17. Strap made multiple big plays in the Eagles’ NFC East-clinching win over the Giants. He had some struggles against the Seahawks in the playoffs.

Outlook: The Eagles signed LeBlanc to a contract extension through the 2021 season back in September. It just feels like Strap always makes plays when his number is called. His presence makes the “Maddox to safety” option an interesting thought. Strap could be the team’s slot corner while Maddox starts on the back end. If he’s not starting in 2020, Strap will at least be the backup nickel guy.

Poll

Cre’Von LeBlanc: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    Stay
    (3170 votes)
  • 2%
    Go
    (97 votes)
3267 votes total Vote Now

CRAIG JAMES

Regular season stats: 68 defensive snaps, 237 special teams snaps, 6 tackles, 1 pass defensed

Playoff stats: 15 special teams snaps

Review: James spent the entire 2019 offseason with the Minnesota Vikings before getting waived in final cuts. The Eagles signed him to their original practice squad and then promoted him to the roster ... only to waive him and put him back on the practice squad ... before promoting him to the roster again in late September. Multiple corner injuries forced James into playing defensive crunch time snaps against the Green Bay Packers in Week 4. He came up huge by deflecting Aaron Rodgers’ goal line pass up into the air to be picked off by Nigel Bradham for the game-sealing play. James actually started for the Eagles during their Week 5 game against the New York Jets before mostly playing on special teams for the rest of the season. James actually finished tied for first (with Duke Riley) in special teams tackles with seven. The Eagles were keeping James active ahead of Jones when the latter was a healthy scratch.

Outlook: James is an exclusive-rights free agent, which means the team will offer him a minimum contract that he’ll have to accept. James will be competing for a fifth or sixth corner spot on the 2020 roster. His special teams prowess gives him a chance to stick around. Maybe he’ll show something as a defender with getting to have a full offseason in the Eagles’ system.

Poll

Craig James: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Stay
    (1605 votes)
  • 41%
    Go
    (1134 votes)
2739 votes total Vote Now

RYAN LEWIS

Regular season stats: 40 special teams snaps

Review: The Eagles signed Lewis to their practice squad in October when they were decimated by corner injuries. He was quickly promoted to the roster and only played on special teams before being waived. The Miami Dolphins claimed him off waivers and he spent the rest of the season in South Beach.

TREMON SMITH

Review: Smith began the season with the Kansas City Chiefs before getting claimed by the Green Bay Packers on waivers. He handled some punt and kick return duties for the Packers before they ultimately cut him and the Eagles added him to their practice squad in early December. The Eagles signed Smith to a futures contract after the 2019 season.

Outlook: Smith ranked fourth in kick return average as a rookie in 2018 so he has some returning chops. He also boasts an elite athletic profile. Smith needs to have a strong offseason in order to earn a roster spot. His special teams ability is a bonus working in his favor.

Poll

Tremon Smith: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Stay
    (906 votes)
  • 54%
    Go
    (1083 votes)
1989 votes total Vote Now

TREVOR WILLIAMS

Review: The Eagles worked out Williams late in the regular season before signing him to a futures contract after the 2019 season.

Outlook: Williams is an interesting under-the-radar player in the cornerback picture. He’s logged 27 starts in 37 career games played and he was PFF’s 17th highest graded corner in 2017. He’s far from a lock to even make the roster but maybe can be a pleasant surprise and stick around.

Poll

Trevor Williams: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Stay
    (923 votes)
  • 50%
    Go
    (927 votes)
1850 votes total Vote Now

FREE AGENCY OR TRADES

The Eagles must add at least one starting cornerback in free agency, if not two. They should address the position in the 2020 NFL Draft as well, yes, but they can’t just count on a rookie corner to be good from the jump.

The Eagles have already been linked to free agent options Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr. Jones intrigues me due the combination of his talent, age, athletic profile, and durability. I know signing former NFC East players hasn’t worked out so well for the Eagles in the past but I think Jones is a pretty good player. Of course, signing him will cost top of the market money. It’s a big risk. CHJ is very talented and more proven than Jones but I worry about his age considering he turns 31 this offseason.

Lesser talented but more affordable free agent options for the Eagles include: Kevin Johnson, Trae Waynes, Darqueze Dennard, and James Bradberry. They’re all under 30 and have a track record of starting experience.

NFL DRAFT OPTIONS

Written by Ben Natan:

There’s no doubt the Eagles need to upgrade their cornerback group The question remains how much they have faith on young guys to improve and whether they want to use premium assets in the draft or free agency to boost the secondary.

If the Eagles do look to the draft to address their top cornerback position, they are going to have a lot of options in the first two rounds. Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah is the clear cut top cornerback this year and LSU’s Kristian Fulton may be number two. Both talented cornerback prospects will likely be out of the Eagles’ reach in the first round unless they’re aggressive.

Have no fear, however. Expect a lot of people to start pairing the Eagles cornerback need with Alabama’s Trevon Diggs. Diggs, younger brother of Minnesota star, Stefon Diggs, has incredible upside at the cornerback position. He’s got great size at 6’2” and is a phenomenal athlete. Diggs has some of the best upside in the class if the Eagles want to develop him into a top cornerback.

Florida’s CJ Henderson and Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler are two more names to keep an eye on for Philly. Dantzler is a big, physical cornerback and Henderson is a smooth, athletic cover defender. The two SEC corners should be available in the back half of the first round.

The Eagles definitely need improvement from their cornerbacks this offseason; some how, some way. If the team forgoes top free agents, the first round may be the only path to upgrading the position.