After three years as a solid contributor for the Chicago Bears, cornerback Prince Amukamara now finds himself out of a job. For the past two years the Bears have had a top ten DVOA pass defense, and part of that is thanks to the reliable presence of Amukamara.
Despite the success, the move isn’t a shocker. Amukamara just entered the wrong side of 30 and his release represented $9M in cap relief. Should the Eagles be interested in his services? As the saying goes, one man’s cap casualty is another man’s treasure.
There’s not an abundance of action when watching Amukamara, which is a good thing. You’d have to travel back to 2014 to find a year where he was targeted at a higher frequency than his fellow outside corner.
In 2015 he was attacked less than Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. In 2016 opposing offenses shockingly decided to go after Jalen Ramsey more often. From 2017-2019, Kyle Fuller’s target rate of 17.5% per coverage snap is substantially larger than Amukamara’s 11.7%.
Why would teams attack Amukamara less despite arguably being the less talented cornerback comparative to players like Ramsey and Fuller? While he’s not particularly flashy, Amukamara is rarely found out of position and has enough foot quickness and athletic ability to limit windows.
I wrote a full evaluation of Amukamara back in the 2017 off-season where I projected him as a solid “win with” outside cornerback. Here are some of the strengths that I outlined in that report:
- Solid frame with good athletic ability relying on good foot quickness and fluid lateral agility.
- Very good mental processing; understands zone relationship with deep safety and will bend zone to tighten window with no underneath threat.
- Good play speed; quick to diagnose and react to bubbles, rubs and route combinations based on alignment, stays disciplined against double move concepts.
- Solid at the LOS; eyes receivers’ chest in press, feet/hip/shoulders married to mirror with active hands to chop inside arm of WR and steer to desired release.
- Excels at stacking outside releases by mirroring from press and staying in the chest of the WR.
- Good in man coverage; smooth man turns, squeezes outside routes and uses sideline as extra defender, frequently stays on top of routes. Stays patient against double moves and nods at breakpoint, fluid hips to man turn and stay in phase.
- Smooth, low pedal with good closing burst on plant and drive. Quick feet to stay in phase against multi-break routes, start and stops with little gear down required and utilizes smart hands throughout route.
- Solid ball skills; keys eyes and hands of WR when not in phase, very good hand placement to break up passes.
- Very good competitive toughness; “chirper” that is willing to take on linemen in space and fight throughout each rep. Puts bad plays behind him quickly and stays composed on next series.
Minus minor tweaks, Amukamara was largely the same player in 2019 that I observed during his 2016 film. It’s an impressive run of reliability that the Eagles have been lacking in their cornerback position for years. How soon father time will catch up with Amukamara remains to be seen, but I doubt it’s this year.
“[Amukamara] played a substantial role in the Bears defense’s return to glory. In three seasons, Amukamara grabbed three interceptions, defended 29 passes, and racked up a Pro Football Reference approximate value of 17, which ranked 21st among all corners in that span. Amukamara was seldom spectacular, but he was the rock the Bears needed opposite Kyle Fuller.” - Sean Wagner-McGough, CBS Sports
As with evaluating any player, you want to select a variety of games that represent different levels of production or performance. As such, one of the games I watched was Week 13 against the Detroit Lions, where Amukamara gave up his most production of the year (4-115-1). What I found that most of those yards came on one play, a 75-yard touchdown bomb to Kenny Golladay.
It’s a rare case where the usually cautious Amukamara undercut a route and paid dearly for it. With the pass rush not getting home - which was the case for the Bears for significant stretches - his decision to dart in front of Golladay leaves him toasted up. Outside of that it was a mostly quiet game for Amukamara, who remained sticky in coverage and made a couple of nice break-ups.
Per Pro Football Focus, that outing against the Lions was the only game of 2019 where he gave up more than 80 yards. It was the first time since 2014 that he allowed over 100 yards. Compare that to the Eagles corners, who had NINE (9) instances where a single cornerback gave up over 100 yards in a game.
When I projected where Amukamara would fit, I thought a single-high scheme with a mix of cover 1 and cover 3 was his optimal deployment. I’d want Amukamara at the line more than off, which is where there’s some conflict with the Eagles, but that’s not to say he can’t play with a cushion. In fact, Amukamara thrives when he’s reading through to the backfield, whether it’s from tight or backed up.
Did I mention that Amukamara has played in 58 of a potential 64 games in the last four years? What cornerback have the Eagles have that come close to that 91% mark of availability? The Eagles want to “get younger”, but the reality is the only area were the recent collection of Eagles corners have the advantage over the steady and soon-to-be 31 Amukamara is youth.
He can’t be the only addition to the group, but Amukamara represents a bargain for what he’ll likely fetch on the market. The Eagles have had nothing that come close to his run of consistency and dependability, and by all accounts he’s a great locker room guy. It’s not the flashiest move, but it’s one the Eagles need to seriously consider. They’ve done a hell of a lot worse.