“What’s the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary configuration going to look like in 2020?” is a fair question to wonder given all the moving parts at defensive back this offseason.
Malcolm Jenkins is gone. Rodney McLeod is back. Jalen Mills is also back ... at a new position ... maybe? Darius Slay, Will Parks, and Nickell Robey-Coleman are new additions to Philly.
So, how does it all fit together?
NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Derrick Gunn has some insight that might help to clear things up. Gunner had the following to say on a recent episode of Quick Slants:
“I was also told that the job starting opposite of Darius Slay is Avonte Maddox’s to win or lose.”
Maddox doesn’t lack experience playing on the outside. That’s actually where he lined up most often while playing college football at Pittsburgh. Maddox has been split between the outside and the slot at the NFL level. Snap counts via Pro Football Focus:
2018 — 295 outside, 109 slot
2019 — 136 outside, 400 slot
The concern about Maddox playing on the outside is that he lacks prototypical size and length. He only checks in at 5-9, 184 pounds with short arms:
Maddox has been a high variance outside cornerback by PFF’s coverage grading standards. He’s had some of his best (2018 at Los Angeles Rams, 2019 at New York Giants) and worst (2018 at Chicago Bears, 2019 versus Seattle Seahawks) games when he’s taken his majority of snaps out wide.
Just because Maddox is the early favorite to start opposite of Slay doesn’t mean things can’t change. Perhaps the light finally goes on for Sidney Jones, who made some big plays in very limited down the stretch last year. We know Rasul Douglas likely won’t be starting as he’s rumored to be on the trade block.
With Maddox potentially moving out of the slot corner role, it looks like Nickell Robey-Coleman and Cre’Von LeBlanc will be competing for that spot.
Source confirms Eagles have agreed to 1 year deal with Nickell Robey Coleman— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) March 25, 2020
Perfect name. Nickell @slotgod23
You would think he would be the slot CB. But I’m told he has not been promised to be the starter. Everybody will compete#SlotGod pic.twitter.com/zPt8uB5Fr1
We could also see Will Parks line up in the slot at times. He spent 55% of his defensive snaps as the Denver Broncos’ nickel cornerback in 2019.
Jalen Mills, who said he’s “going to be playing the same position” that Malcolm Jenkins played for the Eagles, is another slot contender. Jenkins often lined up against bigger slot receivers/tight ends so maybe Mills will take up that mantle.
Assuming Maddox starts on the outside, the aforementioned Jones is yet another option for the slot. The Eagles’ 2017 second-round pick has spent 40% of his NFL snaps as a nickel corner.
Okay, did you follow all that, or did I lose you? Either way, here’s what my guess as to what the Eagles’ secondary depth chart looks something like:
Cornerback — Darius Slay, Rasul Douglas
Cornerback — Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones
Nickel cornerback — Nickell Robey-Coleman, Cre’Von LeBlanc
Safety — Rodney McLeod
Safety — Jalen Mills, Will Parks
I’d say Slay and McLeod are the only two players truly locked into their projected starting roles. I feel confident that Mills will play a lot; Jim Schwartz loves him. I think Parks will be the third safety in the old Corey Graham/Andrew Sendejo role.
And this outlook doesn’t even include any more defensive backs the Eagles might add through the 2020 NFL Draft. Trevor Williams is also an under the radar player to watch this offseason given his former starting experience in the league.
Ultimately, the Eagles have a lot of versatile pieces to work with. It’s up to the coaching staff to figure out the right combinations.
Who should start at cornerback opposite of Darius Slay?
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