The Eagles have seen their fair share of cornerback shuffles over the last few years but last season was a little different. 2016 saw Leodis McKelvin struggle with injuries, opening the door for 7th round pick, Jalen Mills, to really assert his authority and go on to win the starting role heading into the following year. That was thought to be the end of uncertainty at the position, especially with the drafting of Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, and then the late acquisition of Ronald Darby. Little did we know, a nearly identical situation would soon fizzle out.
Darby went down with a horrible injury in the opening fixture against Washington, paving the way for third-round selection, Rasul Douglas to make his mark in week two. The high-flying Kansas City Chiefs presented a sheer mismatch of speed and electricity on paper, something that had many fans biting their nails over. All things considered however, Douglas held his own.
With four tackles to his name, Douglas also broke up a crucial pass on third down to force a Chiefs fourth down. Douglas kept plays ahead of him and more importantly, held his nerve against an Offense that has the ability to turn a dead play into a touchdown. We’ve seen many cornerbacks drown in the deep end once dropped in, but Douglas began the swim to safety onto his own Island, giving the team a level of confidence that may not have been there in the days after Darby’s injury.
From there, he went on to total 11 passes defensed, 2 interceptions and 25 tackles in 14 regular season games. Douglas was not perfect by any means, but the week-to-week progress made was beyond impressive.
Having not played much press coverage at West Virginia, Douglas came into the NFL with that as one of his primary concerns. However, Jim Schwartz opted to play his corners way from the line of scrimmage, giving them time to dissect the play and feeding off of the strengths in his secondary. When Darby returned, Douglas once again spent most of his time watching from the sideline until week 17 where he played a huge chunk of time. But this was another challenge Douglas met head on.
“You just have to try to stay up and keep preparing as if you’re the starter.” The rookie said after the game. “You don’t get those reps, but you have to take advantage of the reps you do get and get better on those.”
Along the way, Douglas earned stern plays from his defensive coordinator.
“…Rasul has been there when he’s been called on.” Schwartz said following the Eagles primetime win over Oakland. “There was a couple times in this game where we had guys step out. [CB] Jalen Mills was cramping, had some injury things in this game, and that game was close, and they were in our plus territory, and Rasul stepped out, and maybe a lot of people didn’t even know he was out there. He’s made plays that have come to him this year, and I think he’s made good progress.”
Cornerback is one of those positions, much like the offensive line where unless you make a highlight reel play (for better or with CB especially, worse), the spot flies under the radar. The quieter a cornerback is and the less his name is mentioned negatively is usually a good indicator as to how his game is going. Douglas was extremely consistent and came on leaps and bounds in a rookie year where he was thrown into very hostile waters and expected to swim.
But now, entering his second season, Douglas could either be the odd man out or a man on the move. The Eagles are inundated with cornerback depth. After recently drafting Avonte Maddox, the team have last year’s second-rounder, Sidney Jones, partnering Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. There’s a lot of potential there and with the only real role to win being the nickel spot, vacated by Patrick Robinson, it’s likely that we don’t see much of Douglas in 2018.
Unless of course, he follows in the footsteps of Jaylen Watkins. With a rangy frame and the ballhawking tendencies that saw him intercept 8 passes and break up 8 more during his senior year at WVU, Douglas could be the prime candidate to shuffle up and potentially help someone like Tre Sullivan step into the shoes of Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins.
While tackling hasn’t always been his strong suit, Douglas made some impressive hits last season. But his knack for jumping routes and finding the ball, he could be a great option to have dropping down into the box. The Eagles pride themselves on versatility and the Safety spot is one that lacks depth. The Eagles also need this flexibility alongside McLeod as it allows for Malcolm Jenkins to become a remote-controlled homing missile for Jim Schwartz.
A move up to the back-line would not only present a more fluent snap count for Douglas in his sophomore season, but also enhance his skillset, giving him more tools to use in the years that follow…something that’s also very important.
Ronald Darby is entering his finally contracted year and the Eagles will soon have to make a decision now whether or not they pay Jalen Mills like the CB2 he’s become. It’s likely that at least one spot on the depth chart frees up within the next 24 months, so if Douglas can attain regular snaps over the top, it will benefit him greatly should he need to drop outside.
In a worst case scenario, the Eagles have a long, ball-hawking cornerback who showed plenty of promise in his rookie season and can provide some sustainable depth behind a cornerback corps that hasn’t exactly been injury free since Pederson’s arrival. But by putting chips on the table and moving him to safety, it may well just tick one of the last remaining boxes of needs that this roster has.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports