12 months ago, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Eagles Secondary. Brandon Boykin was traded and there was a complete restructure at cornerback. Among the new names competing for roster spots was sixth-round pick JaCorey Shepherd. But the landscape has changed drastically in the last few months..and with it, Shepherd’s chances of securing a spot on the final 53-man roster.
After a hamstring injury lowered his draft stock, the Eagles took a chance on the former Jayhawk and Shepherd was regarded as one of the steals of the Draft. Shepherd enjoyed a strong Spring, turning heads and constantly making plays throughout OTA’s and Minicamp..but things took a turn for the worst in early August.
He continued the good run of form in the early stages of training camp before a collision with Darren Sproles on the sideline sent him to the ground in pain. Shepherd had torn his ACL and as a result, would miss his rookie season.
The Eagles Secondary endured a rollercoaster season in 2015, leading fans to place their hopes on the shoulders of Shepherd after a trade that sent Byron Maxwell to the Dolphins highlighted how low on both depth and star-power the unit had become.
Under Chip Kelly, it seemed almost certain that Shepherd would develop and make his mark in 2016 in a cornerback core that was crying out for some explosiveness at the position. But as aforementioned, the situation Shepherd now finds himself in is vastly different compared to the one he was drafted into a year ago.
Jim Schwartz now runs the Defense and as a result has a significant input into who the Eagles sign and who they draft. The additions of Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks have already highlighted the authority that Schwartz now has. McKelvin was signed promptly after being released by the Bills and the pair have taken command over what is now a very young cornerback core through OTA’s and Mandatory Minicamp. The intention? To mold the the younger corners into the aggressive and explosive playmakers that Schwartz needs in his system if he is to be successful in Philadelphia.
Then, there’s the drafting of Blake Countess and Jalen Mills. The two defensive backs may have been drafted late, but possess the versatility and hard-hitting style of play that could well earn them a spot on the final 53-man roster.
There are a total of eleven defensive backs on the roster that will be competing for what could be just five or six spots on the final roster. Shepherd no longer has this cushion of being a Chip Kelly draft pick in a Defense that lacked depth to fall back on. Under a new Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, Shepherd is going to have to push even harder than he did in his rookie year to prove he can transpose his skill set over to the scheme Schwartz is implementing.
The problem is that he’s already missing valuable time. Shepherd has still been recovering from the torn ACL that kept him sidelined in 2015 and as a result has missed OTA’s and most of Mandatory Minicamp.
Coach Pederson: Rueben Randle, Jordan Hicks, Nolan Carroll and JaCorey Shepherd are cleared for all activities but we'll limit them as well.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) June 7, 2016
All while the likes of Denzel Rice, Aaron Grymes, Jalen Mills and Jaylen Watkins have not only been learning the system and gaining valuable experience, but have been impressing the coaching staff during the spring workout program.
With Shepherd limited, he’s having to rely on a stellar showing at Training Camp if he’s to revert to his former role of what would have been a rotational replacement for Brandon Boykin. If the Eagles do keep Shepherd on the roster however, it’s likely that somebody else is going to lose out..somebody who was drafted due to schematic fit and versatility. Jim Schwartz rosters traditionally carry 5-6 corners and 4-5 safeties.
2014 Buffalo Bills: 6 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2013 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2012 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 5 safeties
2011 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
2010 Detroit Lions: 5 cornerbacks & 4 safeties
If we apply that to the Eagles roster, it could look something like this:
Nolan Carroll (?) (injury doubts and a 1-year contract could work against him if outperformed in training camp))
Players left in the pool include both Mills and Countess who were drafted by the Eagles this year, two undrafted rookies from 2015, an overlooked Jaylen Watkins, JaCorey Shepherd and a few players who have been signed after the arrival of Jim Schwartz, perhaps leaving them in favorable positions.
If Chip Kelly was still the dominant force in Philadelphia, we would be talking about how excited we are to see what Shepherd can bring to the table. But with such a congested secondary and a new Defensive Coordinator, there’s no guarantee that JaCorey Shepherd will outperform the 5-6 guys needed to secure a spot on the final 53-man roster.
The thought in itself is worrying for JaCorey Shepherd and while this much depth is a good problem to have, it ultimately means that if Shepherd shines in August, somebody is going to lose out. The question at this point becomes, if it’s not JaCorey Shepherd..then who?
Photo credit: Jeff Fusco/ Phillymag.com