The Philadelphia Eagles head into their Monday night matchup versus the Chicago Bears thin at the cornerback position. The team decided to carry just four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster entering the 2016 season. The depth of the position will already be tested with No. 1 cornerback, Leodis McKelvin, out tonight with a hamstring injury. His replacement, however, is ready to shine.
The Eagles drafted troubled cornerback, Jalen Mills, in the seventh-round of the 2016 NFL draft. His off the field issues, involving domestic violence accusations, hurt the corner’s overall draft stock. The Eagles and their defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, view Mills in a completely different light and more than a late day three pick.
The team was incredibly comfortable with Mills’ development that they felt it was time to move on from 2015 second-round pick, Eric Rowe, and let Mills be the first one called upon if any of the starting corners were to suffer an injury. That’s already happened in the first week of the season and Mills was prepared to step in. Mills played sparingly in the opening week of the 2016 season, but made an impact.
Mills entering the starting lineup versus a solid wide receiver corps that the Bears possess. He’ll be lining up versus Pro Bowl wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, along with Bears 2015 first-round pick, Kevin White, in coverage. He knows he’ll be targeted a lot, but his confidence in his talent hasn’t wavered.
“When we’re on the field, it’s the 11 best guys on the field,” Mills said. “It’s not a seventh-round here, third-round here, first-round here. It’s the best 11 guys.”
Mills played his collegiate career at LSU, where he practiced against some of the NFL’s best wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. He was asked following Friday’s practice if practicing against those guys helped him become the cornerback he is today.
“For sure,” Mills said, when asked if those practices against Beckham Jr. and Landry helped prepare him for the test he could be facing against the Bears. “Playing those guys in college, those guys are some of the top receivers now in the NFL. This week, we are playing against elite receivers. I just have to play sound technique and we have to play our style of football as a defense.”
Playing in the SEC, Mills lined up against other top NFL talent at wide receivers on Saturday’s as well. Mills covered Oakland Raiders 2015 first-round pick, Amari Cooper, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2014 first-round pick, Mike Evans, and Minnesota Vikings 2016 first-round pick, Laquon Treadwell, individually.
Mills was only able to dress for six games of the 2015 season at LSU. He suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss majority of his senior season. He finished the season playing 165 snaps, while being targeted 30 times allowing 16 receptions for 224 receiving yards and giving up one touchdown.
Mills took part in the 2016 Senior Bowl, where he hoped to raise his draft stock. He was targeted five times allowing two receptions for 19 receiving yards. Those numbers are impressive considering he lined up against the likes of Sterling Shepard, Braxton Miller, Tajae Sharpe, and Leonte Carroo.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Mills said, when asked about getting his first career start in the NFL. “Our coaching staff on the offense, they’ve been doing a good job since OTAs and our receivers have helped me get prepared and get my game better each and every day. Even in camp, in OTAs, I was getting extra work in with our wide receivers, just so I can get used to the NFL.”
Mills’ journey to this point has been incredible to say at the least considering how quickly he’s climbed up the Eagles depth chart. Mills points out his preparation for this moment began long before McKelvin suffered his hamstring injury.
“Maybe just playing in the SEC,” Mills said was the origin of his work-ethic and his grueling preparation. “And having to be prepared and ready week in and week out because you never know. Coming from LSU, any game each week could be detrimental to your season.”
NJ.com’s Philadelphia Eagles reporter, Eliot Shorrs-Park, has cited an anonymous Eagles player saying he prefers Mills to McKelvin as a starting cornerback. Mills is making a great impression on not only Schwartz, but his teammates as well. His play Monday night will dictate how he’s used going forward, but don’t be shocked if he becomes a full-time starter before season’s end.