The Eagles had a rollercoaster season in 2016. From the stunning highs of a dream start to the career of Carson Wentz, to heartbreaking lows like the loss to Cincinnati. But through all of the wins and losses, one of the most exciting stories to follow all year, was the rise of Jalen Mills. Drafted in the seventh round out of LSU, the Green Goblin burst into the scene during OTA’s and Training Camp. Eventually soaring up the depth chart to replace Eric Rowe, Mills was an under-the-radar cornerback who had his draft stock hampered by concerns of both injury and character. But in 2016, he was determined to prove everybody wrong.
The 6’0, 191 lbs, cornerback would go on to play a key role in the Eagles Defense and his play would progress each and every week. Nobody expected the former LSU leader to rack up 61 tackles in his rookie year. One of his most impressive performances came in week 2 against the Chicago Bears, and of course, Alshon Jeffery. But what happened when the Green Goblin made his first NFL start against one of the most dangerous receivers in the game?
Jalen Mills vs Bears:
Snap percentage: 83%
Pass deflections: 1
With McKelvin still out, Mills would earn his first NFL start in week two against the Bears. Like Eric Rowe before him, he would also face a trial by fire. It would be future teammate Alshon Jeffery that would provide us the first real insight into how “starter ready” the seventh round pick really is.
A war would ensue between the star wideout and Jalen Mills, with Jeffery setting the early pace. At the top of the screen, Jeffery storms past Mills like it’s nothing at the line of scrimmage, exploiting a weakness in his game at the time. Especially against a wideout so physical, an inability to jam at the line would sting. If it wasn’t for Malcolm Jenkins making a sack on the second play of the opening drive, the Bears would have picked up a huge chunk of yardage.
The Green Goblin would get the next laugh however. Picking up on a screen pass, Mills burst down to the line of scrimmage and wrapped up Jeffery, cutting the cord on the play that if he had failed to, could have gone to the house. After his stern tackling in week one, it was encouraging to see Mills unfazed by Alshon Jeffery..and instead fired up to make a big hit.
It looked as if Mills rode that moment for one play too long however, as later on in an identical look, the corner would go careering in for a tackle sporadically, only for Jeffery to shrug it off for an eight-yard gain. It’s this level of early aggression that would act as both a blessing and a curse for Mills. An emotion he would have to channel if he was to become a consistent starting corner in the NFL.
The veteran would school Jalen Mills properly later on in the game however. Playing with his back to the ball, Mills was overzealous in trying to undercut a route and instead made a huge error, allowing Jeffery to complete a big catch for the Bears. Although Mills gave up the big play, you have to respect his eagerness to make up for his mistake, chasing down Jeffery and doing everything he can to cut up the pass.
Then, in the dying moments of the game..Mills had his revenge. Lined up in man coverage against the veteran receiver, Mills expressed his physicality and if the ball was thrown lower, could have potentially been called for Pass interference. However, the seventh rounder stayed with Jeffery stride for stride and leapt over him in the endzone to ensure an incompletion. It was again yet another eyebrow raising play from Mills that sent a surge of excitement through the veins of Eagles fans everywhere. It didn’t matter how much Jeffery proved problematic for Mills, he approached each play with the same mentality.
Just one play later, Mills would make a similar play. Although not against Alshon Jeffery, the patience shown by Mills before attempting to cap the play at the top of the route was impressive. Two passes thrown his way consecutively, two pass breakups. You can’t ask for much more than that from a seventh round pick in just his first NFL start.
In his first official start in midnight green, Jalen Mills lined up and went to war with one of the league’s most notorious threats. Jeffery was held to 96 yards on 5 receptions in the loss to Philadelphia. The back-and-forth between Mills and Alshon was just spectacular to watch. One minute Mills, the underdog would be sending a message. The next, Alshon would be looking down on the seventh rounder after a huge catch. The highly competitive nature of the battle made for some great viewing..and now the duo will fly under the same flag in 2017.
Mills went on to develop his craft in 2016 and emerge as a reliable starting option for the Eagles..and if there’s one thing that we can take from this game, it’s that Jeffery is certainly going to help that process even more when the duo line up across from each other in training camp and OTA’s.
The future is bright in the City of Brotherly Love and in his first NFL start, Mills showed that he wasn’t afraid of anybody..and he was certainly ready to go toe-to-toe with anyone an Offense places in front of him.
Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports