Eagles in a strong spot to find new starting cornerback tandem on day two of NFL Draft

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The first round of the NFL Draft is now in the books, but as exciting as it is to think about the potential impact Derek Barnett will have on the Eagles pass rush next year, the meat of the Draft still remains. Rounds 2 and 3 of the Draft take place at 7PM EST tonight, with the Eagles most prominent need still unfilled, cornerback. Luckily for them however, they could be in an extremely spot to find at least one, if not two starting corners by the end of round 3.

The Eagles will be be on the clock with the 11th pick in the second round tonight, 43rd overall. After that however, they won’t be picking until the bottom of the third round after a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for Timmy Jernigan saw the teams switch picks, landing the Birds with the 99th overall pick.

It would almost seem imperative then, that even with such a deep cornerback class..that if the Eagles do evade upgrading the secondary in the second round to add talent elsewhere, that they visit the position in the bottom of the third. The question is, who will be left on the board at both stages?

Last night saw a strange slide for several prospects. Marshon Lattimore was among those projected to go inside the top ten, that didn’t hear his name called until much later than expected. The sudden surge of offensively minded picks that saw Corey Davis, John Ross and Christian McCaffrey fly off the board, saw the deep pool at cornerback remain deep for quite sometime.

Here are the corners who had their names called last night, and where I had them ranked in my series that graded the defensive backs by fit with the Eagles:

Marshon Lattimore:  11th overall, 1st in Eagles rankings
Marlon Humphrey: 16th overall, 5th in Eagles rankings
Adoree Jackson: 18th overall, 12th in Eagles rankings
Gareon Conley: 24th overall, 2nd in Eagles rankings
Tre’Davious White: 27th overall, 6th in Eagles rankings

While there was predicted to be a slew of corners taken in the first round, not many envisioned that those taken would fall so late. This could come back to haunt the Eagles, with teams now more likely to start a domino run of defensive backs at the start of the second round. However, with skill position players flying off boards, it’s likely that the Eagles still have a plentiful selection to choose from when they’re on the clock. Here are three corners projected to go in round 2, and three who could be on the board in the bottom of the third, who could help cement the Eagles secondary for years to come, with scouting reports taken from my CB ranking series:

 

Round 2: (43rd overall)

 

Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado:
Of all the corners who are projected to go in the first round, Awuzie is by far my favorite. It’s no coincidence that one of my favorite corners in the entire draft is his teammate, Ahkello Witherspoon. There’s arguably no better fit for the Jim Schwartz Defense than Awuzie.

He wins at the start of his routes and while he has the speed to keep up with receivers, his specialty lies in tackling and knocking balls loose. As a freshman, he made 59 tackles and broke up 4 passes. One year later, he led the team with 64 tackles before suffering an injury in practice. Next season, he amassed 90 tackles from the nickel spot, as well as four sacks, 10 pass breakups and two picks. A sterling 2016 went hand in hand with his career to date and if he plays alongside a dinner cornerback, he could be the perfect weapon to combat multi-dimensional offenses.

With an ability to play in the slot or hold his own outside, the versatility of Awuzie would be a huge asset to a team that is looking to build a young corps that can help unleash the pass rush. Playing four positions on the back end in his college career (free-safety, Strong-Safety, outside Corner, and nickel), Awuzie has developed into a playmaker who has great top end speed to cover faster WR’s and would easily become a strong option for the Birds’ defense.

So why Awuzie over any of the cornerbacks listed so far? He’s a true press corner. His directional changes and footwork remind me of Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, while his ability to disrupt routes at the line are reminiscent of the style of play injected into the DNA of Darius Slay by Jim Schwartz previously.

His backpedalling and burst mean he’s able to pick up slants and shorter routes with ease, undercutting them and forcing incompletions. He’s got an incredible spring when bouncing back onto a receiver and given not only his versatility, but his success across the secondary..it’s almost like the perfect Eagles cornerback mold.

Awuzie is one of the few breakfast cornerbacks on this list..and thats a skill set, along with some hard hits and special teams resilience, that the Eagles could really benefit from.

 

Kevin King, Washington:
If it’s a long cornerback that the Eagles want, King may be the answer. At 6’3, 200 lbs, King has a rare frame for an outside corner..with athleticism to match. A 4.43 40-yard dash gives him the speed to close off routes, while his heigh  speaks for itself in jumpball situations.

The most staggering stat of King’s career? Allowing just one score in his last 101 targets. A relaxed press corner who has beautiful footwork and the frame to ensure he doesn’t get bullied off the line, King is simply a nightmare due to his physical traits.

The downside is that he isn’t the most aggressive corner..in press..or in will to tackle. He tends to rely on his incredibly crisp mirroring and instincts to win routes..which could translate to a few problems at the next level. King plays the player more than he plays the ball. With 6 career picks, his hands saw some easy picks batted away instead in 2016.

In terms of a will to tackle, he lacks the ideal upper body strength needed to be dominant on that front..and in that regard he reminds me of a MUCH more polished and impressive Teez Tabor. However, the Eagles need certainty at the position and while it’s highly likely that King goes on to have a very strong career, I personally feel that in comparison to the other cornerbacks who will be available in that first-second round window..the Eagles could get more bang for their buck given their very specific needs.

 

Sidney Jones, Washington
By now, you all know the name, Sidney Jones. If it wasn’t for a heartbreaking leg injury during his pro day, the Washington corner would be a first round pick, period. But the reality is that a torn Achilles is more than just a bump in the road..and there’s no guarantee that his ceiling will be as high as it was coming off of a stunning final season.

In his sophomore season, Jones led the pac-12 in pass breakups with 12, intercepting 4 and showing his strength as a tackler, forcing three fumbles. One year later, he would pick off another three passes as well as breaking up a further six..being named first-team All-Pac 12 in the process.Jones has a firm punch at the line of scrimmage when initiating bump-and-run coverage and has incredible spatial awareness. Using the sideline to is advantage and having a second sense for incoming passes, Jones sticks to players like glue in press and can mirror and match with the very best in this year’s class.At 6’0, 186 lbs, Jones isn’t intimidated by opposing wideouts and has the vertical reach to challenge every pass. Combine this with some impressive play recognition and what you have is a well rounded corner with shutdown potential.  So why is he ranked so low?It’s not really to do with the injury either..as much as that does hold him back. Jones can be a little over instinctive at times..leading to him anticipating how plays are going to pan out and acting on that instinct as oppose to what the receiver is doing. This can at times lead to scrappy play and a lot of overzealous arm reaching, giving receivers an edge. When you combine these mild inconsistencies with the fact that his career does realistically have a different outlook, the once cemented fit in Philadelphia has become a little less concrete.

 

Round 3: (99th overall)

 

Ahkello Witherspoon, Colorado
At 6’3, 205 LBs, Witherspoon has the frame that Schwartz appears to covet in his cornerbacks. The team also desparately need guys who are comfortable on an island and can hold their own in press coverage. Witherspoon ticks all of the boxes and more.After allowing 37 receptions on 60 targets and giving up 526 yards in addition to three touchdowns in 2015, Witherspoon bounced back in 2016 only allowing 28 receptions on 88 targets for 411 yards and two touchdowns.

The strongest part of Witherspoon’s game is his ability to jump up and bat passes down. A true dinner cornerback, he was able to swat away 17 in his two seasons as a starter with 14 coming alone in 2016. The jump Witherspoon made in 2016 only shines a light on his overall potential and commitment to improving each season. A willing tackler and a corner who isn’t afraid to get down and dirty in the run game, Witherspoon could end up being the steal of this historic cornerback class here in the third-round.

Witherspoon may be among my favorite cornerbacks in this draft. When discussing Teez Tabor, many point to the emphatic PFF stats that continue to do the rounds. In 2016, the percentage of passes thrown in Witherspoon’s direction that were completed? 26.5%. He also tied for second in the country with 20 pass defenses.

If the Eagles draft one of the top corners in the first two rounds, a dinner corner who can thrive at the point of the tack, make up lost ground when beaten in man-coverage and has the tenacity to contribute in every facet of the game, would be the perfect compliment. His fit is near perfect..and his talent is undeniable.

 

Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
A four year starter for Tennessee, the 5’11, 188 lbs, corner may be the perfect fit for the Jim Schwartz Defense. Entering his senior year, Sutton’s durability enabled him to have started every game since arriving with the team in 2013. An injury against Ohio University cost him six games, but he was able to amass 23 tackles, an interception and four pass breakups in the games he did play. This also saw him slip down draft boards..which works out well for the Eagles.

Sutton is a press coverage ace who plays with a nasty streak. He isn’t afraid to get down and dirty in the run game, nor does he shy away from hitting much more physical receivers. His lighter frame has caused some to doubt his potential to do this at the next level, but tackling is just as much a mental trait as it is physical..and Sutton exudes confidence.

Not only is he a hard hitter, but as a sophomore he led Tennessee in pass defenses, with 16. He’s an extremely fluid corner who can mirror and match with the best in this years class and can back pedal extremely smoothly, keeping the wideout ahead of him and eyes on the quarterback.

At the line, Sutton is reliant on his ability to read the play and isn’t as physically imposing as he perhaps could be. His coverage is very reminiscent of Jalen Mills at times, especially on comeback routes, where he can sometimes lack the immediate response to surge forward and wrap the receiver up, opening a small cushion for the quarterback to throw into. Also like Mills, he can focus a little too much on the receiver, playing with his back to the ball and relying on his hands to force a tightly placed ball out of action at the last second.

However, like we saw with Mills..this is all coachable. I genuinely believe that Sutton is the perfect prototype for the Jim Schwartz Defense. He hits hard, plays the ball well and is comfortable in both man and zone situations. Allowing just three touchdowns throughout his career, Sutton is a player who ticks all the boxes..including special teams production. A notable punt and kick returner, Sutton could become a four-core special teams player at the very least..and a rotational defensive back with the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot at best. As far as mid-round corners go, Sutton may be the most appealing..and seems better equipped to be an impact player under Jim Schwartz in my opinion than  the corners listed above.

 

Fabian Moreau, UCLA
With great size and speed, Moreau has all the intangibles to be a great player one day. A willing tackler and very physical with WR’s, you can see how he would fit the Schwartz system. His 6’0, 206 lbs, frame is thick enough to ensure he can hold his own when on an island..something reenforced by a 2016 season in which he led the Bruins in pass breakups with 10.

Athletically, Moreau is incredibly gifted as a former running back..but due to the short amount of time played at corner, there’s still a lot to learn. His technique is raw and isn’t as fluid as some of the higher ranked corners in this list, especially when changing direction or adjusting after being beaten off the line. His ball tracking skills are similar to that of Jalen Mills during his opening few games as an Eagle..and it’s a coachable weakness, but one that could harm his high draft stock. Penalties have also been an issue..along with some scrappy hands at the top of route trees in 50-50 plays.

It’s those reasons why Moreau is ranked arguably a little lower than he should be. An injury setback didn’t help this, but his confident bounce back a year later helped send the right message. Just as things were looking up, the Bruin suffered a torn pectoral muscle during his pro day..lowering his stock once again.

For me, there’s just too many question marks surrounding Moreau for a mid-round pick..and the Eagles have some far more attractive options in that region.

 

These are just six of the corners who could be available by the time that the Eagles are in the clock for both of their picks. Players such as Teez Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Damontae Kazee, Cordrea Tankersley, and Jourdan Lewis are just some of the other names who could find themselves playing in Midnight green.

While the pick of Derek Barnett may not be the flashiest, it’s given the Eagles a lot of room to breathe. The cornerback class is incredibly deep, as proven with the names still available at this stage..and by bolstering the trenches early, the Eagles are still in a prime spot, if they wanted, to create a new starting cornerback tandem for years to come, without needing to spend a first rounder at all.

Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

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