Over the last few seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles have had a need for legitimate cornerback talent. It seemed like every year the birds were housing a new group of players to play on the outside. Needless to say that even after spending big in free agency multiple times while searching for the break out star that would end their defensive backfield woes, they would continue to come up empty. The teams brass searched high and low for the answers to this issue and despite their hard work, they spent another season at the bottom of the barrel in 2016.
This leads us to the offseason. The birds’ made good with their promise to address the glaring problems and this time without Band-Aid replacements. By most accounts they did a great job, not only by selecting Rookies Sidney Jones (one of the top corner’s in the draft) , and Rasul Douglas, but by not committing the big dollar to overpriced, underwhelming free agent corners. For the first time in a long time, the Eagles had a real plan and stuck to it, only adding the likes of veteran Patrick Robinson, a player considered a bust by some, but who has potential to be of real use.
What has gone under the radar to the selections of the two young corners and the play of Jalen Mills, has been the presence of second year UDFA, C.J. Smith. Considered a true talent at North Dakota State University, the former (And current) teammate of franchise Quarterback Carson Wentz never saw his name called during draft weekend in 2016. This of course led him to signing with the birds early on in the free agent period and hasn’t looked back since.
The 24-year old Savage, Minnesota native, was originally signed on to the Eagles practice squad after being released on final cut down day. After biding his time on the practice squad, Smith would have his number called in mid October as he was promoted to the active squad. He never really got much playing time, amassing just 16% of special teams snaps, as the birds were trying to see what they had in their veterans and seventh round pick Jalen Mills. However it’s all about making the most of your opportunities in the NFL, and Smith turned heads as he contributed on all four-cores.
The 5’11, 195 lbs prospect has shown his true potential at times since signing with the Eagles. So much so that he drew high praise from All-pro safety Malcolm Jenkins during last years pre-season.
“C.J., The rookie who’s been having a phenomenal camp, especially the last week and a half, played really well in the game and has really continued that in the practices here after.” (Birds 24/7)
Continuing on he speaks on the Smiths play. “I don’t think we’ve seen anybody catch a ball on him in about four days. His production really speaks for itself. I think there is a big difference in him between the spring and the summer. I think its just that opportunity to grasp that playbook, grasp that technique and work on it day in and day out. You see the improvement in his game daily.”
Jenkins wasn’t the only one to speak highly of the second year corner. Doug Pederson mentioned Smith just yesterday after practice.
“C.J. really caught our eye last year in training camp, obviously. He’s athletic; he’s quick; he’s a smart kid. Special teams could be a big role for him this year going forward. Finding a niche there on special teams.”
The thing that has stuck out most when watching the tape on Smith, is his ability to learn from mistakes and never really let the same thing be an issue later down the road. Not considered the biggest of players, he uses his 5’11 frame well, when going up against big body receivers, and never seems to back down no matter who the WR is.
He possesses the skillset to play both inside and out and has the nastiness to play at free-safety and deliver a big hit it asked. He does not shy away from tackling and has shown to be a real problem for offenses in the run game. His speed will not blow anyone away, but he does have the quickness to stick with faster wideouts when going deep. He has great top-end speed, and always seems to know where the ball is going. Smith has a true knack for reading the eyes of the quarterback when playing in zone, but playing in man seems to be his biggest strength…a strength the Eagles crave.
This offseason hasn’t been any different, as Smith has continued to turn heads in practice. He has had the right type of mind frame going into the this season, knowing that there is a wide open race for the bottom half of the CB depth chart.
The Eagles depth chart is wide open and if Smith continues his hard work and trends upward, he will make it a lot harder for the team to stash him on the practice squad. Expect Smith to fight his butt off and make plays all pre-season, as he has the skillset to be a playmaker in this Jim Schwartz defense. Only time will tell, but it sure will be fun watching it all unfold and despite the birds dedicating so much to bringing in upgrades at the CB position, it would behoove you not to forget about C.J. Smith.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Chris Szagola