The Eagles are on the cusp of a regular season filled with promise and excitement. A new and shiny Offense will be what steals the spotlight, but make no mistake about the impact that a rebuilt Secondary will have on the tone-setting Jim Schwartz Defense. Philadelphia were able to pull some late moves in order to complete the picture, trading for Ronald Darby and sending Patrick Robinson into a much more comfortable inside position. But the team made one more under-the-radar move, trading for former Jets cornerback Dexter McDougle.
The former third round pick out of Maryland has had a bumpy start to his NFL career so far. Injuries have plagued McDougle since he first stepped into the league and when he’s been healthy, his presence has been felt most heavily on special teams. It took just one preseason game against his former team for the Eagles to reward him with a one-year extension. So the question is, what did the team see in McDougle over the likes of Ron Brooks and Aaron Grymes?
As things stand, Patrick Robinson is the team’s starting slot-corner. Robinson struggled on the outside from the moments OTA’s began, but it’s no quiet fact that he had a career year in the slot while playing for the Colts in 2015. Robinson is still on a prove-it deal however, so the addition of McDougle gives the Eagles a slightly longer-term insurance policy. All it takes is one look at the tape to see why the Birds were so quick to pull the trigger however. It’s clear that McDougle could be destined for a role far greater than a CB3 backup.
One of the underrated things that McDougle brings to the table is speed. Running a sub 4.5 40-yard dash, the 26-year old has the perfect skillset to matchup against those pesky running backs and slot receivers. He showed this in week one of the preseason against Tennessee.
Lining up over the middle, McDougle is facing a bunch formation. He’s able to pick out his receiver in man-coverage and immediately cover the top of the route, sticking like glue over the middle in a foot race and completely removing the middle of the field for Tanney.
The most impressive part of the newest Eagles corner’s game is his ability to seek and destroy. There’s a reason McDougle was a third round pick back in 2014. The 5’10 corner was a three year starter during his time at Maryland, totalling 151 tackles, 6 interceptions and 22 passes defensed. Dinner. Cornerback. McDougle is a corner who thrives at the top of routes and is at his best when the ball is thrown in his direction. Preseason was very much a proving ground on that front.
McDougle does well here to pick up the receiver in the flat and leap over the top of the route to force the incompletion. The ball may have been overthrown, but an athletic lunge was enough to ensure that it remained uncatchable.
Later that game came his most impressive play of the preseason. McDougle picks up the wheel route and takes a great angle over the top to ensure he stays ahead of the receiver. With his head up, he’s able to sniff the ball out and bat it out of the hands of Darius Jennings. The composure and confidence shown by McDougle is beyond impressive here.
His Ballhawk-like tendencies would be shown a third time that game as he lined up man-to-man with the motion receiver. McDougle sets his feet after a quick back-pedal as he prepares for the initial punch and after being outmuscled, forces his way back over the top of his wideout to knock the ball loose.
Against the Lions, McDougle showed his ability to again cause problems for slot receivers. In a similar vein to the first play, McDougle anticipates a break vertically and a nice stutter created some separation for the receiver. It wasn’t enough however as MucDougle fought back over the top with another leap to force the incompletion.
And then came my favorite play of McDougle’s preseason. Lining up in the slot, he motions to the left in order to cover a fade before turning just a flash later than the wide receiver and jumping the route with an impressive burst. His reaction time to the receiver’s change in direction stood out, but it was his speed that sealed the deal here.
Stop the run but don’t stop the fun:
In today’s NFL, a slot corner who is able to contribute in all facets of the game is crucial. Be that special teams, pass Defense or even helping the pass-rush or run-stopping units. McDougle ticks all of the above boxes as a slightly lighter corner who has enough speed to get into the backfield with haste.
Against the Lions, McDougle burst through an oncoming pass-blocker and took a big step inside to wrap around the legs of his running back as support came off the edge. The former Jets corner read the play-action look decisively and acted accordingly.
Against the Eagles, McDougle was bought in on a cornerback blitz and very nearly came away with an interception.
While many of you will instantly scratch your head at this part after McDougle missed a big tackle in the preseason finale, the Maryland standout and former teammate of Torrey Smith is usually a reliable tackler and has a lot of upper body strength at his disposal.
McDougle plays fast, but he doesn’t play erratically…a quality rare to find in a slot corner. Here, we can see McDougle sit and wait for the receiver to show his hand before deciding whether or not to call or fold. Once the curl was completed, McDougle took a slight step to the side before charging down into the path of the receiver, knowing help was coming in from the other side, this gave him a slight advantage as he was able to hit the side of Taywan Taylor that Tayor tried to shield, forcing another incomplete pass. It’s a measured approach to tackling, but one that usually ends up getting the job done.
As Jaylen Watkins tripped on the play below, it was McDougle who shadowed his receiver into the safety net before making a quick turn and again sniffing the ball out, meeting the receiver head-on to create a roadblock before reinforcements arrived.
So what exactly is the ceiling for McDougle? Well, that all depends on Patrick Robinson. But the battle over the starting slot role may be over, but the war over that position long-term has only just begun.
Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports