The Eagles cornerback corps is as strong as it ever has been, for this year at least. After next season, there will be some serious long-term questions over the position, with one of the more prominent being ‘what will the team opt to do with Ronald Darby?’ That answer will largely depend on how he plays in his second season in Philadelphia, but all things are pointing towards a very nice payday for the 24-year old.
It’s scary to think Darby is still so young and that his ceiling remains so high. That’s something often lost on fans when discussing his play. After being traded to the Eagles just as the start of the regular season was on the horizon, there was very little time for Darby to acclimate himself with the scheme. This was something Jim Schwartz pointed out when asked about the former Bills corner on Monday.
“I think that really the biggest thing with Darby is last year when he came to us, he was just so far behind scheme-wise, and it seemed like he was always playing catch-up.” Schwartz explained. “Whether it was trying to play catch-up early in the season with the scheme, and then trying to play catch-up with his injuries. He just never really got his feet sort of underneath him, so to speak. He’s had an outstanding offseason. I’m not just talking about training camp, I’m talking about OTAs and phase one, phase two. He’s in a different place than he was last year. Jalen Mills, like his biggest thing is that confidence and his ability to play the ball. He’s done both of those things, and he’s continued to do both of those things.”
As Schwartz mentioned, the red carpet was ripped from under Darby’s feet in many ways when a week one injury sidelined him for half of the season. What happened next is something we’ve seen time and time again. Patterns and statistics emerge but the context gets left behind.
During the five-game span after his return, Darby allowed 304 receiving yards, with only two cornerbacks allowing more. Only one other corner not named Darby gave up more than 24 receptions in that stretch. So what does that tell us? Was Darby really playing that poorly?
Well, he was also targeted 40 times during those games, which is the second most of any corner in the NFL. Out of those 24 receptions, he allowed just one touchdown and picked off two passes, deflecting another two. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a stunningly low 57.2 passer rating when targeted last season. Is that the sign of a ‘weak link’?
Darby was likely targeted over and over again because as an offensive coordinator, you’re going to want to exploit any injury you can. The ‘Wounded Antelope’ mentality would see a quarterback feast on the weakest of the pack, throwing his direction over and over until eventually, a wide receiver has his way. Luckily for Darby, that rarely happened to a damaging degree.
Now at the age of just 24-years old, Darby is entering his fourth season in the NFL, which is astonishing. To be so young and so experienced is a rarity, but it’s a luxury the Eagles have. With a full season to learn the playbook and a full offseason to really digest every intricacy of the scheme and gel with his teammates, Darby could be primed to rekindle the form that earned him PFWA All-Rookie Team honors.
If that wasn’t enough, it’s also Darby’s contract year. Time is literally money for a cornerback who has battled injury concerns throughout his career but has been extremely productive when there aren’t external factors impacting his play. With a clean slate and a year under Jim Schwartz, could this be the season Ronald Darby breaks out and solidifies himself as top-tier corner? Only time will tell, but his long-term future very much depends on it.
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