With OTA’s officially underway, the Eagles seem to be enthusiastic about the direction their heading in this season. They have their franchise QB back to full health and they’ve also added very significant pieces to their roster this offseason. Except for one group, in particular, the cornerbacks.
Heading into the draft, many experts had the team selecting a corner in the first round, but that didn’t happen. It honestly didn’t need to happen either. The roster is packed with young talent and the great thing is that it’s been the same group of corners for two seasons now, minus the additions of Avonte Maddox and Cre’von LeBlanc last year.
Why is that so important? Well, my answer to that is because of the consistency they have in playing for Jim Schwartz. Schwartz has specific requirements in what he wants from a cornerback in his defense. Many have said that Jalen Mills is the perfect example of that. The only problem with Mills, from a fan’s standpoint, is that he doesn’t really get consistent stops. There’s something that Mills has that Schwartz loves about this game, short term memory. It doesn’t matter if he got beat on the last play or not, Jalen will line up like the last play never happened.
Last season, the secondary collapsed one by one. The Eagles lost their two starters for the season in Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. Then Sidney Jones went down for the season after suffering another injury for the second time in 2 years. All of this led to an up and down season for the group.
In the wreckage of what seemed to be a destroyed cornerback room came three bright spots for the Eagles. The first came in the way of rookie Avonte Maddox, who stepped in right away and played as if he was an all-pro corner. He played 13 games for the birds and finished with 28 solo tackles, 35 combined tackles, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble.
Maddox has the potential to be an elite defender for years to come. I was great to hear that in the first day of OTA’s, Maddox was battling with Eagles stud tight end Dallas Goedert. It’s all about development for the Pitt product and he seems to be on the right path.
Let’s move on to the second bright spot, Rasul Douglas. Douglas has been a player that Eagles fans have been clamoring after since he was drafted. For some reason, it’s seemed as if Schwartz has been holding Rasul back for the past couple of years. He’s had his moments though, there have been times where Rasul’s ball-hawking skills have shown flashes of greatness, but they were often overshadowed.
Last season, Douglas had ended up as the starter for 7 games and looked great in most stretches. Douglas showed clear growth in his tackling and coverage skills. He finished the year with 3 interceptions, 48 solo tackles, and 58 combined tackles. He even finished with a Pro Football Focus grade of 72.2 and finished 29th among all cornerbacks.
The debate with Douglas has been whether he’s a safety or a corner. I believe last year showed that he is definitely a corner that deserves to start at this point in his career. He still has plenty of spots in his game that needs polishing but the future looks very bright for the West Virginia Alum.
Now for the final bright spot, the scrappy slot corner that was claimed by Philadelphia off waivers, Cre’von LeBlanc. LeBlanc set the Linc on fire from the moment the team placed him on the field. For a player who was an outcast in Detroit, it seems LeBlanc has found a home in Philly. For good reasons too.
Cre’von finished the season with PFF grade of 72.3 and 32nd among cornerbacks. He also gave the defense the scrappy fighter they needed last year. LeBlanc made a huge interception last year in the Saints playoff game that probably made all Eagles fans rise out of their seats in celebration. He also enhances the never say die attitude that this defense has been developing for years.
These three corners, plus the two who will be coming back from injury, have a chance to silence all the critics. The front office didn’t draft a cornerback because they see just what this group is capable of. If Sidney Jones can stay healthy along with Darby and Mills. Also if Douglas, Maddox, and LeBlanc can take the next necessary steps in their developments then this defense may be on the verge of elite status for years to come.