In 2018, the Philadelphia Eagles secondary went through more than its fair share of growing pains. After Rodney McLeod’s season-ending injury in week 3, what followed was a string of setbacks, forcing the Eagles to dig deep into their talent pool. At one point, every single starter in the secondary with the exception of Malcolm Jenkins was sidelined.
However, after all of that time missed by the starters and even some reserve players as the team began to wear thin in the defensive secondary, the Philadelphia Eagles began to find ways to rally back with a makeshift defensive unit in time to string enough wins together to clinch a post-season berth. When I observed the Eagles cornerbacks and safeties last season after all the injuries, what I saw was a very resilient group of athletes who were mostly made of players who weren’t starters on any other team in the National Football League. It was sort of like hosting a cast of misfits. Cre’von LeBlanc was claimed off waivers from the Detroit Lions, for example. If I had said his name to you before he was a starter last year for Philadephia, chances are you thought I was naming a wine to pair with cheese or steak.
This season, the defensive secondary is just being paid just around the ballpark total of $15.6 million. Included in that price are Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, Rodney McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins, Ronald Darby, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, and Cre’von LeBlanc. More than half of that total amount to those players goes directly to Jenkins this season. If this group can remain healthy, the “bang for the buck” could be quite impressive. I would argue that for the amount of money it takes to pay that entire group of rotational starters in the defensive backfield, the Philadephia Eagles have a top-five group when it comes to talent and value. This, again, is a playoff secondary without Mills, McLeod, and Darby. That is what 2018 taught us about the depth at cornerback and safety.
Heading into 2019, let’s take a deep dive into what the secondary looks like just to have a better idea of the improvements made. I hung a big “if” on the health of these players so far, but Howie Roseman did a great job this offseason acquiring players to be an insurance policy in case of injuries. Coupling the secondary available with the pass rush that will be improved from last season and new, notable names at linebacker, the Philadelphia Eagles defense could be a nightmare for the high majority of quarterbacks around the league.
Jalen Mills: For all the times that Mills was burnt on a double-move last season, he did remain a big help in the red zone. He continues to be a problem for players like Julio Jones in scoring range and made big plays last year to quiet Adam Thielen and Laquon Treadwell. I think Mills knows that he will have competition on his team this year for playing time, so the “Green Goblin” is going to answer the challenge.
Rasul Douglas: Over the last couple of seasons, Douglas has performed under limited snaps, but always seemed to make the best of his short playing time. He is a sure tackler and he has good hands. That is what you look for in a cornerback at the NFL level. I’ve watched the Philadelphia Eagles for many years now and for every time there is a punishing hit, there are arm tackles that I simply can’t believe were attempted. How many times have we watched a ball carrier break three tackles or more? More than I care to recollect. On the other hand, Douglas seems to wrap up and make the play the majority of the time. I expect more playing time for him this season.
Ronald Darby: Before Darby went down with an injury last season, he was making plays. I understand why people think that signing him back to another contract was a risk, but it is a cheap deal for a player who has an abundance of speed, can stick to receivers like glue, break up important passes in the endzone, and show enough awareness to come down with an interception. He could be one of the stronger coverage corners the Philadelphia Eagles have. When healthy, like 2017, he was clutch and became a playmaker. I won’t be surprised if Darby eliminates doubt and cashes in on the risk the Eagles took to bring him back this season.
Avonte Maddox: Maddox turned out to be a savior of sorts down the stretch of the 2018 season, showing his prowess and versatility at the cornerback and safety positions. As a fourth-round pick, Maddox showed that he was a diamond in the rough and the Philadelphia Eagles are happy to have him aboard. He played in 13 games last season and recorded two interceptions. There isn’t a doubt that if his name is called upon again in 2019, he can pick up where he left off under Jim Schwartz’s defensive scheme.
Sidney Jones: This is the player who was a darling when he was drafted and it frustrates me the most. Jones seems to have the speed, height, and athletic ability to be a fixture in the Philadelphia Eagles secondary but hasn’t quite put it all together yet. The reason for this is because he hasn’t had a full season of playing under his belt. This offseason, he is getting his first full workout with the team. He won’t be walking into a game situation without taking the needed repetitions at practice. This is the “make it or break it” year with this Eagles franchise and no one knows that more than Jones. If he can put it together this season, Philadelphia would be delighted to see it.
Cre’von LeBlanc: LeBlanc, like Maddox, was another player to come virtually out of nowhere and make his mark in the Philadelphia Eagles defense last season. In the playoffs, he made plays against the Chicago Bears in a very tight game. Kicking off the game against the New Orleans Saints (who I thought was the actual best team in the NFC last season), he was able to intercept Drew Brees. He is a “gamer.” What I mean by that is certain players play past their ability, so to speak. Heading into that Saints game in the playoffs last season, most of the Eagles fans were just taking deep breaths and hoping for the best. LeBlanc showed that not only is he capable, but he is a good insurance policy at cornerback for this upcoming season in 2019.
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