The team traded for Darius Slay and signed veteran slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, who will undoubtedly play the slot role. This leaves an open playing field at the CB2 spot, but who can step up and take the throne?
Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox both started their NFL careers differently. Jones saw his value drop after being declared as a top 10 pick, due to a blown-out Achilles at his pro-day that resulted in him falling into the lap of Howie Roseman in the second round. Avonte Maddox was the diamond in the rough that the Eagles found in the 4th round.
Jones endured the ultimate rollercoaster entering the league. He was out for all but one game in the 2017 season, recovering from the torn Achilles and finally making his long-awaited debut against the Dallas Cowboys in week 1. Jones had two tackles on 29 snaps for the defense. After that game, Jones would just sit back and marvel at the fact that his team just won their first-ever Super Bowl in the first year of his NFL career.
As for Maddox, he came in guns blazing. At 5’9, 184 lbs, he spent all of his collegiate career working out of the slot, but would soon be transformed into a versatile weapon in Schwartz’s defense. He started nine games out of thirteen played in his rookie season and was tasked with playing safety, nickel corner, and outside corner due to injuries across the board. Maddox finished his rookie campaign with 2 interceptions, 4 pass deflections, and 1 forced fumble.
He also played in both playoff games that season, seeing the field for more than 90% of the snaps in both games. Unfortunately, Avonte didn’t get to hoist the Lombardi that season as the teams Super Bowl hopes slipped through Alshon’s hands, literally.
Last year was a topsy-turvy one for both players. Jones continued to battle with confidence and hamstring injuries while Avonte struggled to find his footing even after the Sendejo hit that led to a severe neck injury. Oddly enough, Jones was somehow the highest-graded cornerback for the team and was ranked 68th out of 135 cornerbacks while Avonte Maddox was 89th via PFF.
Jones did have two huge plays that helped the Eagles solidify the NFC East title. One was the clutch interception against the Giants, the other was a huge pass deflection against Michael Gallup of the Cowboys. The potential is there for Jones just as it is for Maddox, but time is running out. Jones is entering his contract year and is yet to really show consistently solid play, only adding fuel to the fire of this battle.
Maddox struggled a bit on the outside last season while Jones seemed to own it towards the end of the season, but we have to remember he was essentially benched for half the season after concerns surrounding both his physical and mental toughness.
Jones allowed a completion rate of 52% when targeted. He allowed 16 out of 31 targets to be caught with the inclusion of 104 air yards. Avonte Maddox allowed a completion rate of 61% when targeted but he did also see 517 snaps on defense compared to Sidney’s 293 snaps. So who is really the victor here?
Jones will benefit from having a new vocal leader in the DB room as Malcolm Jenkins has now moved on. The reason that could be a factor is due to the moment Jenkins called out Jones subliminally after a tough loss to the Vikings.
Malcolm’s statement was the harsh reality of the league. “This game’s not for suckers,” Jenkins declared. “If you aren’t confident on the outside, then we can’t use you. Our defense is going to call for guys to be able to go outside and cover.”
As for Maddox, confidence has never been the issue. It seems as if the sophomore slump haunted the young talent and the neck injury just added to an inability in finding his footing. One thing is for certain though, only one of these DB’s played against the Seahawks in the wildcard matchup last season. Maddox played 93% of the snaps while Jones never saw a defensive snap. Perhaps a sign of things to come?
It could be a telling sign as to who the coaching staff prefers at this point but the Darius Slay factor is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Eagles just need a player that can hold his own on the outside, that’s all. Robey-Coleman will man the slot and Slay will most likely shadow the opposing team’s top wideout. With Sidney Jones and his NFL career in jeopardy and Maddox coming back fully healthy, who will have the clear cut advantage to be CB2?
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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