Darius Slay is thriving as a leader in the Eagles secondary

NFL: SEP 27 Bengals at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Darius Slay (24) interacts with the Bengals bench after a play in the second half during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Two offseason’s ago saw the Philadelphia Eagles trade for All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay of the Detroit Lions. Many felt as if they were getting a great player, but an ageing one. With Eagles fans having endured years of torrid cornerback play, all hopes were hung on the shoulders of the three-time Pro Bowler. I think it’s safe to say that the trade is paying off.

Not the best start For Darius Slay

Slay’s first year in Philadelphia was a turbulent one, but through no fault of his own. On the surface, he finished last season with a completion percentage allowed of 76%, and a career-worst passer rating against him at 111.9. However, he was in a scheme that had been hurting Philadelphia cornerbacks for a long time. On top of that, there wasn’t much help around him. Rodney McLeod was injured, Marcus Epps was still getting acclimated, and Avonte Maddox was playing out of position. Slay blanketed the majority of wideouts faced with the exception of two, but opposing quarterbacks would simply target the other side of the field, knowing they’d have a much greater chance of success.

But then the winds of change started blowing.

A new chapter

The Eagles went and hired a completely new coaching staff with few exceptions. Johnathan Gannon came in as the defensive coordinator that would change everything for the Eagles. A change in scheme followed as a result and the coordinator known previously as the ‘DB Whisperer’ would put his shiny new CB1 in a much better position to thrive.

The Eagles then went on to sign Anthony Harris and Steven Nelson to help in the secondary. They also drafted Zech McPherson with the idea of him having a role this season although that hasn’t happened.

As the new culture slowly began to unravel, Darius Slay started to come out of his shell and take on a leadership role. In addition, his friendly competition and back and forth banter with the Eagles’ first-round pick, WR DeVonta Smith, has also lit a fire underneath the former All-Pro.

The resurgence

Slay has shown out this season and has re-established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. The Mississippi State product has recorded three interceptions with one of them going for a touchdown, two fumbles which have both gone for touchdowns, and an allowed completion percentage of only 67%.

He’s allowed only 347 yards in pass coverage with a career-low of 9.1 yards per completion. That one-time high passer rating of 111.9 from last season has now dropped to 80. He’s currently playing his most inspired football with the motivation of proving his critics wrong especially the ones within the Eagles fanbase.

“He’s got a contagious personality, contagious leadership.” Nick Sirianni said on Monday. ”He loves being around football and comes ready to work every single day. If he gets that football in his hands he can go. I just see a player that embodies this, wants to get better every single day. I think he’s truly happy to be a football player.”

Slay is brushing off the dust from the old shutdown corner mantle and polishing it for this season. After only having 6 pass deflections in the entire season last, Slay already has 5 this season with 6 more games to go. He’s forced QB’s to pick on Steven Nelson and the linebackers while he and Maddox have been limiting the other team’s options.

Regardless of whether or not Slay stays around next year, this year has been a sight for sore eyes. Eagles fans can’t remember the last time that they’ve seen such tremendous play at the cornerback position but the way Slay is playing will be talked about for years to come in Philly…especially if he keeps taking these turnovers to the house.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire