By Dylan MacKinnon
The off season has begun. We are 100 days, and roughly 1,000,000 mock drafts away from draft night. But what do the Eagles need to do to build on the success of this season? What positions do they most need help at? What players would be the best fits for this team? Over these next 100 days I will be looking at their biggest needs, and many of the players they could potentially be taking with their many draft picks this year. To start, we will look at Cornerback. A position that feels as though it has been a need for over a decade.
What They Have That Works
Despite it still not being great, the Eagles secondary was much better this year than in years past. In fact they were 11th in passing yard allowed per game this year. That comes with a heavy asterisk given the quality of QB they faced in the 2nd half of the year. But it was still a massive improvement. Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox in particular have been very impressive.
Slay held WRs he covered to under 30 yards a game this year. He also became the Eagles first pro bowl corner since Asante Samuel in 2010. In single coverage, he allowed a passer rating of 19.7. The lowest in the league. And Maddox has been equally impressive. He wont get the accolades Slay has gotten so far, but his tape shows he has been great in the slot. That showed when he came up with multiple big plays in the Washington win that eventually cinched the playoffs for them. Maddox is 2nd among all cornerbacks with just 7.3 yards per reception allowed.
Avonte Maddox among CBs in 2021:— Thomas R. Petersen (@thomasrp93) January 7, 2022
- Yards/rec allowed: 7.3 (2nd best)
- Defensive stops: 26 (4th best)
- Tackle grade: 86.5 (2nd best)
- Coverage grade: 76.2 (12th)
What a year he is having!#Eagles pic.twitter.com/EclI7ozXSM
Slay remains under contract through the 2023 season, and Maddox’s recent extension keeps him here through the 2024 season. That is two cornerback spots that they have locked in for a least couple more seasons. The problem is when you get past those two.
What Doesn’t Work
There are no certainties on this roster at CB outside Slay and Maddox. One outside corner and a corner who only sees the field in nickel formation is not good enough. We saw that when they have played good QBs who pick this teams zone defense apart for absurdly high completion rates. Opposing teams complete 69.98% of their passes against him. That is the 3rd worst in the league. Only the Jets and Jaguars are worse.
Steven Nelson has been mediocre at best, and is on an expiring contract and probably won’t be back. After him, they have a 4th round rookie Zech McPhearson. While Zech has shown flashes, he has also barley played and is not likely ready to step in as the starting corner across from Slay taking 60 snaps a game. And they have nothing behind Zech. This team was a Slay injury away from having no reliable outside cornerbacks all season. Imagine a cornerback duo of Nelson and McPhearson if Slay for whatever reason could not play. Luckily he stayed healthy. But relying on luck is not a long term success plan.
A third reliable guy could take this defense from middle of the road, to perhaps being great. So how do they find a third good cornerback?
This should not be a hard problem to fix. To start they have 3 first round picks in what is seen as a great year to need cornerbacks. We could be looking at 5 or 6 cornerbacks that can go in the first round. Its unlikely the likes of Andrew Booth Jr and Derek Stingley will still be there. it would certainly be nice if they did, but even if they don’t there are many good options still.. You have Roger McCreary out of Auburn, Kaiir Elam out of Florida, Ahmad Gardener from Cincinnati, and Trent McDuffie from Washington. I will get into all these names throughout the off season leading up to the draft, but all of them are potential targets for the Eagles.
Now of course just taking one of those names is no guarantee they fix the problem. of all the positions, corners are the 5th most likely to be a bust out of the first round. We usually see 1 or 2 every year. A corner with hype, that just never figures it out in the NFL. Its a tricky position to evaluate because it can depend so much on scheme. Even moving team to team a great corner can suddenly look like a dud. But if it does hit, and you have a top corner for 4 years on a low paying contract, it has the chance to really help your team.
There is of course also free agency and trades if they would rather bring in a veteran. I personally prefer if they add a rookie who they would have on a team friendly deal, but its not out of the question they instead add a veteran. Names like Stephen Gilmore, Darious Williams, J.C. Jackson, and Donte Jackson will be out there if that is the direction they choose.
Regardless of how they address this need, its one they need to fix. Darius Slay alone is not enough on the outside, and he is getting older as well. Avonte Maddox is great at Nickel, but we saw how him on the outside went last year, Its imperative they find a dependable if not great CB2 to groom behind Slay, and eventually take over at CB1. With it being a good year to target a CB in the draft, that should be their plan. Obviously don’t reach just to fill the need, but with there being so many good names coming out of college, it should not be an issue. They missed out on a Corner in the draft last year. they cannot afford to do so again.