Ninth of a 10-part series.
One year ago, uncertainty reigned for the Philadelphia Eagles at the cornerback position.
Yes, they had just drafted two cornerbacks, including one that was widely considered the best in the draft, Sidney Jones. But Jones likely was not going to play in 2017 coming off an Achilles tendon injury that knocked him out of the first round, making him available in the second.
Rasul Douglas was added in the third round, but none of the starters, much less the important nickel position, had been determined.
Flashing forward to the present, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty, but not a whole lot of doubt. Jalen Mills heads into his third season as a dependable playmaker. Ronald Darby, acquired during training camp last year, returns too. Douglas proved himself by stepping in while Darby was injured, and now is a candidate to replace the departed Patrick Robinson as their slot corner — unless Mills or Avonte Maddox, a fourth-round draft pick this year, claim it.
In this ninth installment of a series examining the Eagles’ roster depth at each position group, it’s important to note how the team turned a position of weakness into a strength so quickly.
Now, even after deciding to cut Daryl Worley, acquired in an offseason trade with Carolina, within hours after he was arrested in Philadelphia, they’re widely considered to still have a surplus at cornerback. Both of their starting safeties, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, also return.
In short, they’re deep at defensive back, just like with every other position group in what they believe will be a golden era for this franchise, coming off its first NFL title since 1960.
Robinson led the team with four interceptions last season. McLeod, Mills and Darby, who was limited to eight games, had three each.
The two biggest questions now are who will fill Robinson’s spot and who will step up to take the role of the third safety, played more than competently last season by Corey Graham, who nevertheless was not re-signed when his contract expired.
Mills probably is their most versatile player and could be viewed as a candidate for both spots, especially now that Jones is fully healed and a top candidate to take over as a starter outside, opposite Darby. The “Green Goblin” could move to safety someday, but projects now as the best fit for nickel back.
The Eagles also added some interesting undrafted free agents in corners Chandon Sullivan and Jordan Thomas and safeties Jeremy Reaves, Stephen Roberts, Asantay Brown and Ryan Neal.
There will be an opening or two, for sure, at safety, and Reaves might be best suited to take advantage. He’s a big hitter despite a relatively small frame (5-11, 190). At South Aabama, he was a first-team All-Sun Belt selection and league’s defensive player of the year in 2017. The Eagles threw a little extra guaranteed money at him as a result.
With rookie camp beginning on Friday, we should have a better idea of how these newcomers might fit in during OTAs and training camp by the end of the weekend.
Expect some epic roster battles too, keeping in mind that Robinson was so shaky last summer that he didn’t appear to be a lock to make the team for the longest time.
He not only did but played a huge role in their success.
How they handle this realignment will likely be a trial-and-error process. But a fun one.
EAGLES SECONDARY DEPTH
Cornerbacks: *Ronald Darby, *Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, De'Vante Bausby, D.J. Killings, Randall Goforth, Chandon Sullivan, Jordan Thomas
Safeties: *Malcolm Jenkins, *Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Tre Sullivan, Jeremy Reaves, Stephen Roberts, Asantay Brown, Ryan Neal
*Denotes returning starter