Ever since Jalen Mills was drafted by the Eagles back in 2016, a move to safety always felt like an inevitability. He finished his LSU career as a safety, and while he switched back to corner for Senior Bowl practices, his position on an NFL roster was still to be determined.
Once he was drafted in the seventh round by the Birds, we was placed at corner and never looked back. He’s has some memorable moments at corner, like his game ending pass breakup to seal a win against the Atlanta Falcons in the wildcard round of 2017-’18, or his pick-six against the San Francisco 49ers earlier that season. But for the most part, his career as an Eagle has been inconsistent, and at times infuriating.
While he has good size of a corner, he’s always lacked speed, and it’s hurt him more often than not in coverage.
With the departure of Malcolm Jenkins, the subsequent announcement of Mills’ move to safety wasn’t surprising. He figures to fill the hybrid role that Jenkins played for so many years in Philly.
Mills’ physicality should bode well for him in his new role, as well as the ball skills he’s developed as corner. He’s no ball hawk, but playing corner for four years in the NFL gives you a certain level of competence in pass coverage.
If there’s one game film to examine when trying to project what Mills may look like in this hybrid position, it’s last year’s game against the New England Patriots. He played all 74 defensive snaps during that game and played five different positions throughout.
Here’s Pro Football Focus‘s breakdown of the percentage of snaps played at each position:
|Position||Number of snaps||Percentage of total snaps played|
|In the box||13||18%|
|At the line||4||5%|
This was the first game of Mills’ career that he played this many positions before, and he transitioned pretty well for this one outing. He received his highest PFF grade of the season with a 77.3 overall score.
Now, it was only one game, and the Patriots didn’t have the chance to game plan for it because it was a new wrinkle Jim Schwartz was implementing, but this should still encourage Eagles fans about what Mills can do at a different position.
Jenkins, who was also originally drafted as a corner, gave Mills some praise and a vote of confidence when he spoke to reporters for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I think Jalen is a competitor first,” Jenkins said to The Inquirer via text. “So wherever he is on the field I know he’s going to compete. He’s a smart player who studies the game and I believe he’ll learn this new role quickly. Similar to me, I think when injuries inevitably hit the secondary, he will be the guy they can put anywhere, and he’ll do well. I’m sure you’ll see him at corner at some point during the season. I told him what the old vets used to tell me, ‘The more you can do, the harder it is for them to get rid of you!'”
Only time will tell if this transition to safety ends up being the right move in the long run. But one thing’s for certain, Mills will do much better in this new hybrid role than he ever did playing corner.