Arguably the biggest concern facing the Eagles as the 2021 season approaches is the cornerback position. I, like many other fans, have been banging the table for any kind of notable addition to the group. But alas, the most noteworthy cornerback acquisition this offseason has been selecting Zech McPhearson in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.
Outside of Darius Slay, the team doesn’t have much NFL talent in their cornerback room. Avonte Maddox is one of the veterans of the crew, and his long-term future with the team is up in the air. Michael Jacquet, Craig James, Josiah Scott, Grayland Arnold, and Nate Meadors are all complete unknowns at this point. Aside from Slay and Maddox, the rest of the Eagles corners have a whopping four NFL starts combined.
The front office still has the opportunity to add a veteran corner like Steven Nelson, but that likely won’t happen until Zach Ertz is gone — which could happen any day now.
So with all that being said, let’s get into another edition of an Eagles Position Profile.
When Darius Slay arrived in Philly last offseason, he was coming off three straight Pro Bowl selections and an All-Pro nod in 2017. His first year as an Eagle was up and down to say the least.
In 14 starts, Slay allowed a completion percentage of 76.7% when targeted, a passer rating of 111.9, while recording just one interception and six pass defensed, both of which were the lowest marks of his career since his rookie season. But with a new defensive coaching staff around him, and a scheme that will allow him to play a bit more aggressively, Slay should have a rebound year.
During his time in Detroit, Slay ranked second in the league in forced incompletions (75), because he was allowed to jump routes more often and get in the receiver’s face at the line of scrimmage. In Jim Schwartz’s defense, Slay rarely had help over the top, meaning he had to be a bit more careful when playing the ball.
At 30 years old, Slay’s best days are likely behind him, but he still has enough in the tank to be a serviceable outside corner in this league. It may not be ideal to rely on him to cover the opposing team’s top receiving threat on every down, but given the Eagles circumstances at the position, they really have no other choice.
Pretty much everything else aside from Darius Slay is ‘The Bad.’
Maddox was the worst coverage corner in football last season, posting a Pro Football Focus grade of 37.8. Moving him to the nickel should help a bit, but we still don’t know what he can do from that position since he hasn’t played it since his rookie season.
Then you have Zech McPhearson, the Eagles fourth round pick from this year’s draft. I like what he brings to the field, but starting him from day one on the outside just isn’t ideal. And like I said earlier, the depth behind Maddox and Slay have very limited NFL experience.
From what reporters gathered during OTAs, Michael Jacquet was seen lining up with the first team in drills. That probably doesn’t mean anything, but out of all the names on the Eagles cornerback depth chart, he may be the best option to start opposite of Slay.
Jacquet’s overall stats from last season aren’t great — 71.4 completion percentage and 137.5 pass rating when targeted, while allowing two touchdowns in just two starts. But he did have some moments where he looked like a competent corner.
Against Arizona in Week 15, Jacquet played every defensive snap for the Eagles and totaled one sack, seven combined tackles, one forced fumble, and two pass defensed. He still wasn’t great in coverage in that game, allowing eight completions on 10 attempts for over 100 yards, but at least he made some sort of positive impact. Which is more than you can say about every other corner on the roster not named Slay.
The Eagles have a real issue at cornerback, and even with a guy like Gannon running the show, his coaching ability alone probably won’t be able to turn this group around. They’re just devoid of any talent. And frankly, they’ve been devoid of talent at the cornerback position for essentially the entire past decade.
I don’t know when it will get fixed, I just hope it does soon. For my own sanity.
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