Of all the holes remaining on the Eagles roster, cornerback appears to be one of the most glaring.
Darius Slay is coming off a Pro Bowl year as the team’s top corner and Avonte Maddox had a resurgent year playing in the nickel. Steven Nelson, the CB2 in 2021, is currently a free agent, leaving a clear vacancy in the defensive backfield.
Most fans, including myself, expect Howie Roseman to add a competent veteran to play the role of CB2, or potentially use one of their three first-round picks at the position. But it appears the team has a lot of confidence in their in-house options. Over the past calendar year, the Eagles have added five corners to their roster, all of whom are 24 years old or younger: Zech McPhearson, Tay Gowan, Kary Vincent Jr., Mac McCain, and Josiah Scott.
During the NFL owners meeting down in Florida, Nick Sirianni was asked about the cornerback position and he voice his confidence in the young players at their disposal.
Those guys have a great opportunity this year and we believe in those guys. We believe in the skillsets that they have, we believe in the competitiveness, the toughness, the character, the football IQ, the love of football that those guys have. I’m really excited to see how that plays out. …
There’s four young guys, and we obviously have two great veterans there with Avonte (Maddox) and with (Darius) Slay, and then we have four young guys that are vying for a position. What a battle that’s going to be this year to be able to see who steps up and takes the position. I’m excited for those guys.”
Regardless of Sirianni’s confidence in their crop of young corners, there’s still a solid chance Howie opts to add a veteran stop-gap. It’s important to note that the CB2 position remained vacant last offseason until July 25, when the team finally acquired Nelson. So, the Eagles could wait until after OTAs and minicamp before deciding whether to bring in a veteran or not. That’ll give them some time to really gauge how much their young corners have developed over the offseason.
If this is the direction the team goes, which of the young corners is the front-runner for the competition? Let’s take a look at each and breakdown their chances to win the starting job in 2022.
Drafted by Eagles in the fourth-round (123rd overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft
Despite only playing a total 179 defensive snaps during his rookie campaign, Zech McPhearson has the most NFL exposure of any of the cornerbacks we’re going to talk about. He only started in one game, the meaningless Week 18 contest against the Dallas Cowboys, where he actually went against Dallas’ starters for the majority of the game.
During that contest, McPhearson only saw two targets come his way. He allowed one of them to be caught for 31 yards. On the season, McPhearson saw 17 total targets in coverage and he allowed a completion percentage of 53.9% along with a passer rating of 69.7. Although that’s a very small sample size, the former fourth-round pick did have some notable moments.
In his first real action of the season against the Los Angeles Chargers, he was inserted into the lineup once Slay went down with an injury. He ended up playing 24 snaps during that game and put up some pretty solid numbers. Per Pro Football Focus, McPhearson posted a coverage grade of 75.6, a run defense grade of 68.6, and a tackling grade of 78.9, which all equated to an overall grade of 76.9 for the game. He was targeted just twice and allowed one reception for three yards.
On one hand, you’d like to see him get some more targets his way to gauge his ball skills, but it’s also pretty refreshing to see a young corner get inserted into a game and not immediately get toasted over the top. While he didn’t have many flashy moments during his rookie campaign, he also didn’t have any ‘oh shit’ moments where he was left in the dust by a receiver.
McPhearson is probably the most well equipped to step up and start in 2022, but that’s not really saying that much given his competition. Adding a veteran to give McPhearson another year of development would be ideal, even though I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of his limited playing time.
Acquired through Zach Ertz trade to Arizona
Tay Gowan was one of my favorite prospects entering the draft last season. He’s an undoubtedly raw player, but he brings some great physical gifts to the table and he had numerous standout moments during his collegiate career.
He spent time at the JUCO level before transferring to UCF, so he only had 13 FBS games under his belt heading into the draft. Nevertheless, he showed real potential in those 13 games. In 2019, Gowan was one of the best coverage corners in the nation. In single coverage, he allowed a passer rating of just 26.2, good for second-best in all of college football. On top of that, he allowed a completion percentage of 40 while giving up two touchdowns and snagging two interceptions. Not to mention he only allowed 12 first downs during his 13-game career at UCF.
The college numbers are great, but unfortunately, Gowan didn’t get much playing time at all when he joined the Eagles. He saw a total of just 44 defensive snaps and was targeted just two times.
While I love all the physical talent, it’s hard to justify starting him in 2022. He’s a raw player who needs some more development time before reaching his full potential. The team has something in Gowan, but it’ll need to wait.
Signed off the Denver Broncos practice squad on Sept. 7, 2021
There really isn’t much to say about Mac McCain. He only saw 11 defensive snaps last year, the least of any cornerback mentioned in this article.
He’s more of a special teams body. Being an undrafted free agent, sometimes that’s all you’ll amount to be. There’s no shame in it. McCain will be fine in that role, but as the CB2, I don’t see it.
Acquired via trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars in May, 2021
Josiah Scott saw some playing time in 2022, primarily as a nickel corner whenever Maddox got nicked up. He’s a nickel corner by trade and I don’t imagine the Eagles envision him as a starter on the outside. When Sirianni discussed the possible cornerback competition during his press conference, he mentioned all of the corners on the roster by name, except for Scott.
Scott is undersized for an outside role, standing at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. He’s a fine backup to have behind Maddox, and it appears that’s all he’ll be in Philly.
Kary Vincent Jr.
Acquired via trade from the Denver Broncos in Nov., 2021
Similarly to Scott, Kary Vincent is primarily a nickel corner. Standing at 5-foot-10, 184 pounds, that’s his ideal role in the NFL. It was also his primary position during his collegiate career at LSU, where he did a fine job manning up with SEC slot receivers.
Vincent was a key cog during LSU’s championship run in 2019, recording four interceptions and allowing a completion percentage of 54 and a passer rating of 68.0 when targeted. He has potential as a nickel in the NFL, but he won’t be a serious contender for the CB2 spot next year.