A lot has been made about the new duo of corners the Eagles will have on the outside entering the 2022 season. And rightfully so. For the first time in a long time, fans should feel confident about the team’s starting cornerback tandem.
The Eagles starting nickel, Avonte Maddox, has gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle. After a few abysmal years playing out of position, Jonathan Gannon finally moved Maddox into his natural position in the slot and the 26-year-old corner flourished.
Maddox put forth arguably his best coverage season to date, allowing an average of just 7.4 yards per completion and 1 touchdown, while also hauling in an interception.
He graded pretty well with Pro Football Focus as well, earning an overall defensive grade of 71.0, ranking him 23rd among 116 qualifying corners. His 73.5 coverage grade ranked 20th.
Maddox did so well by PFF’s standards last season that they consider him a top-10 slot corner in the league. In their recent slot corners ranking, Maddox came in at ninth. Their reasoning:
Maddox has played just about everywhere in the secondary in his four-year Eagles career. He went from free safety and outside corner in 2018 to the slot in 2019, then back to the outside for 2020. He didn’t enjoy much success, as he earned single-season PFF grades below 60.0 each year.
In 2021, as Maddox moved back to the nickel spot full-time, things were different, as his 76.1 coverage grade was top-five at the position. The Pitt product is an effective tackler who consistently breaks downhill and snuffs out plays underneath — his 17 passing stops in the slot tied for the most in the NFL last season.Treash: 2022 NFL slot cornerback rankings
When the Eagles brought in Gannon to be their defensive coordinator last season, he was heralded as a cornerback whisperer. His two-high zone concepts allowed his corners to play more freely, leading to more turnovers and less big plays over the top.
Maddox wasn’t the only one who benefitted from this scheme shift. Darius Slay had one of his best seasons to date, recording 3 interceptions while allowing a completion percentage of 61% and a passer rating of 76.2 when targeted.
James Bradberry should see a similar production bump now that he’s in town. He had a bit of a down year in 2021, but he’s only two years removed from a Pro Bowl campaign and should have more success as the Eagles No. 2 corner as opposed to being the top guy.
As PFF points out in their piece, slot corner is one of the most undervalued positions in the NFL. It’s very obvious when a defense doesn’t have anyone who can adequately fill that role, and it typically gets overlooked when the nickel is playing well. It’s a thankless job.
Luckily for the Eagles, they’ll have their nickel corner locked up for the next three years after they handed Maddox a three-year extension during the 2021 season.
We have real corners playing in our secondary, folks. For that, we rejoice.
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