Cornerback has been one of the biggest weaknesses for the Philadelphia Eagles in recent memory. Even when they won the Super Bowl back in 2017, cornerback was still a glaring weakness and almost cost them the Super Bowl win over Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Nevertheless, the Eagles cornerback group took a major step forward last season. Jonathan Gannon’s unit allowed 3,756 passing yards on the season, 11th-best in the NFL. That’s the highest the Eagles’ pass defense has ranked since 2012 when they finished ninth.
With the addition of James Bradberry, the Eagles cornerback position is primed to take another step forward in 2022. Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the group along with the depth behind the starting trio.
The Main Trio: Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and Avonte Maddox
Slay finished the season with a Pro Football Focus defensive grade of 81.0 (4th out of 116 CBs) and a coverage grade of 84.5 (3rd out of 115 CBs). Both were career-high marks for Slay. He tallied three interceptions on the season and managed to score three touchdowns, another career-high for the Pro Bowler. In coverage, Slay allowed a completion percentage of 58.8 and a passer rating of 74.4 when targeted. Huge improvements from the year prior, where he allowed a completion percentage of 76.7 and a passer rating of 111.9.
Maddox had a true breakout season in 2021. He was finally playing from his natural position in the nickel and his production skyrocketed. On the year, Maddox allowed just 7.4 yards per completion 5.6 yards per target, both career-highs. In coverage, he surrendered a completion percentage of 75.7 and a passer rating of 87.2, but he only gave up one touchdown on the year.
Like Slay, PFF gave glowing reviews of Maddox’s play in 2021. His 76.1 coverage grade was top-five at the nickel position. Maddox also proved to be a solid tackler from the slot, racking up 17 passing stops on the year, tied for most at the position, per PFF.
The newest addition to the group, Bradberry, had a bit of a down season in 2021, but he’s still a proven commodity and an improvement over the Eagles CB2 from last season, Steven Nelson. Even though 2021 was considered a down year for Bradberry, he still put up some solid numbers. He recorded four interceptions on the year, a career-high. He allowed a completion percentage of 61.7 and a passer rating of 93.0 when targeted.
Bradberry and Slay should form one of the best CB duos in the entire league.
It’s important to remember that Bradberry was the CB1 during his time with New York. He earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2020 in that role and naturally took a bit of a step back last year — though his regression isn’t as profound as some would lead you to believe.
It goes without saying that this trio of corners is the best group the Eagles have had at corner in quite some time. Playing in Gannon’s corner-friendly defensive system, all three corners should continue to produce at a high level in 2022.
Depth behind the starters
If there’s any question marks within the Eagles cornerback group, it’s with the depth. Over the past year or so, Howie Roseman has accumulated a lot of young corners with the hope that at least one of them sticks. Acquiring Bradberry will allow this young corps to continue developing.
The primary backups will likely be Zech McPhearson and Tay Gowan, two players entering their second years in the NFL. Of the two, McPhearson had a little more exposure, logging 179 defensive snaps as a rookie.
Most of those snaps came in garbage time, but he did see some serious action against the Chargers in Week 9. With Slay sidelined for a few series, McPhearson filled in for 24 plays. On those plays, McPhearson posted a PFF defensive grade of 76.9 with a coverage grade of 75.6. He also recorded five tackles along with surrendering one reception for three yards. Not too shabby for a rookie, especially when you consider the offense he was facing with the likes of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
McPhearson’s performance against LA was promising, but it’s impossible to draw any grand conclusions from 24 snaps.
Gowan saw even less playing time as a rookie, finishing the year with just 44 total defensive snaps. I could run through the stats he produced during those snaps, but it’s not even worth it. He certainly has potential — he was one of my favorite corners coming out of the draft in 2021. But nevertheless, we just haven’t seen enough of him yet. He’ll be a name to watch closely during training camp this year.
Some of the other names populating the Eagles cornerback room are: Jimmy Moreland, Mac McCain, Josh Jobe, Mario Goodrich, Kary Vincent Jr., and Josiah Scott. Watching the cornerback depth duke it out during camp should be fun. It’ll be interesting to see which ones end up making the final cut.
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