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April 18, 2018

Eagles 2018 NFL Draft preview: Cornerback

Eagles NFL
041818MikeHughes Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

Mike Hughes could potentially fill three need ares for the Eagles.

Leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we'll be taking a look at each of the Philadelphia Eagles' positional groups. We'll determine if the Eagles are likely to select a player at that position with one of their six picks, as well as note some players who make sense. Today we'll look at cornerback.


Previous draft preview positional analysis

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end
Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line | Defensive end | Defensive tackle
Linebacker


Cornerback is one of the most intriguing positions the Eagles could address in the 2018 NFL Draft, as there are all kinds of possibilities.

Even after the release of Daryl Worley, the Eagles are loaded with outside corners, in Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, and Rasul Douglas. None of the Eagles' corners have extensive experience playing the slot in the NFL, though the team thinks that Mills can handle those responsibilities if need be.

Still, it seems fairly clear that if the Eagles were to add a corner in the draft, that he would project to the slot in the NFL, unless of course they trade Darby, in which case any and all corners will be considered.

Here are five cornerbacks who make sense for the Eagles: 

Mike Hughes, CB, UCF (5'10, 189)

Hughes was an excellent returner in 2017, as he had a whopping 16.6-yard average (and 1 TD) on 14 punt returns, and a 31.8-yard average (and 2 TDs) on 20 kick returns.

Oh, and he's also a really good cornerback. In 2017, he had 49 tackles, 4 INTs (one of which was a pick-6), and 11 pass breakups.

Here's a highlight reel. Watch his explosion on the kick return at the 0:59 mark:


Hughes is a tough player who can play inside and stick with shifty slot receivers. He would potentially fill three needs -- slot corner, kick returner, and punt returner.

Hughes does have character concerns. He enrolled at North Carolina in 2015 as a four-star recruit, but left UNC after he was charged with one count of misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury. He played one year at Garden City Community College, where he dominated, before transferring to UCF.

In addition to bringing him in for a visit, the Eagles will also almost certainly ask receiver (and former UNC player) Mack Hollins and former UNC receivers coach Gunter Brewer for their opinions of Hughes. If all checks out, Hughes would absolutely make sense in the first round.

Round Projection: 1-2

Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville (5'10, 196)

Alexander is a sticky cover corner who can play both on the outside and in the slot. In 2016, he had 5 INTs, 9 additional pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. In 2017, his stock may have dipped a bit when he struggled through a sprained knee and other injuries.

While a bit undersized, Alexander has very good athletic measurables, including a 4.38 40 time.

A highlight reel: 


Alexander would be an instant fit in the slot for the Eagles, as well as a capable punt returner.

Round projection: 1-2

Donte Jackson, CB, LSU (5'11, 178)

First, let's just take a moment to recognize the sheer number of defensive backs that come out of LSU. This is ridiculous:

Year Player Team Round Overall
2017 Jamal Adams Jets 1 6
2017 Tre'Davious White Bills 1 27
2016 Rashard Robinson 49ers 4 133
2016 Jalen Mills Eagles 7 233
2015 Jalen Collins Falcons 2 42
2013 Eric Reid 49ers 1 18
2013 Tyrann Mathieu Cardinals 3 69
2013 Tharold Simon Seahawks 5 138
2012 Morris Claiborne Cowboys 1 6
2012 Brandon Taylor Chargers 3 73
2012 Ron Brooks Bills 4 124
2011 Patrick Peterson Cardinals 1 5

That would be 12 defensive backs drafted in the last seven years, eight in the first two days of the draft, five in the first round, and three in the top 10.

Jackson is the latest, a track star who ran a 4.32 40 at the 2018 NFL Combine. He has outstanding athleticism, but is undersized at 178 pounds. 

A highlight reel:


In the NFL, Jackson projects to the slot. Are you noticing a theme here yet?

Round projection: 1-2

Jordan Thomas, CB, Oklahoma (6'0, 186)

Thomas had a very weird combine. On the one hand, he put up a pathetic four reps on the bench press, and he ran an awful 4.64 40, which will unquestionably scare off a number of teams. 

On the other hand, he shattered the record for the best 3-cone drill in NFL Combine history. A look at his spider chart:

Way back in August 2016, ESPN's Todd McShay had Thomas as his No. 1 rated cornerback.

Thomas tracks the ball well and routinely comes down with 50-50 balls. He finished last season with five interceptions -- one of which was returned for a touchdown. He projects as an early-round pick because of his combination of size (6-foot, 192 pounds), athletic ability and instincts. But Thomas' off-field decision making -- two suspensions in 2015 and an arrest -- deserves attention from teams.

That off-field decision-making includes two different suspensions, as well as an arrest for failing to appear in court after receiving a speeding ticket for driving 94 MPH. He was also arrested in June on charges of "assault and battery, public intoxication and interference with official process." The Eagles have shown that they are willing to add character-concern players since the departure of Chip Kelly.

On the field, Thomas wasn't nearly as good in 2016 and 2017 as he was in 2015. CFB Film Room had him down for seven touchdowns allowed in each of the last two seasons, with just three interceptions. That's very bad, clearly, and it's why he could be available in the seventh round.

Still, Thomas has good size and talent. His short-area quickness could be an asset in the slot in the NFL.

Round projection: 7

Tremon Smith, CB/PR, Central Arkansas (5'11, 186)

Smith is a very off-the-radar player, who was not invited to the NFL Combine, and is the 54th ranked CB at NFLDraftScout.com. In 2017, Smith had 5 interceptions, and was Central Arkansas' primary punt returner. Here's a bad angle highlight reel:


In the past, the Eagles have brought players in for visits, built relationships with them, and as a result were able to sign them as undrafted free agents. That could be the Eagles' strategy here.

Smith would make sense as a developmental prospect at slot corner and punt returner.

Round projection: 7-UDFA


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