April 25, 2017
When the Philadelphia Eagles moved on from starting cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll this offseason, that left 2016 seventh-round pick Jalen Mills (temporarily, at least) as the team's top corner.
In his rookie season, Mills took on a more extensive role than expected, playing 663 (64.8 percent) of the team's defensive snaps. He contributed 61 tackles and seven pass breakups, but did not have any interceptions or forced fumbles. Veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins believes Mills can become a star corner.
"I know we have a lot of faith in Jalen Mills, and I'm excited to watch him really mature into a star cornerback because I think he's going to have a breakout season," said Jenkins to reporters on Monday.
Mills came into the NFL fearless, after having faced at least 20 receivers drafted into the NFL while playing at LSU, in addition to covering guys like Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry every day in practice. In his rookie season, Mills' feet were put to the fire early and often, facing 10 receivers with at least 1000 receiving yards in 2016.
He was an obvious target of opposing passing games, and while he mostly struggled, his confidence never wavered, as he led the league in finger wags (probably). It was Mills' confidence that appealed to Jim Schwartz, who was rarely shy about offering up praise for Mills' competitive mindset. He was especially complimentary of Mills last year after a win over the Atlanta Falcons, in which Mills shadowed star receiver Julio Jones during the second half of the game after the Eagles suffered some injuries at corner.
"There haven't been very many situations that have been too big for him, including this last game," said Schwartz during the week after the win. "If you were watching, we actually flipped sides with him for Julio Jones. I don't want to talk about May, but if you told me in May we'd take a seventh-round draft pick and be flipping sides with Julio Jones, but some of it had to do with Jalen, some of it had to do with where the health of our other corners were.
"But I'll go back. When I talked about the competitiveness of our corners, in large part I was talking about Jalen. And when we were trying to manage our injury position at corner and at halftime we decided that we wanted to get him on, there was no hesitation. There was no, ‘Well, I don't know, that guy is really good,’ or what coverages are you going to call. It was, ‘I've got him.’ Like I said, he didn't always make the play, but that's not what this league is about. You can't pitch a shutout to every wide receiver, particularly a guy like that, that is, if not the best, one of the best, wide receivers in the NFL with a hot quarterback."
Mills does not have ideal long speed to cover fast receivers on the outside in the NFL, which will always be a hindrance. Still, his confidence and aggressiveness are indeed desirable traits, and it's reasonable to assume that Mills will progress as a player in his second year in the league.
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