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February 13, 2017

Eagles need long-term, home-grown stability at cornerback

When Carson Wentz took snaps against the Cleveland Browns to kick off the 2016 regular season, he became the sixth Eagles quarterback to start Week 1 since 2009, and the fourth in as many years:

Year Week 1 starting QB 
2009Donovan McNabb 
 2010Kevin Kolb 
 2011Michael Vick 
 2012Michael Vick 
 2013Michael Vick 
 2014Nick Foles 
 2015Sam Bradford 
 2016Carson Wentz 

During that span, only one NFL team started more quarterbacks on Week 1. That would be the aforementioned Browns, the NFL's doormat. Last offseason, the Eagles' clear No. 1 priority was to find long-term stability at the quarterback position, and after a promising rookie season from Wentz, it appears they may have done that.

This offseason, they would be wise to find long-term answers at cornerback, a position that has been even less stable than quarterback for the Eagles. As we noted after the Eagles released CB Leodis McKelvin, the Birds will have their ninth different starting cornerback combination in 11 years:

Eagles Week 1 starting cornersCB1CB2
2017 ??? ??? 
2016Leodis McKelvinNolan Carroll
2015Byron MaxwellNolan Carroll
2014Cary WilliamsBradley Fletcher
2013Cary WilliamsBradley Fletcher
2012Nnamdi AsomughaDominique Rodgers-Cromartie
2011Nnamdi AsomughaAsante Samuel
2010Asante SamuelEllis Hobbs
2009Asante SamuelSheldon Brown
2008Asante SamuelSheldon Brown
2007Lito SheppardSheldon Brown

They are also likely to have two new starting corners from one year to the next for the third time in five years, assuming Nolan Carroll is not a Week 1 starter (or even with the team at all) in 2017.

Since 2013, the Eagles have finished 32nd, 31st, 28th, and 13th in pass defense. While Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense did not do the Eagles' pass D any favors, the eye test has shown that the Eagles' cornerbacks over the last half-decade have, you know, stunk.

Their downfall has largely been due to bad free agent signings and ineffective drafting. In the chart above, McKelvin, Carroll, Maxwell, Williams, Fletcher, Asomugha, and Hobbs were all free agent busts.

As for the draft, as we've shown previously, ever since 2002, when they surprisingly took Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis, and Sheldon Brown with their first three draft picks when they already had Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor still on their roster, the Eagles have drafted 25 defensive backs. Those 25 draft picks were, uh, not so productive. The full list:

YearPlayerRoundOverallYears as regular starter with Eagles
2016Blake Countess61960
2016Jalen Mills72330
2015Eric Rowe2470
2015JaCorey Shepherd61910
2015Randall Evans61960
2014Jaylen Watkins41010
2014Ed Reynolds51620
2013Earl Wolff51360
2013Jordan Poyer72180
2012Brandon Boykin41230
2011Jaiquawn Jarrett2540
2011Curtis Marsh3900
2010Nate Allen2375
2010Trevard Lindley41050
2010Kurt Coleman72442
2009Macho Harris51570
2008Quintin Demps41170
2008Jack Ikegwuonu41310
2007C.J. Gaddis51590
2007Rashad Barksdale62010
2005Sean Considine41022
2004Matt Ware3890
2004J.R. Reed41290
2004Dexter Wynn61920
2003Norman LeJeune72440

By my count, the Eagles have gotten nine combined seasons, all from safeties, in which those players were clear, regular starters on the Eagles' defense. If you want to include slot corner as a starter, then go ahead an add three more for Brandon Boykin, and maybe one for Jalen Mills. Otherwise... None from cornerback.

The point here is that the Eagles haven't found a home-grown, long-term quality defensive back in the draft in almost 15 years, and as the chart above shows, they sure have tried, just not in the first round.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah recently updated his top 50 prospect list, which includes a whopping 10 corners:

  1. Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State (3rd overall)
  2. Sidney Jones, Washington (14th)
  3. Tre'Davious White, LSU (19th)
  4. Teez Tabor, Florida (20th)
  5. Quincy Wilson (22nd)
  6. Gareon Conley, Ohio State (29th)
  7. Marlon Humphrey (36th)
  8. Adoree' Jackson, USC (37th)
  9. Fabian Moreau, UCLA (47th)
  10. Jourdan Lewis, Michigan (48th)

CBS Sports, meanwhile, currently lists 20 corners with at least a fourth-round grade in this draft. It's very deep, and very talented.

While the Eagles should absolutely draft the "best player available," there's a good chance that the best player available on their board if often going to be a corner when they're on the clock, or at least close enough to being the best player available.

The Eagles have a golden opportunity to fix their two most unstable positions on the roster in consecutive years with young talent. It would behoove them not to mess it up again.

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