During the offseason, we're taking a look at a handful of players who are either new to the Philadelphia Eagles, or are already with the team but we perhaps don't know a lot about them just yet.
Today we'll look at Jalen Mills, who we all know very well, but who is taking on a new role at safety in 2020.
Previous "Eagles new player series" breakdowns
Matt Pryor | Genard Avery | Jatavis Brown | Andre Dillard
T.J. Edwards | Marquise Goodwin | Darius Slay | Avonte Maddox
After the team released Malcolm Jenkins and signed Mills to a one-year deal, Howie Roseman indicated that Mills would be taking over some version of Jenkins' role in the defense.
"Bringing him back was important for us," Roseman said. "We feel like Jalen is a positionless player. He can really play down in the box, he can cover tight ends, he can cover slot receivers, he can play out wide, he’s got range, he’s played the position before. When we scouted him, he played the safety position against Alabama in a huge game for LSU, so we’ve seen him do that. His versatility, his mentality, is something we wanted to keep on the defensive side of the ball."
Mills noted that he did everything Roseman said above in the Eagles' game against the Patri*ts last season, and so for this exercise I took a look at that game. Mills mostly played outside corner against the Pats, but he did play some at linebacker, slot corner, and dime linebacker.
In limited action at those other spots, he showed the ability to easily handle coverage responsibilities on running backs and tight ends. Also, because the Eagles were playing the Pats, I remembered that Mills drew some responsibility on Rob Gronkowski in the Super Bowl, so just out of curiosity, I went back and took at how that went, and was pleasantly surprised. Video in the Twitter thread below:
• Mills' Achilles heel at outside corner was his long speed. He ran a 4.61 at the Combine, and that showed up on game day, as he would often get beaten for big plays down the field. However, his athletic measurables show that while he's not a sprinter, he does have some quickness in shorter areas. Note his above average times in the 20-yard shuttle and the 3-cone drill among defensive backs:
Those numbers translate to the slot, where Mills has been effective at times when asked to play there in his NFL career. As a safety, there will be times that Mills will afford Jim Schwartz the ability to keep his base defense on the field in short down/distances against 3-WR sets, with Mills being counted on to cover the slot.
• Mills is a physical corner, who has excelled in the red zone. Covering bigger receivers on the outside when opposing defenses get in close has never been a big concern, and he should do well covering tight ends, as he showed in the thread above covering Gronk in the Super Bowl.
The Eagles are going to face some good tight ends next season in George Kittle, Evan Engram, Mark Andrews, Austin Hooper, Jared Cook, Tyler Higbee, Greg Olsen, and others. Those guys aren't going to blow by Mills on the outside like a Tyreek Hill might, and he is a confident, competitive player who won't get bullied by them either. I like those matchups for Mills.
• As a tackler in the run game, we'll see. He was aggressive as a tackling outside cornerback, but that's not quite the same as mixing it up in the box at the pro level against, say, the Dallas offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott. Malcolm Jenkins was a legitimate badass in that role, and it'll be hard to replicate his effectiveness against the run.
The move from Jenkins to Mills is highly likely to be a downgrade, but only because Jenkins has been such a good, tough, tone-setting, playmaking player and leader for the Eagles for more than a half decade.
That said, I do think that Mills fits his role well. After playing four years as an outside corner, never shying away from a challenge even if he was sometimes overmatched athletically, it will feel like a breeze for Mills to go from manning up against guys like Julio Jones, to even a good tight end, like, say, Evan Engram, for example.
Again, he'll probably be a downgrade, but maybe not a drastic one? I'm actually intrigued to see what he can do in this new role, which makes sense for his skill set.
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