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March 12, 2017

Eagles say they're comfortable going very young at cornerback

Eagles NFL

If you're a wide receiver playing for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, or Washington Redskins, you have to love what you see looking at the Philadelphia Eagles' depth chart at cornerback.

This is less than ideal:

 CBJalen Mills Dwayne Gratz Mitchell White 
 CBC.J. Smith Aaron Grymes  
 Slot CB Ron Brooks  

A look at each player, in one sentence:

  1. Mills (22) played quite a bit as a rookie, and while Jim Schwartz loved his confidence, there's no question he struggled.
  2. Smith (23) was an undrafted free agent last year who appeared in 10 games, mostly on special teams, registering one tackle.
  3. Gratz (27) joined the team as a late-season acquisition in 2016 after being released by the Los Angeles Rams.
  4. Grymes (26) was a pickup from the CFL last offseason who appeared in one game last year.
  5. White (26) has never appeared in an NFL game.
  6. Brooks (28) suffered a serious quad injury last season and is likely to be released whenever he is healthy enough to pass a physical.

Long story short, the only player certain to have a role in the Eagles' defense next year is Mills. Beyond him, it's likely that the Eagles will double-dip (or maybe even triple-dip) on a loaded defensive back class in the 2017 NFL Draft.

When asked if he was comfortable going into a season as young and inexperienced as the Eagles will likely be, Howie Roseman compared the situation to 2004 when the Eagles went to the Super Bowl with a pair of young corners in Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown.

"Yeah, I think we look back to 2004, and certainly not comparing this team to that Super Bowl team, but we went into that year with Lito and Sheldon hadn't started, and there were some of those same questions," he said. "We would be comfortable if that's how it turned out. Again, we've got a long period of time before we play a game before we report to training camp. We're going to look at every option to try to improve this team, but certainly, we'll be comfortable if that's how it shook out."

The Sheppard-Brown comparison is not an apt one. To begin, Sheppard and Brown were both entering their third seasons in the pros, after having been drafted in 2002. They had the opportunity to be brought along slowly, as Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor were still on the roster. By the time they became the full-time starters, they were ready, and the Eagles knew what they had.

In a scenario in which the Eagles drafted a few corners and immediately threw them to the wolves, the Eagles would not have the luxury of being sure they could play before putting them on the field. From the corners' perspectives, there would be immediate pressure from Day One to be able to start (and play well) Week 1 of the 2017 season.

There is still a chance that the Eagles will add a second- or third-tier corner to their roster in "phase two" of free agency. Still, with the lowest amount of cap space in the NFL (per OverTheCap.com), even those options will be limited.

The Eagles were right to move on from their 2016 starting corners, cutting Leodis McKelvin and letting Nolan Carroll walk in free agency. They were also right to spend their limited financial resources on help for Carson Wentz, signing a pair of wide receivers instead of spending $13.5 million per season on, say, A.J. Bouye, like the Jacksonville Jaguars did. Given the hand they have to play, relying on a stacked cornerback class in the draft is certainly logical.

But there's a good chance it'll be hard to watch a bunch of early 20's corners getting lit up like a Christmas tree in 2017, which I guess is at least more palatable than watching a couple of 30-year-olds getting lit up, like they did in 2016.


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