March 03, 2017
The NFL Combine kicked off in Indianapolis this week, and we've already begun taking a look at some participants at each positional group. In case you missed our previous positional previews:
Today, we'll look at cornerbacks.
Well, let's see. The Eagles already cut Leodis McKelvin and they're unlikely to bring back Nolan Carroll unless it's on a non-guaranteed, veteran-minimum deal. Beyond their 2016 starters, they have second-year player Jalen Mills, a 2016 seventh round pick who was high on confidence but short on production as a rookie, and Ron Brooks, a strong candidate to be a cap casualty this offseason.
And then there's a bunch of undrafted free agents, and Dwayne Gratz, who the team signed off the street at the end of the 2016 season.
In 2017, with McKelvin already shown the door, the Eagles will have their ninth different starting cornerback combination in 11 years. They are also likely to have two new starting corners from one year to the next for the third time in five years, assuming Carroll is not a Week 1 starter (or even with the team at all) in 2017.
Since 2003, the Eagles have drafted 25 defensive backs. Those 25 DBs have combined for a grand total of nine years as a regular starter with Eagles. They have simply been able to find and develop defensive back talent of their own in the draft for well over a decade.
So, uh, yeah, you can say that cornerback is a need.
In an absolutely loaded cornerback draft, here are 10 corners who make sense for the Eagles:
Lattimore is only a redshirt sophomore who has participated in under 20 games in his career at OSU, partly due to hamstring issues. 2016 was Lattimore's only season as a starter, when he had 41 tackles, four interceptions, and nine pass breakups. Lattimore is a phenomenal athlete, doing a great job of staying in phase with opposing receivers out of tight press coverage.
According to cfbfilmroom.com, Lattimore was targeted 36 times in 2016, and gave up just 13 receptions, or approximately one per game. He allowed one TD while collecting four INTs. He was also credited with 36 tackles, and just one missed tackle. That's outstanding.
Lattimore will be a player of interest at the Combine's medical checks because he had surgery on his hamstrings. Assuming everything checks out, he'll be long gone by the time the Eagles pick at 14/15. If teams drafting ahead of the Eagles are concerned with his medicals and he falls a bit, the Eagles will have to decide if Lattimore's exciting talent is worth the risk.
Humphrey has great athleticism, and at 6'1, 196, he has ideal size. He is also as physical a corner as you'll find in this draft, and is a legitimate big hitter who looks to intimidate opposing receivers. He's big, fast, and ill-tempered.
The biggest concern with Humphrey is the deep ball, as he gave up a number of them in 2016. Still, he's only 20 years old. Those issues might not be correctable with a player who is not as gifted as Humphrey, but a guy with Humphrey's natural ability should be able to get that fixed.
In 2015, Jones had four interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 10 pass breakups, and two touchdowns (one on an INT, one on a fumble recovery). In 2016, he had three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and six pass breakups, which is impressive, seeing as teams eventually avoided throwing at him. Playmaker.
What I love about Jones is that when the ball is in the air, he thinks it's his. He plays with a certain level of confidence that is ideal in an NFL corner, and will certainly appeal to Jim Schwartz.
On the downside, he only weighs 170 pounds. Yikes.
At 5'11, White is not a tall corner, which is less of a concern under Schwartz than it was under Chip Kelly and the gang. White is an athletic corner with very good change of direction skills. He's a good cover corner, but not as physical as guys like Lattimore and Humphrey, noted above. He was clearly among the best players at the Senior Bowl this year.
White also served as LSU's primary punt returner. He has taken a return to the house in each of the last three years. That skill should be attractive to a team that is probably going to lose Darren Sproles after the 2017 season.
White wore the prestigious #18 jersey, which is a number awarded to "the team member considered to best exemplify what it means to be an LSU football player, on and off the field." The number was previously worn by Eagles DT Bennie Logan.
Wilson was Florida's "other" corner opposite Teez Tabor. Or IS he the "other" guy? According to at least one NFL executive, Wilson is the best cornerback in the country.
"I think Wilson is the best corner in the country. Tabor gets all of the hype but Wilson is better in every area," an NFL executive told NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
And then there's this from NFL.com's Bucky Brooks:
Scouts descending on Florida's campus expect to come away convinced that Teez Tabor is the Gators' top cornerback prospect, but I've been hearing that UF's Quincy Wilson might be garnering more attention as a potential CB1. The 6-foot-1, 213-pounder has excellent size and length. He's a technician who's capable of snuffing out elite receivers on the island. An AFC college scouting director raved about Wilson's "physicality, toughness and instincts." In addition, he loved Wilson's competitiveness and that he asked coaches to allow him to take on the opponents' top receiver in certain games (see Ole Miss and Laquon Treadwell).
Hey, wait... Competitiveness, you say? As we noted back in December, what Schwartz values in his cornerbacks is becoming clear. (Spoiler: It's competitiveness).
Jackson's position could just be listed as "playmaker" at USC, but his primary position in the NFL will be at corner. In 2015, in addition to being a regular starter at CB, Jackson caught 27 passes for 414 yards and 2 TDs, he had two punt return TDs, a pick six, and a blocked field goal. In 2016, he had five interceptions, two punt return TDs, two kick return TDs, one receiving TD, 55 tackles, and 11 pass breakups. Jackson is a big-time playmaker, with elite return skills.
In the NFL, Jackson is probably "only" going to be a slot corner because of his smaller size. However, in a division where each of the Eagles' rivals has high-quality slot receivers (Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder, and Sterling Shepard), the Eagles should be placing a higher priority on a slot corner than most teams. Jackson could be a good fit in Philly as a slot corner with high-level return ability in the Eagles' already outstanding special teams units. He's worthy of a second round pick.
Lewis is small, at 5'10, 188, and therefore he's likely to be drafted later than he should, but he is a great football player who could be a steal for someone. I believe he would constitute decent value in the second round in a draft loaded with excellent cornerback prospects. Many disagree and think he'll go later.
It's extremely difficult to get separation on Lewis, who is as sticky a cover corner as there is in college football. In 2015, Lewis had a ridiculous 20 pass breakups. In 2016, despite opposing quarterbacks largely avoiding him, Lewis had 11 pass breakups.
Schwartz doesn't seem to care as much about size in his corners than other defensive coordinators. The most important attribute to Schwartz is competitiveness, and if you watch Lewis play, it's pretty easy to see that when the ball is in the air, he thinks it's his, like Jones above. He's a Day 1 "starter" at slot corner.
At 6'1, 208, Douglas has ideal size at the corner spot in the NFL, and he led the country in interceptions in 2016, with eight. Those two things alone will make Douglas an attractive prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Douglas isn't always the most willing tackler in the run game, and he can tend to be a gambler in coverage. The latter will be viewed by some coaches as a negative but is likely to appeal to Schwartz.
Despite his small size, Elder is a physical tackler who also contributes on special teams for the Hurricanes.
In 2016, Elder had 76 tackles (4.5 for loss), 3 sacks, 1 INT, and 12 pass breakups. In 2015, he had 41 tackles (4 for loss), 2 sacks, 2 INTs, and 11 pass breakups.
Last offseason, the Eagles brought in Ron Brooks, a physical tackler at the slot corner spot who also contributes on special teams. Over the next two years, Brooks' cap numbers will be $2.1 million and $2.4 million. The Eagles would save $1.6 million if they move on from him this offseason. I expect them to do that. Elder could be a potential replacement for Brooks, and again, as noted above, the Eagles have a greater need for quality slot corners than many other teams, in my view.
Kazee is a lesser known player on a very good San Diego State team who does a great job attacking the football in the air. Over the last two seasons, he has 17 interceptions. His career numbers:
But Kazee isn't just a ballhawk. He attacks ball carriers aggressively and is a big hitter. On the downside, Kazee was susceptible to deep balls at the Senior Bowl, and he may not test well in the 40 at the Combine. However, Kazee would be yet another slot corner prospect, where long speed isn't quite as critical.
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