It’s hard to believe, but the deepest position for the Philadelphia Eagles is the one almost everyone agreed last year was their thinnest and least talented.
Now, there’s enough talent at cornerback that it’s hard to imagine how the picture will shape out by the start of spring camps.
The Eagles essentially have three potential starters for the two outside corner spots – incumbent starters Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills and rising star Sidney Jones.
Darby and Mills were starters for the team that just went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl. Jones, a projected top-15 pick last year whose Achilles injury dropped him into the second round, will be poised to take over one of the two starting spots next season.
Jones missed almost all of 2017 as he recovered from his Achilles injury, but he logged some minutes in the season finale against the Cowboys and, despite a few blemishes, appeared to hold his own when matched against Pro Bowl wideout Dez Bryant.
The Eagles dealt for Darby during training camp, giving up a third-round pick and receiver Jordan Matthews for the third-year corner, who was said to possess the man-press coverage acumen tailored to coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme.
Despite Darby’s reputation, he and Mills played more off coverage last season than man press. Mills, a 2016 seventh-round pick, played well for most of the season but showed vulnerabilities against double moves. He lacks elite outside speed.
It stands to reason that Darby and Jones will return as the two outside starters in 2018, so what becomes of Mills?
The Eagles worked him in the slot at times last spring to test his skills there. He’s not a natural inside corner but plays with the physical edge needed for the slot position.
Still, the Eagles might not have room for Mills on the inside. Incumbent slot corner Patrick Robinson is set to hit free agency, but the Eagles could probably bring him back on another one-year deal if the market isn’t ripe for the 30-year-old veteran, who will turn 31 by the start of next season.
Not to be forgotten is Rasul Douglas, a 2017 third-round pick who played 14 games and started five, picking off two passes in a promising rookie season. Douglas was drafted as a tall, physical outside corner with playmaking ability, but right now he appears fourth on the outside corner totem pole.
Darby, Jones, Mills and Douglas give the Eagles talent and depth at one of the game’s most important positions, which could prompt the front office to explore a trade.
The Eagles could move on from Robinson, but Robinson played so well that it would be reckless to part ways without trying to retain him on another one-year, team-friendly deal.
The team could also move Mills or Douglas to safety for two reasons: Hybrid defensive back Jaylen Watkins isn’t expected to return, and dime safety Corey Graham, a former corner, is also slated to hit free agency.
Too many capable cornerbacks represent a good problem for the Eagles, who for years overspent on corners in free agency to cover up for blown draft picks.
Now, it’s a position the Eagles can say is both deep and talented, perhaps too deep for everyone to stick around.
– Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.