Analyzing every cornerback on Eagles' roster, one by one

Analyzing every cornerback on Eagles' roster, one by one

The Eagles have 85 players on their roster heading into Thursday's preseason finale and nine of them are listed as cornerbacks (see 10 players to watch)

Obviously, cornerback has been one of the biggest worries of the team all offseason. The Eagles used two of their first three picks in the spring on the position and then went out and traded their most consistent receiver over the past few years to bring in Ronald Darby from Buffalo. 

Does that mean the position is settled?

Not quite. 

The Eagles went ahead and cut two corners — Ron Brooks and Mitchell White — on Wednesday (see story). But there's still plenty more to figure out. 

Here's a player-by-player look (in numerical order by jersey number) at every cornerback on the roster and one safety who has moved there as well. 

Patrick Robinson
The 29-year-old veteran is the oldest player on this list. He was brought in on a one-year, prove-it deal after a disappointing and injury-plagued season in Indianapolis last year. The year before, the former Saints first-round pick was much better in San Diego. 

"I would say that was the most consistent season," Robinson said about 2015 in San Diego. "Just playing great football. I was way more consistent." 

Robinson came into the spring as the starter opposite Jalen Mills and stayed there until relatively recently when Darby was brought in. Since the Darby trade, Robinson has been getting most of his work in the slot as the Eagles' third cornerback. It's a position he's played plenty in the past and a place where he's had a moderate level of success. Once Robinson moved into the slot, he bumped Ron Brooks out. 

Robinson was awful at the beginning of this training camp when he was still an outside corner. The move to put him in the slot might be a way to find a realistic way to use him in 2017. The Eagles can use Robinson against shiftier slot receivers like Cole Beasley, but can still use Malcolm Jenkins against bigger receivers and tight ends thanks to the addition of Corey Graham, the third safety. 

Sidney Jones
Jones would have been a first-round pick in the spring had he not torn his Achilles at Washington's pro day. He was such a hot prospect that there's a good chance he wasn't even going to be available when the Eagles were on the clock at 14. But thanks to the injury, Jones was available with the 43rd pick and the Eagles saw enough value to take him. That doesn't mean Jones will play this season. That's still to be determined. 

While Jones can't practice yet and will miss at least the first half of his rookie season, he has been involved with the team both on the field and in the meeting room (see story). Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been impressed with how well Jones is handling the entire situation. The Eagles hope Jones is eventually a long-term solution at a position that has flummoxed them. We just won't know for a while.  

Jaylen Watkins
Watkins is the only player on this list of 10 who isn't labeled as a cornerback. But based on recent weeks in practice, he's no longer a safety. Watkins has been back at cornerback and working in the slot role. Watkins, of course, was a fourth-round pick in 2014, drafted as a cornerback by the Eagles out of Florida. But the team cut him in 2015, he spent a few months on the Bills' practice squad and then returned to the Eagles as a safety. He played all of 2016 as their third safety and the results were mixed. This training camp, he had been playing safety until he was moved to corner and slot in recent weeks. 

"You don't see it often in the NFL, guys do it successfully," Watkins said of playing all three positions. "Obviously, someone upstairs (in the front office) liked the way I handle both positions. I take it as a positive." 

Jomal Wiltz 
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa State, Wiltz has been with the team since just after the draft. It appears he's a long shot to make the team. 

Jalen Mills
It's safe to say Schwartz absolutely loves Mills. The Eagles used a seventh-round pick to take Mills out of LSU last season, but he clearly had more talent than that. Off-the-field concerns probably allowed Mills to drop, but he has been zero trouble for the Eagles. In fact, he's been a pretty positive influence in the building. Schwartz loved Mills from the second he arrived because of his competitiveness, which, yes, comes with a little cockiness. There are many finger wags. 

Mills certainly had his ups and downs as a rookie, but there's a reason the Eagles didn't hesitate to make him a starter all the way back in the spring and there's a reason he hasn't budged from that spot. That's how much they like him and how much they think he's improved from last year. 

What's the long-term plan for Mills? That remains to be seen. The Eagles have a lot of young cornerback talent that seems to fit on the outside. Eventually, Mills' role might be in the slot. But to start the 2017 season, he's a starter outside. 

Rasul Douglas
Douglas is one of the more interesting cases on the team. After the Eagles drafted an injured Jones in the second round, they came back with the 99th pick (third round) to take Douglas out of West Virginia. Last season in college, Douglas led the nation with eight interceptions.

The Eagles had the 99th pick after they moved down 25 spots in the Tim Jernigan trade with Baltimore, and they claim that Douglas was one of the players they would have targeted at No. 74, but we'll never really know. 

Douglas looked pretty good when it was just the rookies on the field in the spring, but when the vets showed up, things changed. Douglas began to struggle and just as he started to look better, spring was over and pads went on in training camp. He struggled again. Had Douglas looked really good in camp, it seems likely the Eagles would have never made the move for Darby. It's not clear what Douglas' role will be with the team in the long term. He's one of many talented young corners on the roster. They do like his length, size and competitiveness. 

Ronald Darby 
Darby might not be a savior but he's certainly an upgrade. The Eagles had to part ways with Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to bring in Darby, but they were pretty desperate. They needed help at cornerback and Darby is exactly what they were missing. He's aggressive — a necessary trait to play corner for Schwartz — but he actually has the speed to recover if things go wrong. 

Because of how aggressive Darby is, he's going to get beat from time to time. We saw it in the third preseason game against the Dolphins, although he had tight coverage even when he gave up big plays. In his rookie season, Darby was much better than his sophomore year. He thinks he just didn't finish plays in 2016. 

In his two years in Buffalo, Darby stayed on the left side because Stephon Gilmore played on the right. That also meant neither guy traveled to face other team's top receiver. Maybe we see the Eagles travel Darby in 2017 when they face players like Odell Beckham Jr.

Dexter McDougle
The newcomer on a team with a lot of newcomers. McDougle was added on Sunday morning in a trade with the Jets for safety Terrence Brooks. McDougle was a third-round pick by New York in 2014 but has never lived up to his potential. He missed his rookie season after an ACL tear and has played minimally since. So maybe a change of scenery will help. 

But he won't have a ton of time to learn the Eagles’ defense and then prove that he's worthy of a roster spot. After all, he's competing with players who have been here for months or even over a year. 

"I mean, that's a good, valid point," Schwartz said. "You do have a better body of work for guys that have been here. But, that's just part of this business. There may come times during the season that we bring guys in on a Tuesday and they got to start due to injuries or something like that. It’s nothing new for coaches.

"It probably does add a different dynamic to scouting. But (vice president of player personnel) Joe (Douglas) and (executive vice president of football operations) Howie (Roseman) can handle that kind of stuff."

C.J. Smith
Smith was once known as the other guy the Eagles got from North Dakota State. But in his year-plus with the team, Smith has really come along. He started 2016 on the practice squad but was added to the active roster in October. He got just one defensive snap in 2016 but did play on special teams. 

He was having a really solid camp before the Darby move. There even seemed to be a possibility he would beat out Robinson to earn a starting job on the outside. But now he's fighting for a roster spot.

Aaron Grymes
Grymes came to the Eagles last offseason and had a really good camp. He had a good shot of making the initial 53-man roster but hurt his shoulder in the final preseason game against the Jets. The Eagles told him to stay close, though, and brought him back to the practice squad in October. Eventually, he found his way onto the 53-man roster for a brief time. The team really seems to like him in the slot; that's where he got some first-team reps this summer. 

Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long excused from Eagles practice to attend league meetings


Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long excused from Eagles practice to attend league meetings

For over a year, Malcolm Jenkins has raised his fist during the playing of the national anthem before Eagles games. 

On Tuesday, he was in New York City for a joint meeting between players, owners and the NFLPA in an attempt to find common ground on the same social issues that have led to those pre-game demonstrations. 

Jenkins and teammate Chris Long were both excused from the Eagles' light practice on Tuesday to be in New York for the meeting. They were two of 12 current players representing eight NFL teams. Former NFL player Anquan Boldin was also in attendance. 

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie was one of 11 owners in attendance. 

The NFL was represented by commissioner Roger Goodell and executive vice president of football operations (and former Eagle) Troy Vincent, while the NFLPA was represented by executive director DeMaurice Smith, president Eric Winston and senior director of player affairs Don Davis. 

The NFL and NFLPA released the following joint statement: 

"Today owners and players had a productive meeting focused on how we can work together to promote positive social change and address inequality in our communities. NFL executives and owners joined NFLPA executives and player leaders to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. We agreed that these are common issues and pledged to meet again to continue this work together. 

"As we said last week, everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military. In the best American tradition, we are coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change."

While there didn't seem to be a message of finality about anthem protests in that statement, it appears both sides took a big step in the right direction as far as social justice issues go. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said the NFL's policy on the national anthem "did not come up."  

"This was the first time we have gotten the chance to sit down in front of ownership," Jenkins said to ESPN. "We felt they were receptive. We felt there was a real dialogue. We felt it was positive."

This season, Jenkins has continued to raise his fist during the anthem and Long, his teammate, has put his arm around him as a showing of solidarity. Safety Rodney McLeod has also begun to raise his fist. 

But too much attention has now shifted to the protests during the anthem instead of the actual issues at hand. Jenkins, in particular, cares about social and racial injustice; the fist in the air was just a way to start a conversation about those issues. 

The demonstrations became even more widespread after President Donald Trump encouraged NFL owners to release players who protested during the anthem. A couple days after those comments, the Eagles linked arms during the anthem in a showing of solidarity. 

While Torrey Smith wasn't in attendance during Tuesday's meeting in New York, he's one of the more socially active Eagles. He said there have been a lot of phone calls and coordinating between players over the last few weeks about these issues and handling them with the league. 

"A win for me coming out of those meetings is that everyone's on the same page and trying to help the people in this country and use our game, which unites people from all different races, all different areas, all different levels of income, for one moment, for these games," Smith said. "And there's no better platform than for us to work together and try to benefit our country.

"Our owners have the power to impact a lot of lives in terms of whether it's financially or their guidance. I feel like it's our duty. Obviously, we're playing ball but the fans that are cheering us on, the fans that are working in these stadiums, the fans that are working in these neighborhoods are affected by some of the things that we're fighting for. If anyone thinks it's not an issue for us to be involved in as athletes or the owners of the NFL, then you're looking at it dead wrong."

After missing Tuesday's practice, neither Jenkins nor Long were available for comment in the Eagles' locker room. The Eagles will be back at practice Thursday as they prepare to host Washington on Monday night. 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story. 

Eagles QB Carson Wentz favorite to win NFL MVP

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Eagles QB Carson Wentz favorite to win NFL MVP

Carson Wentz is in his second NFL season, but he could already be on his way to his first MVP award. 

At least, he's now the favorite. 

The Eagles' starting quarterback is now the favorite to win this year's NFL MVP award, according to Bovada. Wentz is just ahead of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. 

Here's the top five: 

1. Carson Wentz: +175
2. Alex Smith: +200
3. Tom Brady: +400
4. DeShaun Watson: +1,000
5. Russell Wilson: +1,200

Basically, this means that a $100 futures bet would win $175. Since Wentz pays out the least, he's the favorite. 

It's no surprise Wentz and Smith are atop this list. They have both led their teams to 5-1 records (tops in the NFL) through six games. 

Wentz has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,584 yards, 13 touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 99.6. He's well on his way to becoming the first Eagles quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. 

The last (and only) Eagles player to win an MVP came during the 1960 championship season, when quarterback Norm Van Brocklin took the award. 

The last player to win the MVP award in his second NFL season was Kurt Warner in 1999. But Warner had a long road to get to the NFL and was 28 years old in 1999. Wentz is just 24. 

Vegas isn't alone with the Wentz hype. According to Dick's Sporting Goods, the Eagles' quarterback has the best-selling jersey of all NFL players. In another few months, those people might have the jersey of an MVP winner.