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. 

Brian Dawkins chooses longtime teammate for Hall of Fame intro

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Brian Dawkins chooses longtime teammate for Hall of Fame intro

Brian Dawkins has chosen longtime teammate and close friend Troy Vincent to introduce him this summer at Dawk's Hall of Fame induction.
Dawkins was selected in February for enshrinement in the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction class.
"The presenter that will actually be on the stage will be Troy Vincent," Dawkins said in a video posted on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website.
"My teammate in Philadelphia. We came there the same year. Almost from Day 1 he kind of ... not kind of, he took me under his wing on becoming a professional. Not just a football player but a professional. The details. The details that he went through, the particulars of how he played the position of cornerback was the same way he lived his life (and ran) his businesses that he had off the field.
"He's a guy I can call anytime. Any time of night. And tell him 100 percent all what's going on with me, and I know he's not going to judge me, and it's not going to leave his lips (for) anybody else.
"And the most important thing for me, being a man of faith, is that I know he's going to pray with me. So all those things combined are the reasons why Troy was the perfect guy to introduce me to the Hall of Fame."
Vincent, a native of Trenton and graduate of Pennsbury High in Fairless Hills, Bucks County, spent his first four seasons with the Dolphins before signing an offer sheet with the Eagles before the 1996 season that the Dolphins didn't match.
The Eagles drafted Dawkins in the second round a month after signing Vincent, and the two spent eight years together in the secondary, reaching the playoffs five times and the NFC Championship Game three times.
During those eight seasons, Vincent reached Pro Bowls and Dawkins made the first three of his nine Pro Bowls.
Vincent retired after the 2006 season and Dawkins after the 2011 season.
Dawkins, Vincent and Eric Allen are the only Eagles defensive backs picked to five or more Pro Bowls.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 enshrinement ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio.
Dawkins' former Eagles teammate, Terrell Owens, will also be inducted. He hasn't yet announced who will present him.
Dawkins will be the 21st former Eagle inducted into the Hall of Fame but only the ninth who spent the majority of his career with the Eagles.

Was Carson Wentz sending Nick Foles a message with Instagram video?

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Was Carson Wentz sending Nick Foles a message with Instagram video?

Offseason quarterback controversies are a rite of passage in the NFL. A time-honored tradition, really. 

We’ve certainly had our share in Philadelphia over the years. There were calls for Ron Jaworski to sit in favor of a young Randall Cunningham. Then cries for Jim McMahon to take Randall’s place. When Andy Reid drafted Kevin Kolb in 2007, that began a groundswell that he was the better choice than Donovan McNabb. Of course, most recently we had the Michael Vick/Nick Foles back and forth. To look back now, it seems silly these were even debates.

Most of the time, when you have these “controversies,” it generally means you have no quarterback on your roster. Not always. The 49ers in the late-80’s and early-90’s had Joe Montana and Steve Young, both Hall of Famers and all-time great quarterbacks. Both also won Super Bowls for San Francisco. But that is the exception. So is the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles’ situation.

I use the word “situation” and not “controversy.” Because there is no controversy. If Wentz is cleared by the Eagles’ medical staff, he starts Week 1. Period. What Foles did was incredible and will go down as one of the great — if not the greatest — stretch we have seen in Philadelphia sports history. He came up as big as you can. But Wentz he is not. That’s no disrespect to Foles. There are a handful of people on the planet who are in Wentz’s class.

Just a refresher course on what Wentz did in 13 games last season (his second in the NFL, by the way). He threw for 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 3,296 passing yards and had a 101.9 passer rating. The 33 TDs were the second-most in the NFL despite his missing the final three games. He also led his team to an 11-2 record before succumbing to that knee injury late into that Rams game that clinched the NFC East. He would have been the league MVP had he not gotten hurt.

There is a great luxury having Foles on this team. Wentz does not have to come back before he is able. If he’s not ready, you have the best backup in the league to start the season. But that’s the only scenario in which Foles plays Week 1. Simply put: Wentz is the better quarterback. And he has earned the right to start the opener if cleared. 

Some people read into Wentz's Instagram video of himself throwing earlier in the week as him somehow sending a message to Foles. I don’t buy it. I think Wentz’s message was to the fans and himself that I’ll be back, better than ever.

Wentz and Foles are both good teammates who put the team above themselves. Sure, Foles is a competitor and would likely prefer to start. But there won’t be any behind-the-scenes maneuvering to undercut Wentz. And Wentz is secure enough to be able to handle a Super Bowl MVP backing him up and all that goes along with that. Not to mention a coaching staff and organization that won’t allow outside noise to become a distraction.

Wentz over Foles. There’s no quarterback controversy.