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. 

Eagles Injury Update: Jason Kelce storms off field

USA Today Images

Eagles Injury Update: Jason Kelce storms off field

One member of the Eagles' offensive line returned to practice on Thursday, but another might be added to the injury report by the end of the day.

Starting left guard Stefen Wisniewski was practicing for the first time since hurting his ankle against the Rams on Sunday. It was not immediately clear whether Wisniewski would be a full or limited participant, but it appears he will have a shot to play against the Giants this week.

Wisniewski exited Sunday's game in the first quarter and was unable to re-enter the contest. He was replaced by Chance Warmack, and later Isaac Seumalo.

Doug Pederson said Wisniewski was "doing good" when he last spoke on Wednesday.

Though Wisniewski was back, Eagles center Jason Kelce temporarily left practice on Thursday only to return shortly thereafter. It was unclear whether Kelce was injured, but his absence was preceded by a demonstrative outburst.

Kelce threw his helmet, then slammed a recycle container before storming out of the Eagles' practice facility visibly upset. The seventh-year veteran returned minutes later and was participating in drills toward the end of the media portion of practice.

Kelce was not on the Eagles' injury report as of Wednesday but was listed during the week leading up to the Rams game with an ankle injury.

In other returns, Eagles tight end Brent Celek was back on the practice field Thursday. Celek was excused from the previous day's practice to attend the birth of his child.

Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones was also a participant, showing no sign of setbacks from his first practice on Wednesday. The 2017 second-round draft pick has been on the reserve/non-football injury list while recovering from a torn Achilles but is eligible for a spot the 53-man roster within the next 20 days.

Nick Foles completely different QB and man this time around with Eagles

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Nick Foles completely different QB and man this time around with Eagles

Nick Foles' first career with the Eagles ended abruptly in a heap just outside the painted Texans logo near midfield in NRG Stadium. 

On Nov. 2, 2014 Foles dropped back to pass on the last play of the first quarter in Houston, when outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus came from behind and slammed Foles to the ground with his full 250-plus pound frame landing on top of him. 

Mercilus ran off the field, receiving high-fives from his teammates, as Foles laid on the ground in the fetal position. His collarbone was broken. Unbeknownst to him, he had already played his last snap as an Eagle.

Even without the injury, 2014 just didn't have the magic from the year before. The Eagles were 6-2 heading into that early November game, but Foles wasn't having the same type of Pro Bowl season everyone saw in 2013. He just didn't seem like the guy who amazingly threw 27 touchdowns and two interceptions the year before and earned the starting gig. In 2014, Foles had already thrown 10 interceptions and just 13 touchdowns through those first eight games.  

As it turns out, the play in Houston wasn't Foles' last snap as an Eagle. He returned this offseason as the team's backup quarterback, but thanks to Carson Wentz's torn ACL, it's his job from here on out. 

Just don't expect Foles to be the same guy he was in 2013. Or in 2014, for that matter. 

He's a completely different quarterback and man these days. 

"I think with experience and age, you gain knowledge and wisdom," Foles said on Tuesday, the day after the Eagles announced Wentz was done for the season. "Obviously, life changes. You just sort of see the game more clearly. Even stepping into the game the other night (Sunday vs. Rams), you're in the fourth quarter, you're on the road, it's a big game. You really just go back to your training, you go back to your experiences in life. You know how to live in that moment, how to execute the plays to help your team win. 

"Since that moment in Houston, where I fractured my collarbone, I've experienced a lot more experiences in the NFL than I had up to that point. A lot of them great, some of them not so great. But they all go together to create this moment in time. I'm excited for this opportunity."

Foles didn't end up being the Eagles' starting quarterback for the "next thousand years" as Chip Kelly quipped in December of 2013. 

Foles was traded to the Rams in March 2015 as a part of the Sam Bradford trade and then signed a two-year extension with St. Louis. But things didn't go swimmingly with the Rams. In St. Louis, he played just one poor season, during which he was actually benched for Case Keenum. 

When the Rams drafted Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick, Foles was unhappy and wanted out. The Rams granted that request, releasing him in July 2016. Foles then signed with the guy who drafted him. He spent last season with Andy Reid's Chiefs as their backup. Foles played in three games and started one. And he actually played fairly well, but the Chiefs declined the second-year option on his contract, which made Foles a free agent for the second time in two years. This offseason, he came back to Philly. 

So, yeah, a lot has happened since the last time Eagles fans really saw Nick Foles. 

"I think he's definitely matured as a quarterback [in terms of] his leadership ability and his understanding of our offense and of defenses," said head coach Doug Pederson, who was gone by 2013, but was Foles' QB coach during his rookie season in 2012. "We always knew he was a very smart, intellectual quarterback and could process information. But he's been able to take it to the next level in his preparation. And just how he responds to the guys and how the guys have responded to him. A great example was in the fourth quarter of that game the other day. He comes in and nobody blinks. Nobody bats an eye. There was no hesitation and that's just the confidence that the guys have in Nick."

Perhaps one of the most important things to happen to Foles came this summer. Foles and his wife Tori welcomed their first child into their family. Daughter Lily was born in late June and there's just something about becoming a parent that seems to put everything into perspective. 

"Having a child, that's huge," Foles said this week. "I get to go home and hug my daughter. That's the greatest thing in the world."

So Foles isn't the same fresh-faced kid who became the Eagles' starter thanks to injury in 2013. He's not even the same guy who saw his first Eagles' career end in a heap in Houston. 

Foles is 28. He's a father. He's a veteran in the NFL. Maybe those things, more than anything else, make him more ready now to take over the starting gig than back in 2013. 

Foles was almost zen-like on Tuesday. He's mature, comfortable and confident. A lot has happened in a few years. 

"The wisdom and going in and playing, it almost just makes everything more simple," Foles said. "It clears your brain because you just go out there and play and let it rip. I've always been a gunslinger, just let it rip. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play loose, count on the guys, lead this team. 

"There's no other place I'd rather be. That's why I came back here. That was a big reason why my wife and I sat down and the opportunity came up to come back here and be in this environment. Obviously, it was for a different role when I came here, but I'm ready to step up and help this team win."