C.J. Smith

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 preseason stock report, Week 1: Derek Barnett up, Chance Warmack down

Eagles preseason stock report, Week 1: Derek Barnett up, Chance Warmack down

It would be easy to look at the performance of the Eagles' offensive line against the Packers on Thursday and declare the unit’s stock is down. Such a strong assertion wouldn’t be entirely fair or accurate, either.

The Eagles managed to run for just 47 yards on 19 attempts – a 2.5-yard average. Green Bay was able to generate consistent pressure on quarterbacks as well, forcing Carson Wentz to work some magic on his one and only series. It was not pretty.

Fortunately, this is an example where the preseason was likely playing tricks. The Packers were blitzing on just about every play, which is unusual for an exhibition game. It also tends to be a very effective strategy against an offense that wasn’t game-planning for its opponent or running schemes specifically tailored to stop those packages.

The exotic looks Green Bay threw at a vanilla Eagles offense missing right guard Brandon Brooks explains a lot. As much as the O-line appeared to struggle, this was still far from a simulation of what a real game would look like.

With that in mind, there were still plenty of other worthwhile takeaways from the preseason opener.

STOCK UP

Derek Barnett
Green Bay’s backups were no match for the 14th overall draft pick in his NFL debut. Barnett was consistently disruptive throughout the game, registering four tackles and 2.0 sacks. He was effective rushing the passer as well as defending the run. The 21-year-old also demonstrated an ability to beat offensive tackles to the inside or outside. On one such move to the interior, Barnett made the blocker look like he was standing still, then finished with a sack.

Clearly, making the jump from the SEC to a game against NFL reserves won’t be an issue for Barnett. It’s time to see what he can do with some snaps versus starting-caliber talent next week.

Jalen Mills
If you were searching for a reason to be optimistic about the Eagles' secondary, Mills offered a beacon of hope. The second-year cornerback had tight coverage throughout, shutting down a wide receiver screen for no gain, stopping a receiver short of the sticks on third down and breaking up a pass. Mills was early on the breakup and could’ve been called for pass interference, but he was in excellent position. Even though Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not play, Mills’ performance was a bright spot.

And after the Eagles obtained third-year cornerback Ronald Darby from the Bills on Friday, suddenly the secondary doesn’t look too bad.

Mack Hollins
While all the talk has been about Nelson Agholor gunning for Jordan Mattews’ job, I’m not so sure it wasn’t Hollins that made the Eagles comfortable trading their starting slot receiver. Everybody saw the fourth-round draft pick stiff-arm two would-be tacklers to the ground on his 38-yard touchdown gallop. Hollins shook another tackle attempt later in the game to convert a third down, part of his four-catch, 64-yard effort.

In fact, Hollins looked like a more explosive Matthews on Friday. The rookie could be headed for a far bigger role than anybody would’ve imagined in April.

Bryce Treggs
Treggs was beginning to stand out at training camp heading into this game, and it carried over in a competitive setting. The second-year wideout led all players with seven receptions for 91 yards, catching all but one pass that came his way. We knew Treggs had speed, and that was on display when he hauled in a 38-yard bomb. Perhaps more impressive is the growth he’s shown on underneath and intermediate routes, demonstrating more versatility than a year ago.

The wide receiver position is crowded, but Treggs is making a strong case that he belongs in the mix.

Carson Wentz
This might seem too obvious, but watching Wentz stand calmly in a collapsing pocket, elude pressure and make multiple perfect throws on the move on third and fourth downs only instills more confidence in the franchise quarterback. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was wreaking havoc in the Eagles' backfield, but the second-year signal caller kept the chains moving, and eventually hit on the big catch-and-run to Hollins.

Wentz didn’t even have his full complement of weapons on Thursday, going 4 for 4 for 56 yards and a score while Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Darren Sproles all sat out. Imagine what the 24-year-old signal caller could do once everybody is on the field.

STOCK DOWN

Chance Warmack
It looked like Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland still has a long way to go with his offseason reclamation project. Warmack often seemed confused about his assignments on Thursday. To be fair, Green Bay blitzed a ton – unusual for preseason – for which the Eagles did not scheme, and we don’t necessarily know who’s supposed to block who on a given play. Yet, there were plenty of occasions when Warmack didn’t block anybody at all, or flat out lost one-on-one battles.

Warmack started at right guard, where he hasn’t practiced a ton with the Eagles. But he wasn’t much better when he moved back to left guard, against the second-team defense no less.

Donnel Pumphrey
It was difficult to evaluate the touches Pumphrey got in his NFL debut. There was no room to run, no chance to make a move on just about every pass that came his way as he finished with 17 yards from scrimmage on nine total touches.

Pumphrey’s lack of production wasn’t really the problem, either. The fifth-round draft pick fumbled on his first carry of the game – though he was ruled down – and appeared to run his route incorrectly on an interception. He also muffed a punt, but was able to recover. Maybe it was simply a case of rookie jitters, but after missing time in training camp with a hamstring injury, Pumphrey needed to show why he deserves to be in the mix at running back. Didn’t happen.

C.J. Smith
Smith endured a particularly rough series in the second quarter. First, he was beaten on a short slant on 3rd-and-4, the exact same type of play the 24-year-old corner scolded himself for not making in practice last week. Two plays later, Smith bit on a double move, giving up a 20-yard touchdown pass to Packers wide receiver Jeff Janis.

To his credit, Smith exhibited a short memory on the following series and broke up a pass, finishing with one tackle and one deflection. Nonetheless, consistency remains an issue. With the Eagles bringing in Darby the next day, this looks like the end of any conversation about Smith competing for a starting job.

Eagles-Packers: 10 observations

Eagles-Packers: 10 observations

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Carson Wentz was perfect, Derek Barnett showed why he was the 14th pick and a rookie running back had a rough first game in the Eagles' 24-9 loss to the Packers on Thursday night in the preseason opener (see Instant Replay)

The Eagles will play again next Thursday night at home against the Bills at 7 p.m. 

Here are 10 observations from the preseason opener: 

1. Wentz wasn't in the game long, but he did everything the Eagles wanted him to do. He went 4 for 4 for 56 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. The touchdown pass was his most impressive play of his short night. He had Clay Matthews grabbing around his ankles, but Wentz was able to shake him off and find Mack Hollins in the middle of the field for what ended up being a TD. 

Wentz's strength and ability to extend plays is sometimes overlooked but it's that ability that makes him have a chance to be a special player. That's what has worked for so long in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. 

2. Give C.J. Smith credit. The second-year cornerback was burned by a pretty weak double move from wide receiver Jeff Janis for a 20-yard touchdown just a couple plays after giving up a 10-yard pass to Geronimo Allison in the first half. On the touchdown, Smith just bit way too hard on the first move. He had safety help from Jaylen Watkins but it came too late and, to his credit, quarterback Brett Hundley threw a perfect pass into the end zone. 

But he rebounded. Smith came back on the next series and did what corners need to: He forgot about the last play, breaking up a pass near the sideline. He also broke up a pass late in the third quarter and nearly picked it off. 

3. Hollins has looked good in shorts in the spring and then good against his own team in training camp. We just needed to see it in an actual game. Hollins showed what he can do on Thursday night. He caught a pass from Wentz across the middle of the field and did the rest. He was aided by some shabby tackling from Packers defenders but managed to hug the sideline and get into the end zone. He then ran toward the bleachers and acted like he was going to do a Lambeau Leap but held up. Still, a nice play for the rookie. 

4. Donnel Pumphrey is still a work in progress when it comes to punt returning. The first punt he saw, he decided to field it even though there were a few Packers in his area. He caught it, but it was an adventure and could have been disastrous. The second one he saw, he called for a fair catch, but muffed it, luckily recovering his own fumble. Pumphrey was not used as a returner in college, so this is new for him. He's looked relatively smooth during practice, but doing it in a game is a different animal. 

On offense, Pumphrey got a ton of touches but was completely ineffective. He had nine touches for 17 yards. 

5. Barnett picked up his first sack in an Eagles uniform, and it was a beauty. After getting pretty good pressure on his first series, Barnett used an inside move to toss Packers tackle Jason Spriggs out of the way. Spriggs is 6-foot-6, 301 pounds, but Barnett tossed him aside like he was nothing. 

And that was just the beginning for Barnett. Working from the right defensive end spot, he was just too hard to handle for Spriggs, who was a hot name coming out of last year's draft. After a less-than-stellar start to his training camp, Barnett had a good showing in his preseason debut. He did what he was supposed to: dominate second- and third-team players. 

6. After the Eagles' first-team defense left the field in the first half, two players from the starting unit remained: Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson. Mills had a good day and even Robinson broke up a pass. But their still being in the game late is a reminder about how fluid the situation is at corner. That competition is far from over. 

7. Matt McGloin made a pretty good tackle on Thursday night, which tells you about how the play started. McGloin threw a pass directly to linebacker Joe Thomas, who took off for 30 yards before McGloin brought him down. McGloin just didn't have a very good night and hasn't looked good throughout training camp. Unless he really turns it around in the next couple preseason games, he's not going to have a roster spot. 

Doug Pederson inexplicably allowed McGloin to throw 42 passes before taking him out of the game for Dane Evans. McGloin completed 28 of those for 205 yards. His long was a 38-yarder. 

8. Eagles receiver Marcus Johnson has had a really good training camp. He's been so good that plenty of folks have already called him a roster lock. But on Thursday, Johnson didn't play after having a hamstring injury earlier in the week. And while Johnson didn't play, another receiver fighting for a roster spot did. 

Bryce Treggs had a really good game. He and McGloin seemed to mesh in the second quarter. Treggs, known as a speedster, ran right past second-round draft pick Kevin King. Treggs had five catches for 75 yards in the first half, finishing with seven catches for 91 yards. 

9. Halapoulivaati Vaitai went down in the second half with a left knee injury and didn't return. While he was on the ground, everyone started to remember that the Eagles can't afford to lose him. He's their best backup tackle. After him? The team has Dillon Gordon and Matt Tobin. All offseason the talk about the offensive line has been about interior depth, which the Eagles have. But the tackle depth is lacking and Big V's injury is a reminder of that. 

10. For the last few years, the Eagles' special teams has been among the best units in the league. But the unit wasn't great on Thursday. The Packers' punt return touchdown in the first half was a mess. First, Ron Brooks was the first guy down the field and couldn't make a play (he left with a hamstring injury). Then Terrence Brooks and Najee Goode, two good special teamers, couldn't make a play either. The refs probably missed a block in the back against Chris Maragos, but seeing that touchdown probably didn't make Dave Fipp very happy. Then, Joe Walker was called for holding, a call that negated a nice Pumphrey return. And then Caleb Sturgis bounced a 46-yarder off the right goal post.