The Eagles didn’t add anybody of note in free agency, through trades or the draft, yet have some big names returning at cornerback in 2019. Is the unit better or worse as a result?
Key additions: None
Key departures: None
Why they could be better: Health
The Eagles started 2018 with three cornerbacks. They ended the year with three entirely different cornerbacks. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills both suffered season-ending injuries fairly early, while Sidney Jones was in and out of the lineup from about midseason on. Avonte Maddox missed time, too. How bad did it get? De’Vante Bausby, Dexter McDougle, Chandon Sullivan and Josh Hawkins all saw action.
Nobody left, but Darby and Mills are back. Jones and Maddox are 100 percent. Rasul Douglas and Cre’Von LeBlanc are still in the mix. Plus, young guys like Maddox, Douglas and LeBlanc came away from ‘18 with great experience. The Eagles are now so deep at cornerback, it’s almost hard to believe somebody won’t get traded between now and September. That’s a far cry from seven months ago, when the injuries in the secondary were crippling the entire defense.
Why they could be worse: Health
On the other hand, the Eagles aren’t out of the woods quite yet. Darby is running but has yet to practice with the team. Mills has done even less in front of reporters. And Jones is good right now, but fair or not, the past two years leave many wondering how long until the injury bug bites again.
The idea the Eagles’ corners will be better is based on their being 100 percent. Yet, two starters are still hurt, and a third hasn’t been totally right through a full season since 2016. Not only that, Darby is coming off a torn ACL, which could impact his play this season, while Mills’ injury is shrouded in mystery. So are the cornerbacks actually healthier? As of right now, the secondary is one bad break away from Jeremiah McKinnon being a name to watch in training camp.
Everybody on the corner is a known quantity to some extent save for Jones. Case in point: even Maddox played more in his rookie season than Jones has in two. And while the Eagles may not know precisely what they have in Maddox, in Douglas, even in LeBlanc, none of those players were a top-five talent turned second-round draft pick, either.
Jones has the potential to alter the complexion of this group on his own. Even if he’s only the nickel corner — a big job in today’s NFL — he brings game-changing ability to a position in which teams sometimes hide limited athletes. The 23-year-old could presumably win a spot on the outside, especially with the starters still battling back from injuries. Either way, who knows where Jones goes from there? As long as he’s healthy, the sky is the limit.
Are the Eagles better or worse at cornerback?
Darby, Mills, Jones, Maddox. All were on the shelf at one point in ’18. As long as that scenario doesn’t happen again, it’s really a no-brainer. Same group of corners, only the younger players like Jones, Maddox, Douglas and LeBlanc are now far more experienced. One caveat — a preseason trade, which appears to border on likely, would certainly change the big picture here. BETTER
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