Avonte Maddox has had an wild rookie season. He sat on the bench for the first three weeks of the season and since then has played everywhere.
Thanks to a plethora of injuries in the secondary this season, the rookie fourth-round pick from Pittsburgh has played three completely different positions: safety, nickel cornerback and now outside cornerback.
And he’s played all three extremely well.
So on Thursday morning, I asked defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz if he’s coached a player like Maddox before, one who has been so versatile and so good this early in his career. And, how do they figure out where to put Maddox long-term?
His answer was interesting:
Yeah, he reminds me of Cortland Finnegan. I had Finny early, first couple years in his career in Tennessee. Came in and played nickel, and then moved outside to corner. Could switch back and forth. He was a good tackler. He had speed. Similar size, toughness. Finnegan didn't play safety for us, but he played safety in college, so he had a lot of those same kind of attributes, like I just got done talking about with Malcolm, and one of his strengths is he can play so many positions.
I don't look at it as a problem with Avonte. We'll figure out what's best for him, what's best for us, over the course of his career, but that flexibility is very helpful from a defensive standpoint.
The comparison to Finnegan is high praise from Schwartz, who was well into his tenure as the Titans’ defensive coordinator when they drafted the undersized Finnegan in 2006. These days, Finnegan is probably more well-known for his on-field antics, including his fight with Texans great Andre Johnson in November of 2010, when he finally got under the skin of the normally-reserved receiver.
But Finnegan was a heckuva player too. He started all 16 games his second season and in 2008, he was named to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team. His best years were in 2008 and 2009, when he had 10 interceptions. Only five players had more in that short span: Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Asante Samuel, Ed Reed and Darrelle Revis.
Finnegan lasted 10 seasons in the NFL, playing in 133 games with 111 starts, and had 18 career interceptions. Not a bad career for a seventh-round pick. And it wouldn’t be a bad career for Maddox either. They have a lot more in common than just their versatility.
Take a look at the tale of the tape:
The Eagles have plenty of time to figure out where Maddox should play long-term. He won’t turn 23 until March, so he’s still a young player who has already shown the versatility of a veteran.
But he’s been very good this season. Maddox has played in 12 games with eight starts and has two interceptions, four passes defensed, a forced fumble and 32 tackles.
As for the Finnegan comparison? Maddox was just 10 years old when Finnegan was drafted in 2006, so he’s heard of Finnegan but isn’t extremely familiar with his work. But he has watched plenty of undersized corners.
“I used to watch guys, in high school and college, like Brent Grimes (5-10), Desmond King (5-10) last year,” Maddox said. “I would just watch a lot of smaller guys. Tyrann Mathieu (5-9), guys like that. So I can be able to see where I fit at in the league and see how they get it done.”
Maddox is definitely getting it done so far. Maybe in a few years there will be some shorter kids watching him to learn the tricks of playing in the league.
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