Over the next three weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 20 most important Eagles for the 2021 season.
5. Darius Slay
Did Darius Slay live up to expectations in 2020?
It’s not an easy question to answer. Because it’s probably true to say that Slay didn’t necessarily play to the Pro Bowl level we saw from him in Detroit for the three previous seasons. But he also drew really tough assignments in his first year in Philly and, either way, was the best cover corner we’ve seen in town since Asante Samuel a decade ago.
So did you expect him to be a top five corner? He probably wasn’t.
Did you expect him to be good and very good? He was.
Either way, there’s no denying how important Slay will be to the Eagles in 2021. He’s undoubtedly their top corner (only corner?). And even in a new defensive system that will presumably take some pressure off of him, he’s still the CB1 and will be tasked with stopping some of the top receivers in the NFL.
Opinions on Slay coming out of last season are very split and that probably has something to do with trying to reconcile his role vs. his production. ProFootballFocus had Slay graded out as the 56th-best cornerback in the NFL last season. I can say with unwavering confidence that there are not 55 cornerbacks in the NFL better than Slay and PFF knows it too. On their preseason rankings, Slay was at No. 23.
But in an ESPN poll of folks around the league, Slay came in as the ninth-best cornerback in the NFL going into 2021.
Last season, there were really two games — two players — who gave Slay fits. D.K. Metcalf caught 8 passes on 11 targets for 158 yards against Slay in Week 12 and Davante Adams caught 6 of 7 targets for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns against him in Week 13. Those are two of the best receivers in the NFL, so it’s tough duty to face them. But Slay’s a prideful professional too; he’s allowed to win some of those. And he’ll be the first to admit it.
But aside from those two games, Slay more than held his own when facing some of the top receivers the Eagles faced last year. Take a look at these numbers, via PFF:
Terry McLaurin — 3 targets, 2 catches, 28 yards
Cooper Kupp — 2 targets, 1 catch, 5 yards
Robert Woods — 2 targets, 1 catch 13 yards
A.J. Green — 5 targets, 4 catches, 31 yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster — 2 targets, 1 catch, 11 yards
Chase Claypool — 4 targets, 2 catches, 26 yards
Darius Slayton (2 games) — 7 targets, 6 catches, 94 yards
Michael Gallup (2 games) — 4 targets, 3 catches, 28 yards
Jarvis Landry — 1 target, 1 catch, 13 yards
DK Metcalf — 11 targets, 8 catches, 158 yards
Davante Adams — 7 targets, 6 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs
Michael Thomas — 3 targets, 3 catches, 33 yards
Amari Cooper (2 games) — 1 target, 1 catch, 35 yards
After the 2020 season ended and after it became evident that the Eagles were in a rebuilding phase of some sort, I thought it would make some sense to explore a trade for Slay. After all, he came with a big price tag and is on the wrong side of 30. But instead, the Eagles restructured his contract, ensuring that he’d be back for the 2021 season under a new coaching staff.
To be clear, when I thought about a potential trade it was just about the money and the age of the player. Because Slay can still play. He showed that in 2020. And if the Eagles’ defense has any prayer of being good in 2021, he better show it again.
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