It’s one of the more intriguing competitions of this Eagles training camp and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says that the battle for CB2 will be an “open competition.”
We all know Darius Slay will be one of the Eagles’ starting cornerbacks to open the 2020 season and we all assume Nickell Robey-Coleman will be the nickel cornerback.
But what about the other starting outside job?
Well that’s what the abbreviated training camp that we’ll have will decide,” Jim Schwartz said last week on a Zoom call with reporters. “There’ll be open competition in there. We’ll have a lot of different guys.
A lot of different guys really boils down to three: Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas.
All three of those guys have been with the Eagles for at least two seasons.
“One of the things that has happened to us over the last couple of years is we’ve had a lot of different guys play because of injuries in the secondary,” Schwartz said. “You know, that’s tough during the season but what it’s done is it’s given us a lot of different options, guys that have played a lot of football.”
Remember, the CB2 job in 2020 is a pretty important one for a couple reasons. One is that Slay will often travel to cover the other team’s best receiver. So the other corner better be able to play on both sides of the field. And if teams don’t want to throw at Slay, that means the other cornerback might get a lot of action.
The other thing to remember is that the Eagles also have a new defensive backs coach this season in Marquand Manuel, who will bring his own teachings and techniques. We don’t know how his coaching will mesh with the three candidates but we’ll find out soon.
Let’s take a closer look at all three options, ordered by likelihood to win the job:
Maddox, 24, was a 4th-round pick in 2018. During his two years with the Eagles, he has played outside corner, nickel corner and even safety to varying levels of success. At 5-foot-9, he seems best suited as a nickel corner but the Eagles are set there with Robey-Coleman and Cre’Von LeBlanc. So Maddox will get a shot to be a starter on the outside. He’s the favorite.
Schwartz seems to be a big fan of Maddox. Even during Maddox’s rookie season, Schwartz felt comfortable moving him around the defense and letting him play different positions. Schwartz once compared Maddox to Cortland Finnegan, another undersized corner who played inside and outside for Schwartz in Tennessee. Finnegan was an All-Pro in 2008.
In two seasons, Maddox has played 25 games and started 15. He had two interceptions as a rookie but didn’t have any last season. Maddox needs to find more consistency.
In his two-year career, Maddox has played just 28.3% of his snaps at outside cornerback, according to PFF. He’s had some success outside but he’s also had his share of bad plays from the outside as well.
Jones, 24, was a 2nd-round pick in 2017 and the Eagles would probably love nothing more than to see Jones dominate in training camp, take over this position and never give it back. But he lost a valuable spring of competition and that might have him behind Maddox to start.
Jones was on his way to being a no-doubt 1st-round pick back in 2017 when he tore his Achilles at the Washington pro day. But the Eagles gambled anyway and drafted him with the 43rd pick. Now entering Year 4, as Howie Roseman said, “It’s time for him to prove it.” This is a contract season for Jones and we’ve only ever seen flashes of the supremely talented guy we thought the Eagles were getting.
In his three NFL seasons, Jones has played in 22 games with 8 starts. He had two interceptions — the first two of his career — in 2019.
The good news is that some of those flashes came in crucial situations last season. While Jones claims he never lacked confidence, it seemed like he was able to gain a bunch by making some huge plays last year. But we’ve never seen that consistently from him. If we see it in training camp this year, he has a shot to be a starter.
Of the three, Douglas actually has the most playing experience, but is the longest shot to win this job. In three seasons since he was a 3rd-round pick in 2017, Douglas has played in 46 games with 18 starts and has 5 interceptions. Despite seeing playing time as a starter after injuries, Douglas has never been able to hold onto that role.
This offseason, the Eagles got Douglas to agree to a pay cut. If he hadn’t, he most likely wouldn’t be on the team right now. Douglas was scheduled to have a base salary of over $2 million in 2020 but his new base salary is $835,000, according to a league source.
Of the three candidates, Douglas is the longest and rangiest at 6-foot-2, but he lacks some speed. He has started at least five games in each of the last three years with varied results. If he can’t win a job as a starter — and I think he’s probably third in the pecking order — he might be worth keeping around as an experienced backup.
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