As he leaves town, it's time to appreciate Jalen Mills

March 17, 2021

Jalen Mills was never a great player. He’ll never be a great player. He’s a relatively slow 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back in a league where speed rules.

He ran 4.61 at the 2016 Combine, which ranked 33rd out of 38 cornerbacks that year. That’s why he didn’t get drafted until the 7th round, the 233rd player taken overall.

But one thing Jalen Mills always did during his five years with the Eagles is give everything he had.

He got the most out of his ability, and I’d rather have a guy on my team who’s giving 100 percent of his limited ability than some all-world 1st-round hotshot with Olympic speed who can jump out of the gym out there giving 70 or 80 percent. We’ve had a few of those around here, too.

I feel like a lot of fans don’t appreciate Mills the way they should. You need guys like Jalen Mills on your football team. Guys who aren’t stars but just go out and play hard, know their limitations, put the team first and inspire others.

Mills wasn’t a star, but in a lot of ways he was the perfect symbol of that 2017 Super Bowl team. A guy who out-played expectations, a guy who a lot of people didn’t believe in, a guy who came up huge when he had to.

That was the personality of that team. Guys like LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson and Corey Graham, who other teams had given up. Guys like Rodney McLeod, Corey Clement and Jason Peters, who were undrafted. Guys like Jason Kelce, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Big V, drafted in the late rounds.

Like so many of those guys, Mills had a chip on his shoulder. In his mind, he was the best cornerback in the league, and that confidence - while maybe a bit misplaced – served him well. His greatest attribute as a player was that he approached every snap like he was going to prove people wrong.

He got beat. Just like every other corner. But when the play was over, he was back in "I'm a stud" mode, just as confident as ever. You couldn't make a dent in that confidence, no matter how many 50-yard bombs you beat him on.

And when the game and the season were on the line – with 65 seconds left in the 2017 Falcons playoff game – Mills raised up and made absolutely sure Matt Ryan’s potential game-winning pass did not reach Julio Jones.

On that unforgettable play, Mills was the superstar he's always believed himself to be, and it guaranteed the Eagles a trip to the NFC Championship Game and eventually the Super Bowl.

Where the Eagles beat Bill Belichick, who is now Mills’ coach.

To put Mills’ career here in perspective, he’s started more games for the Eagles over the last 40 years than any other Eagles 7th-round pick. And the only players taken in the 7th round or later during that span to start more games than Mills are Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons, a couple all-time greats from late in the 1986 draft.

I see a lot of negative stuff about Mills – “He sucks,” “He was never any good,” “He can’t play” - and it bugs me because he’s exactly the kind of player this city should really have embraced.

A long-shot who earned everything he got through hard work and sheer determination. A natural leader who was respected by everybody in the locker room. A hard-nosed corner made up for his lack of speed with toughness and grit.

He was one of us for the last five years. Even if not all of us recognized it.

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