Over the next four weeks, we’ll be counting down the 20 most important Eagles for the 2020 season.
20. Nate Sudfeld
19. Avonte Maddox
18. Nathan Gerry
17. Dallas Goedert
16. Derek Barnett
15. Jalen Reagor
14. Jalen Mills
13. Brandon Brooks
12. Rodney McLeod
11. Javon Hargrave
10. Miles Sanders
9. Andre Dillard
8. Brandon Graham
7. Zach Ertz
6. DeSean Jackson
5. Lane Johnson
4. Darius Slay
In the four years under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, there have been 17 different corners to get on the field for the Eagles. They’ve gotten by with Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin and Dexter McDougle and a complete list of average to bad corners.
The Eagles haven’t had an elite cornerback since Asante Samuel nearly a decade ago.
They hope that’s about to change.
This offseason, the Eagles shipped 3rd and 5th-round picks to the Lions for Darius Slay in March and then gave the 29-year-old a three-year extension with over $30 million guaranteed. The Eagles had no problem with that price because they believe they’re getting one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
Slay has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last three seasons in Detroit. During those three seasons, he has 13 interceptions. During that same span every Eagles cornerback combined had a total of 23.
During Schwartz’s time as DC in Philly he hasn’t used one corner to travel with top receivers, but that’s because he didn’t have a corner worthy of that responsibility. He does now.
And Slay is ready for that.
“Oh, I love the challenge,” Slay said this offseason. “I kind of ask for it a lot because of the fact that I want the game on me and I want to help win the game. If the best route to go about it is me traveling with a guy, then I’ll do it.”
Even though many considered Slay’s 2019 season to be a down years, according to ProFootballFocus, here’s how he performed against some of the NFL’s top receivers last season:
Larry Fitzgerald: 1 target, 0 catches
Keenan Allen: 11 targets, 6 catches, 81 yards, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Stefon Diggs (2 games): 8 target, 6 catch, 114 yards, 1 PBU
Adam Thielen: 2 targets, 1 catch, 25 yards, 1 TD
Allen Robinson (2 games): 9 targets, 5 catch, 74 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Amari Cooper: 6 targets, 3 catches, 38 yards, 2 PBU
Terry McLaurin: 10 targets, 3 catches, 42 yards, 1 PBU
Chris Godwin: 2 targets, 1 catch, 6 yards
Davante Adams: 5 targets, 4 catches, 63 yards
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper and Eagles CB Darius Slay have faced off twice in the NFL.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) March 19, 2020
2015: Slay shadowed Cooper on 20 of his 27 routes. Cooper had 0 catches on 3 targets in the game.
2019: Slay shadowed on 26 of his 30 routes. Cooper posted an 8-3-38-0 receiving line.
That last note is particularly important for the Eagles, who will have to try to slow down Cooper for at least the next several years.
Under Schwartz, the Eagles have been incredible against the run. In fact, they’re the NFL’s No. 1 run defense since 2016. But they’re 23rd against the pass. Having a stud cornerback like Slay could change all that.
And if they have better corners, the pass rush will have more time to get to the quarterback. That could mean big things for the entire defense.
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