Jalen Mills isn’t merely holding his own in his second NFL season. Some would say the Eagles cornerback is in the midst of a breakout year, perhaps even worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.
It’s not farfetched. Mills already has 10 pass breakups and three interceptions at the midway point, and he gained some recognition nationally on Wednesday, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors with a pick-six against the 49ers.
Plays like that and the resulting exposure are going to help put Mills on the map, especially given the Eagles’ 7-1 record — although the 23-year-old insists he couldn’t have done it himself.
Mills is crediting his Eagles teammates for his success.
“I’m blessed, but at the same time, I talked to Chris Long before this practice, I talked to [Brandon Graham, Malcolm Jenkins],” Mills said after learning of the award.
“I told those guys that really goes with them — the D-line getting pressure, then having guys like Malcolm and [Rodney McLeod] help me with film study and understand different tendencies, understand how guys are going to attack our defense.
“I think this award is really for those guys because they help me a lot.”
The Eagles’ defense has been spectacular as a whole, but Mills has taken a big step forward as well.
A seventh-round draft choice, Mills wound up playing extensively as a rookie, the outcome of which was about what you would expect. He wasn’t bad considering the circumstances, just inconsistent.
Mills finished his first year with a 97.7 opponents’ passer rating in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus — tied for 53rd out of 79 qualifying cornerbacks. Fans were critical nonetheless, while analysts were skeptical as to his ceiling.
Eight weeks into the ’17 campaign, Mills is 30th with an 80.9 rating in coverage. The LSU product is proving his doubters wrong as the Eagles’ de facto No. 1 cornerback, and nobody could blame him for pointing it out.
Instead, Mills is continuing to go about his business the same as always, preparing for the Eagles’ next opponent.
“Regardless of whatever I did Sunday, this is a week-to-week league,” Mills said. “Especially how our team is playing right now, you have to come with that fire and energy each and every week. Celebrate the win, celebrate whatever else happened after that, but now I’m focused on the Denver Broncos.
“It can’t be about anything else. It can’t be ‘I told you so,’ because we have a final goal toward the end of the season.”
A little taste of success clearly isn’t going to his head. Mills even downplayed talk of the Pro Bowl, telling reporters he hasn’t earned that opportunity yet, that there are “a lot” of corrections he could make.
“It’s crazy, but at the same time, I don’t really want to get caught up into it,” Mills said. “Our record is good right now, but it’s not good enough. It’s going out each and every week, preparing the same way, and then on Sunday, competing the same way regardless of whatever has happened.”
What a difference a couple of months can make.
Cornerback was such an area of concern this offseason, the Eagles signed Patrick Robinson in free agency, then proceeded to invest second- and third-round picks into the position. Still not satisfied, the club traded for Ronald Darby during training camp in August.
But Mills has been “the one constant” at corner for the Eagles, according to coach Doug Pederson, while Jim Schwartz says he’s playing “good, consistent ball” — high praise from the defensive coordinator.
It turns out, Mills’ ceiling was a lot higher than most people thought, even inside the Eagles organization, apparently.
And he has the right mindset to continue improving.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a complete player,” Mills said. “I think once you think you’re complete, you’re satisfied, and there’s no reason to be satisfied in this league.”