Aaron Grymes

Analyzing every cornerback on Eagles' roster, one by one

Analyzing every cornerback on Eagles' roster, one by one

The Eagles have 85 players on their roster heading into Thursday's preseason finale and nine of them are listed as cornerbacks (see 10 players to watch)

Obviously, cornerback has been one of the biggest worries of the team all offseason. The Eagles used two of their first three picks in the spring on the position and then went out and traded their most consistent receiver over the past few years to bring in Ronald Darby from Buffalo. 

Does that mean the position is settled?

Not quite. 

The Eagles went ahead and cut two corners — Ron Brooks and Mitchell White — on Wednesday (see story). But there's still plenty more to figure out. 

Here's a player-by-player look (in numerical order by jersey number) at every cornerback on the roster and one safety who has moved there as well. 

Patrick Robinson
The 29-year-old veteran is the oldest player on this list. He was brought in on a one-year, prove-it deal after a disappointing and injury-plagued season in Indianapolis last year. The year before, the former Saints first-round pick was much better in San Diego. 

"I would say that was the most consistent season," Robinson said about 2015 in San Diego. "Just playing great football. I was way more consistent." 

Robinson came into the spring as the starter opposite Jalen Mills and stayed there until relatively recently when Darby was brought in. Since the Darby trade, Robinson has been getting most of his work in the slot as the Eagles' third cornerback. It's a position he's played plenty in the past and a place where he's had a moderate level of success. Once Robinson moved into the slot, he bumped Ron Brooks out. 

Robinson was awful at the beginning of this training camp when he was still an outside corner. The move to put him in the slot might be a way to find a realistic way to use him in 2017. The Eagles can use Robinson against shiftier slot receivers like Cole Beasley, but can still use Malcolm Jenkins against bigger receivers and tight ends thanks to the addition of Corey Graham, the third safety. 

Sidney Jones
Jones would have been a first-round pick in the spring had he not torn his Achilles at Washington's pro day. He was such a hot prospect that there's a good chance he wasn't even going to be available when the Eagles were on the clock at 14. But thanks to the injury, Jones was available with the 43rd pick and the Eagles saw enough value to take him. That doesn't mean Jones will play this season. That's still to be determined. 

While Jones can't practice yet and will miss at least the first half of his rookie season, he has been involved with the team both on the field and in the meeting room (see story). Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been impressed with how well Jones is handling the entire situation. The Eagles hope Jones is eventually a long-term solution at a position that has flummoxed them. We just won't know for a while.  

Jaylen Watkins
Watkins is the only player on this list of 10 who isn't labeled as a cornerback. But based on recent weeks in practice, he's no longer a safety. Watkins has been back at cornerback and working in the slot role. Watkins, of course, was a fourth-round pick in 2014, drafted as a cornerback by the Eagles out of Florida. But the team cut him in 2015, he spent a few months on the Bills' practice squad and then returned to the Eagles as a safety. He played all of 2016 as their third safety and the results were mixed. This training camp, he had been playing safety until he was moved to corner and slot in recent weeks. 

"You don't see it often in the NFL, guys do it successfully," Watkins said of playing all three positions. "Obviously, someone upstairs (in the front office) liked the way I handle both positions. I take it as a positive." 

Jomal Wiltz 
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa State, Wiltz has been with the team since just after the draft. It appears he's a long shot to make the team. 

Jalen Mills
It's safe to say Schwartz absolutely loves Mills. The Eagles used a seventh-round pick to take Mills out of LSU last season, but he clearly had more talent than that. Off-the-field concerns probably allowed Mills to drop, but he has been zero trouble for the Eagles. In fact, he's been a pretty positive influence in the building. Schwartz loved Mills from the second he arrived because of his competitiveness, which, yes, comes with a little cockiness. There are many finger wags. 

Mills certainly had his ups and downs as a rookie, but there's a reason the Eagles didn't hesitate to make him a starter all the way back in the spring and there's a reason he hasn't budged from that spot. That's how much they like him and how much they think he's improved from last year. 

What's the long-term plan for Mills? That remains to be seen. The Eagles have a lot of young cornerback talent that seems to fit on the outside. Eventually, Mills' role might be in the slot. But to start the 2017 season, he's a starter outside. 

Rasul Douglas
Douglas is one of the more interesting cases on the team. After the Eagles drafted an injured Jones in the second round, they came back with the 99th pick (third round) to take Douglas out of West Virginia. Last season in college, Douglas led the nation with eight interceptions.

The Eagles had the 99th pick after they moved down 25 spots in the Tim Jernigan trade with Baltimore, and they claim that Douglas was one of the players they would have targeted at No. 74, but we'll never really know. 

Douglas looked pretty good when it was just the rookies on the field in the spring, but when the vets showed up, things changed. Douglas began to struggle and just as he started to look better, spring was over and pads went on in training camp. He struggled again. Had Douglas looked really good in camp, it seems likely the Eagles would have never made the move for Darby. It's not clear what Douglas' role will be with the team in the long term. He's one of many talented young corners on the roster. They do like his length, size and competitiveness. 

Ronald Darby 
Darby might not be a savior but he's certainly an upgrade. The Eagles had to part ways with Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to bring in Darby, but they were pretty desperate. They needed help at cornerback and Darby is exactly what they were missing. He's aggressive — a necessary trait to play corner for Schwartz — but he actually has the speed to recover if things go wrong. 

Because of how aggressive Darby is, he's going to get beat from time to time. We saw it in the third preseason game against the Dolphins, although he had tight coverage even when he gave up big plays. In his rookie season, Darby was much better than his sophomore year. He thinks he just didn't finish plays in 2016. 

In his two years in Buffalo, Darby stayed on the left side because Stephon Gilmore played on the right. That also meant neither guy traveled to face other team's top receiver. Maybe we see the Eagles travel Darby in 2017 when they face players like Odell Beckham Jr.

Dexter McDougle
The newcomer on a team with a lot of newcomers. McDougle was added on Sunday morning in a trade with the Jets for safety Terrence Brooks. McDougle was a third-round pick by New York in 2014 but has never lived up to his potential. He missed his rookie season after an ACL tear and has played minimally since. So maybe a change of scenery will help. 

But he won't have a ton of time to learn the Eagles’ defense and then prove that he's worthy of a roster spot. After all, he's competing with players who have been here for months or even over a year. 

"I mean, that's a good, valid point," Schwartz said. "You do have a better body of work for guys that have been here. But, that's just part of this business. There may come times during the season that we bring guys in on a Tuesday and they got to start due to injuries or something like that. It’s nothing new for coaches.

"It probably does add a different dynamic to scouting. But (vice president of player personnel) Joe (Douglas) and (executive vice president of football operations) Howie (Roseman) can handle that kind of stuff."

C.J. Smith
Smith was once known as the other guy the Eagles got from North Dakota State. But in his year-plus with the team, Smith has really come along. He started 2016 on the practice squad but was added to the active roster in October. He got just one defensive snap in 2016 but did play on special teams. 

He was having a really solid camp before the Darby move. There even seemed to be a possibility he would beat out Robinson to earn a starting job on the outside. But now he's fighting for a roster spot.

Aaron Grymes
Grymes came to the Eagles last offseason and had a really good camp. He had a good shot of making the initial 53-man roster but hurt his shoulder in the final preseason game against the Jets. The Eagles told him to stay close, though, and brought him back to the practice squad in October. Eventually, he found his way onto the 53-man roster for a brief time. The team really seems to like him in the slot; that's where he got some first-team reps this summer. 

Eagles-Jets preseason finale: 10 players to watch

Eagles-Jets preseason finale: 10 players to watch

Ahh, the fourth preseason game. I know you're excited. 

It's a game that means nothing to most but everything to a select few. Those few will have one last shot to battle it out for a roster spot Thursday night when the Eagles play the Jets in North Jersey. 

The starters won't play, which means Carson Wentz and his group will watch. 

If Nick Foles actually plays in this game, he's worth watching. He has practiced minimally throughout the summer and hasn't played in any of the preseason games. He finally returned to practice Monday but missed Tuesday because he was sick. Head coach Doug Pederson as of Tuesday hadn't made up his mind about whether or not Foles would play, but the team doesn't seem to be worried about forcing him into action. 

With that said, here are 10 other Eagles to watch on Thursday night: 

Dexter McDougle 
The Eagles traded for McDougle on Sunday and he'll face his former team Thursday night. Not a ton of time to prepare for the young cornerback. But as Jalen Mills said earlier this week, "Man is man, zone is zone," no matter what defense a corner is playing in. McDougle is a late-arriver but keep an eye on him in the slot. That might be a position that fits him in Philly. 

Beau Allen
Allen returned from the non-football injury list this week after completely healing from his torn pec. He's entering a contract season and is probably still the Eagles' top backup defensive tackle, although Destiny Vaeao was impressive in Allen's absence. Don't expect Allen to play a ton Thursday, but he should get a few snaps and we'll see where he is. 

Rick Lovato 
It's the fourth preseason game and I'm telling you to watch a long snapper. I apologize. But let's be honest, you were going to watch Jon Dorenbos' replacement anyway, weren't you? The Eagles were impressed enough with Lovato at the end of last year and this offseason to move on from their longest-tenured player. If Lovato has a bad snap Thursday … 

Billy Brown 
When asked recently about which position battles he's watching in these final days, Pederson surprisingly mentioned the tight ends. That's surprising because the top three guys — Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Brent Celek — haven't changed. What has changed is Brown, a young receiver-turned-tight end from Shepherd. Brown has been impressive all summer and might have the Eagles thinking about keeping four tight ends.

Corey Clement 
Clement has done everything right this summer. The running back from Glassboro, New Jersey, has run the ball well, pass protected and even shown his growing ability as a pass-catcher. But will it be enough? It seems unlikely the Eagles would keep five running backs, so in the group of LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey, who would go? The easy answer might be Pumphrey, but he's a fourth-round pick and it would be very rare to give up on him this early. Clement has one more chance to prove his worth. 

Greg Ward
After a really strong start to training camp, Ward has kind of been forgotten in recent weeks. The former University of Houston quarterback made a pretty seamless transition to NFL receiver and turned heads early in camp. He still has a chance to make the roster. After the first four receivers — Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins — Marcus Johnson is probably the next guy up. If the Eagles keep six, Ward is battling with Shelton Gibson and Bryce Treggs for that last spot. 

Taylor Hart 
It's crazy to think, but it wouldn't be that big of a surprise if Hart makes the Eagles' roster as an offensive tackle. He switched positions in the spring, flipping from defensive to offensive tackle and hasn't looked completely out of place. Now, he very likely wouldn't be ready to take snaps this year, but the Eagles might think they have something in him. 

Alex McCalister
Expect McCalister and Steven Means to play a ton in this last game. We listed McCalister instead of Means because, based on performance and the latter's extension Wednesday (see story), McCalister is the one playing catch-up. Now, he was a late-round draft pick a year ago, so maybe that gives him one advantage. But in terms of on-field play to go with a new deal, it will be tough to keep Means off the roster. A big game from McCalister can't hurt, though.

Justin Hamilton 
Allen's return from the NFI list was bad news for Hamilton, who has been having a very quiet but good summer. With Allen back, there's one less roster spot up for grabs. That means Hamilton is fighting with draft pick Elijah Qualls for a spot. Qualls has come on strong lately and has a lot of untapped potential. 

Aaron Grymes
The former CFL cornerback might have made the 2016 team but he injured his shoulder in this game a year ago. With Ron Brooks gone, it appears that either Patrick Robinson or McDougle will take the slot role, but don't sleep on Grymes just yet. He got some run with the first-team defense in the nickel corner spot and is a natural fit there. 

Questions at cornerback lingering for Jim Schwartz, Eagles as preseason opener nears

Questions at cornerback lingering for Jim Schwartz, Eagles as preseason opener nears

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was noncommittal Sunday when asked whether the team's starting cornerbacks are currently on the roster.

The Eagles' secondary continues to be the primary concern at training camp, so much so that Schwartz was beginning to notice a theme during his Sunday media availability. Nine of the 10 questions Schwartz answered before practice at Lincoln Financial Field were somehow related to defensive backs, specifically the cornerbacks.

It was the second time this summer Schwartz noted reporters were hammering the corners, and with good reason. The defensive coordinator finally had to concede the Eagles' starters aren't necessarily here right now.

"That's why we play preseason games and practice," Schwartz said.

This isn't the first time a member of the staff conceded the Eagles are weighing their options at the position. Eagles coach Doug Pederson previously acknowledged the club was continuing to search for talent, even as the team was reporting for camp.

"It's a position that we continue to look even outside, as we do every position, and we're going to continue to look and try to bring in guys if we can and just create as much competition at that spot," Pederson said in July. "You know, it's obviously a spot that we're going to keep our eye on throughout camp."

Two weeks later, the Eagles are still looking for answers.

While Jalen Mills appears to have one starting job locked down, Patrick Robinson, C.J. Smith, Aaron Grymes and Rasul Douglas are all vying for the other spot. Even Mills' presumed role seems to be as much by default as it is performance-based.

Which is not to say the Eagles haven't seen anything from their young cornerbacks in camp. However, nobody has stepped up and really seized their role.

"All those guys have shown something," Schwartz said. "I don't know that anybody is consistent enough where we don't look at anybody else.

"I said the same thing coming into camp, or maybe back in OTAs, that it would be nice to have solid guys or solid starters at those positions, but we're still in the middle of a competition. Everybody is striving to be consistent."

Don't expect any answers to come in the immediate future, either. Schwartz expects the competition to continue.

"Preseason games I think has a lot to do with it," Schwartz said. "There are a lot of times you go into preseason games and you're there to evaluate players.

"We had a couple times last year where we played man-to-man just about every snap just to see those guys. You call a preseason game a lot different than you call a regular-season game because you want to see players compete, you want to see players win."

Nor should Schwartz expect the cornerback-heavy line of questioning to change in the coming weeks. Until players solidify themselves in those starting jobs, or the Eagles go out and get somebody who can, corner will continue to be the biggest question facing the team in 2017.

"Being consistent and winning matchups consistently," Schwartz said, "we're still a work in progress there."