Why the Eagles Overlooked the Corner Position?
By Lance Epstein
One of the more surprising decisions by general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Andy Reid was not selecting a cornerback early in the draft, especially after they just traded starting right corner Sheldon Brown.
Even more frustrating for Eagles enthusiasts were that cornerbacks Kyle Wilson, Devin McCourty and Patrick Robinson all slipped to the end of the first round. Eagles fans and the national media were asking and pleading with the team to trade up to grab one of these premiere corner prospects and solidify their cornerback position.
Unfortunately in a very aggressive Eagles draft, they did not move up to get any of those corners. Instead they waited to select University of Kentucky corner Trevard Lindley with their first of four fourth-round draft picks (105th overall). However, can Lindley be an important factor in the Eagles defensive backfield in 2010? Probably not taking into consideration he had trouble staying healthy this past year in college and has a lack of bulk.
Although when Lindley was on the field for the Wildcats, he was a ballhawk in one of the toughest conference in America in the SEC. Also, he constantly made big-time plays in the game's biggest moments. Despite this, that was not the NFL and asking a rookie fourth-round pick to be a starter is a huge gamble.
So what are the Eagles going to do? Probably Nothing. Looking up and down the Eagles’ secondary depth chart, they have potentially eight cornerbacks competing for a limited amount of roster spots. Whether they can replace the solid play of Brown is another question that will be answered in time.
Asante Samuel is a Pro Bowl caliber player, but needs to improve his tackling so teams do not consistently run screens to his side of the field that go for 15 yards or more.
Joselio Hanson and Ellis Hobbs are the other two players who are going to receive significant minutes. That does not put much confidence in many Eagles loyalist, but has opposing quarterbacks licking their chops.
Both players have huge deficiencies, concerns and should not be counted on. Hobbs is coming off a neck injury, which required season-ending surgery. Additionally, he made 11 tackles, had no interceptions and furthermore he did not demonstrate any ability to be capable starter before his injury in week eight.
Certainly, Hobbs has starting experience since he started every game for the 2007 New England Patriots team that went 16-0 during the regular season and lost in the Super Bowl. A more important fact is that he also gave up the most touchdown-passes of any cornerback in the NFL that following season. This was one of the reasons that the Patriots were willing to unload him for only a fifth-round pick.
As for Hanson, he received a handsome contract extension last year, but he was not the same player after his four-game suspension and did not live up to his pricey contract. In addition, he is best suited to be a nickel and dime corner because he does not have the necessary talent or ability to be a full-time starter.
Neither Hobbs nor Hanson have instilled faith that they could replace a team leader that had never missed a game over his career, played through nagging injuries and was the most consistent player on the team over the last eight seasons.
The next two players in line are Macho Harris and Marlin Jackson. Last year, Harris played and started at the free safety position, so he has some experience in the NFL as a starter. Still, he showed a lack of instincts and did not make enough plays.
Of course, that could have been because he was learning a new position on the fly and was a rookie. Maybe the Eagles view Harris as a potential starting cornerback down the line or groomed to replace Hanson as the team’s third corner. As for next year, expect him to be the backup at both strong and free safety position and possibly the dime package corner.
Jackson is a very intriguing prospect for the Eagles. The 26-year old, former first round defensive back can play a plethora of positions. He has played corner (both left and right), strong and free safety. His versatility makes him an excellent weapon at Reid's disposal, but that is only if he recovers from two torn ACLs.
That is a lot to ask of a player, who might never have the same speed or athleticism that he once possessed. On top of that do the Eagles envision him playing corner or eventually replacing Quintin Mikell at strong safety (contract up at the end of the year)? When Jackson was healthy demonstrated an ability to make plays on the ball at the cornerback position.
Nonetheless, if the Eagles are banking on Jackson playing a significant role with the club this upcoming season, they are putting a lot of eggs in one basket. He is just too big of an unknown to be count on. This particular franchise should remember not to count on injured players because Shawn and Stacy Andrews burned them just a year ago. If Jackson contributes, the Eagles should view this as an added bonus.
Finally, the last three players on the roster that are at the cornerback position are undrafted rookie Davind Pender out of Purdue, Lindley and last year's surprise contributor Dimitri Patterson.
Pender (6-0, 180) is an intriguing prospect because he has ideal size (height), footwork, athleticism and hip fluidity for the position. But lacks the speed to play man coverage, has suspect ball skills and does not have the bulk to be a major contributor in his first season. Nevertheless, Pender could be a very good project for down the road considering he had 31 career pass deflections and was a three-year starter at Purdue.
As for Lindley, like Pender, he lacks the bulk to be a contributor in his rookie season. He does have great athleticism and can be a playmaker since he reads routes well (his game is eerily similar to Asante Samuel-- good instincts, reads routes, but has trouble tackling-- went same round as Samuel). By the end of the year, the Eagles might throw him into the fire to see what they got since the club could struggle due to their tough schedule (No. 9 in the league). Yet, do not expect him to be a factor for the Eagles at the right corner position in year one.
Lastly, Patterson made strides in his first season with the Eagles. He went from being an afterthought to the team's nickel corner when Hanson was suspended for four games for testing positive for a banned NFL substance.
Still, there is a reason that Patterson has floated around to three teams in four years, and that is because he is a marginal player. Each game Patterson saw more minutes, the more opponents zeroed in on him and attack his weaknesses. Patterson is nothing more than a dime corner and on many teams might even a practice squad player.
So where does this leave the Eagles? Well it is a huge issue that might haunt the team throughout the course of the season especially since they face Donovan McNabb twice, Tony Romo twice, Eli Manning twice, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and possibly Brett Favre.
While the Eagles failed to address this area in the draft, there is still time to make moves to upgrade the talent at the position via trade for a veteran or if a team releases a key veteran in a cost-cutting move. Although do not expect any team to release a young, up-and-coming corner or just give one away.
For Eagles enthusiast, the best hope is that the competition at the position forces players to elevate their games to new levels. Moreover, there might even be a surprise in Harris, Lindley, Pender or Jackson.
This is the weakest position on the club in terms of starter's talent, but not in depth. Reid and Roseman are counting on defensive end Trent Cole teaming up with first round pick Brandon Graham to sustain enough pressure on the quarterback, which in turn will make up for the lack of talent in the defensive backfield.
Still, expect this position to be one of the key and most pressing areas address either in free agency or in the 2011 NFL Draft.