Arguing the merits of moving Brandon Boykin outside is the equivalent of banging your head against the wall at this point. As Chip Kelly re-emphasized at his day-after press conference Monday, it’s not happening.
“It really is how we practice and he practices as our nickel corner. It’s a very vital position for us. Billy [Davis] said that that’s a starting position for us, I say that’s a starting position for us, that’s kind of where it is,” said Kelly. “Our third corner outside right now [behind Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams] is Nolan Carroll.”
While the importance of the nickel corner position makes Boykin a starter in their mind, the fact remains that one of the team’s top playmakers sees a limited amount of reps in his current role. That was particularly true in the opener against Jacksonville, as Boykin played 23 of a possible 73 snaps, or 32 percent of the time.
That dip (he played 52 percent of the snaps on average last year) was tied to what the Jaguars were doing on offense, according to Kelly.
“They played a lot of 21 personnel and a lot of 12 personnel,” he said. “I think a lot of it had to do with, they only had four healthy receivers for the game and started two rookies out there and were trying to take pressure off of them, so they were in a lot more big personnel than I think they had shown even last year. I think they were a little bit more wide open last year and a little bit tighter this year.
“It’s probably an issue they were dealing with just from the receivers being hurt with [Cecil] Shorts going out just before our game and he got hurt sometime during the week and was on the [inactive list]. Sometimes games play out that way.”
The question is whether the offense should be able to dictate if one of your top defensive players sees the field.
Clearly, the Eagles value what Boykin gives them at the nickel corner spot (and as a special teamer; they view him as one of the top gunners in the league). It’s also true that they want their outside corners to have size and at 5-10, Boykin comes up shy in the measurables department. They see a league with a growing number of big wide receivers, and believe large corners are necessary to combat that trend.
The advantages of having a physical, imposing defensive backfield is on full display right now in Seattle. It also helps that the Seahawks corners (particularly the 6-3 Richard Sherman) are very talented. And as we look across the rest of the NFL, we see that talent at cornerback comes in all forms.
A quick scan of the NFL depth charts over at Ourlads shows that 33 of the 64 starting corners in the NFL (52 percent) are under six-foot. Nineteen of those (or 30 percent of starting outside corners in the league) check in at 5-10 or under, according to the site.
As has been recited many times, Boykin was second in the league with six interceptions last season (trailing only Sherman) despite being on the field half of the time. We saw on Sunday that his playing time in the current setup is largely dependent on which type of personnel the opposition deploys. And as Sheil did a good job of fleshing out back in August, the Eagles feel that they can run more base looks against three wide-receiver sets now that Malcolm Jenkins is in the fold. If that theory holds, Boykin’s snaps this year might actually go down despite a 2013 campaign that suggests that they should absolutely be going up.
“Brandon is a consummate professional,” said his agent, C.J. LaBoy. “He is a very intelligent and cerebral player. He is not the type of guy that is a ‘me’ guy, he wants what is best for the team. If that is for him to play nickel he will do it and do it very well.”
Boykin has a clear affinity towards Philadelphia and the Eagles organization. His hope is to play his entire career here should the stars align. This offseason could be a very interesting one from a business perspective, though. Boykin will be eligible for a new deal at the end of the season and if history is a guide, the front office will try to lock him up early. There will be many things to weigh, including whether his desire to remain in Philly long-term is greater than the desire to be a starting outside corner. And, of course, there is the financial end. Boykin might be a nickel corner here, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to extend him at nickel money necessarily.
“When that time comes, we as his representatives will not lose sight of his value and the projected value that his abilities and his productivity present,” said LaBoy. “We will not lose sight, whether he is an inside or outside corner, of what he has done and what he is capable of doing.”
Those matters are still a little ways away. Right now the focus is about what is happening on the field. As long as Boykin continues to play part time, many on the outside will continue to wonder why the Eagles’ best cornerback is not out there more. It’s part of the conversation, however fruitless it may be.