Why Size At Corner Matters To Eagles

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Chip Kelly led with size when extolling the virtues of free-agent acquisition Nolan Carroll last week.

“We had him targeted very early as a guy we wanted to bring into this organization,” the head coach said. “I think he’s got the requisite length that we are looking for at the corner spot, especially as an outside corner.”

Another blow dealt to those hoping Brandon Boykin will be given a starting role this season.

The argument for moving Boykin outside is pretty straightforward: The 23-year-old finished second in the league with six interceptions last year while playing only half the time. Why not give the playmaker more opportunity to make plays?

There is merit to that line of thinking. But the Eagles are looking at it another way. Big picture, they see a league that is getting flooded with giants at the wide receiver position, and are trying to properly arm themselves so they at least have  a fighting chance against them.

“Some guys say, ‘I don’t care how tall a guy is. He can be 5-8. If he can cover, he can cover.’ But the receivers do feel like they’re getting bigger,” said defensive coordinator  Billy Davis. “I know one thing. When you’re up in the box and you look down and see 6-5 out there and your 5-9’s covering him. Jump-ball? I don’t think we’re gonna win that one.”

Davis is right: the receivers are getting bigger. And the size  gap between receivers and corners is growing, as Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com explains.

In 1992, the wide receivers selected for the Pro Bowl averaged 6 feet, ½ inch and weighed 195.6 pounds. The cornerbacks selected to that Pro Bowl averaged 6-¼ and weighed 189.5 pounds. That’s an even battle, much like it had been in 1982…

By 2012, the Pro Bowl receivers checked in at 6-1½, 209.1 pounds and the cornerbacks averaged 6-¾, 198.4 pounds. The discrepancy grew this past season, with the Pro Bowl receivers averaging 6-2½, 215.8 and the corners going 5-11½, 196.4 — even with Seattle’s 6-3, 195-pound Richard Sherman and Arizona’s 6-1, 219-pound Patrick Peterson in the mix.

Spin ahead to this past February’s scouting combine, and a deep class of strikingly big wide receivers checked in at an average of 6-foot-1½, 200.1 pounds, while the cornerbacks invited to Lucas Oil Stadium averaged just more than 5-foot-11, 194.4 pounds.

While many things went into the success of Seattle’s defense last season, having big, physical corners who could hold their own in one-on-one match ups was a significant piece of the puzzle. And it was no accident. Take a look at the corners currently on the Seahawks’ roster.

NameHeight Weight
Richard Sherman6-3195
Tharold Simon6-3202
Eric Pinkins6-3220
Byron Maxwell6-1207
Jeremy Lane6-0190
A.J. Jefferson6-1190
Chandler Fenner6-1189
Phillip Adams5-11195

Pete Carroll is obviously looking for specific measurables in his corners. We know Kelly is as well, though he has a little ways to go until his cornerbacks match the Seahawks from a size perspective (or otherwise).  Here is how the Eagles stack up:

NameHeight Weight
Cary Williams6-1190
Nolan Carroll6-1205
Curtis Marsh 6-1197
Bradley Fletcher6-0200
Jaylen Watkins5-11194
Roc Carmichael5-10197
Brandon Boykin5-10185

“They’re definitely a  blueprint for what the future of the NFL is going to look like just because you have these power forwards playing wide receiver,” said Eagles assistant defensive backs coach Todd Lyght of Seattle’s corners. “What are you going to do to match these power forwards? You gotta go get yourself some small forwards just to be able to contend. That’s what the game’s come down to.”

On the flip side, Kelly is gravitating towards the “power forwards” at receiver to take advantage of the disparity in size between wideouts and corners across the league. One of the reasons he wants to play Jordan Matthews (6-3, 212) inside is to create mismatches with smaller slot corners — players who are the size of say, Boykin.

The Georgia product has not been shy about the fact that he wants to start on the outside. He is scheduled to make about $670,000 this season and $760,000 in 2015 — the final year of his rookie contract. Would he want to re-up with a team that isn’t using him as a full-time starter? That’s an issue that will need to be dealt with in time. For now, the Eagles are sticking to their cornerback philosophy.

“When most people, if they’re gonna be in ’21′ personnel, then they’re not small outside. They’re big outside. So when they’re big, we’re big,” said Kelly. “I think when you bring in the Wes Welkers and the great slot receivers in this league, you need to have someone that has the ability to cover them. And I think that’s what Brandon’s strength really is. That’s the way we’ve always looked at it.”