All-22: Why the Eagles Will Target Byron Maxwell
Following the Eagles’ 24-14 loss to the Seahawks in December, Chip Kelly was asked about why his offense converted just two of 11 third-down opportunities on the day.
He pointed to a few different factors, one of which was the inability of the Eagles’ wide receivers to separate from Seattle’s defensive backs.
“Some were runaways where you’re hoping they beat the man‑to‑man coverage and [uncover] a little bit quicker and separated the way we need to separate and run away from them a little bit,” he said.
On four occasions, it came down to a one-on-one matchup against a specific cornerback: Byron Maxwell. Time and again, Eagles receivers ended up on the losing end of that battle.
With free agency rapidly approaching, Maxwell’s name has been discussed quite a bit around these parts, and for good reason. Bradley Fletcher is a free agent, and Cary Williams carries a cap hit of $8.17 million. The Eagles’ pass defense was a disaster down the stretch last season, and overall the team allowed 72 pass plays of 20+ yards, the most in the NFL.
Maxwell, meanwhile, fits the bill of what Kelly and Billy Davis want in their corners. He’s 6-0, 202 pounds with extremely long arms (33 1/2-inches). He’s 27, has experience playing outside and in the slot and has been a productive starter on the best defense in the league.
And then there’s scheme fit. The Seahawks were primarily a single-high defense, playing a ton of Cover 3 and Cover 1. The same can be said for the Eagles. That should make it easier for Kelly and company to project how Maxwell might fit here.
Of course, given Maxwell’s age and skill set, many teams will likely be interested. But below is an All-22 look at why he figures to be high on the list of players the Eagles will target this offseason.
ON THE OUTSIDE
The Eagles need corners on the outside who can press at the line of scrimmage, turn and run on vertical routes and make plays on the ball without a lot of safety help. Maxwell has shown on film that those are all strengths of his.
Here’s an example from the NFC championship game against the Packers. Maxwell was singled up against Jordy Nelson quite a bit that day and held his own. Below, you can see Aaron Rodgers takes a shot at him on the go route down the sideline. Maxwell sticks with Nelson and makes a play on the ball.
Maxwell was in press coverage (top of the screen), ran in Nelson’s hip pocket downfield, stayed inside of him and turned and found the ball to force the incompletion.
In the games I watched, Maxwell did an excellent job on vertical routes outside the numbers. Opposing receivers had a tough time beating him deep.
Here’s another example against the Cardinals. Michael Floyd tries to get him with a post-corner route, but Maxwell knows he’s got a safety in the middle of the field. He doesn’t get fooled and essentially runs the route at the end.
He’s good with the ball in the air as well. Here, Maxwell is lined up against Dez Bryant in the slot. Bryant has him beaten, but the throw floats for a second, and Maxwell uses his length to force an incompletion.
Maxwell had 25 pass breakups and six interceptions the past two seasons.
Maxwell will give up some stuff underneath, but he does a terrific job of limiting yards after the catch. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, in 2013 Maxwell limited opponents to an average of 1.8 YAC. Per Pro Football Focus, that number was just 2.9 in 2014.
Against the Eagles, he put on a clinic in limiting YAC. In the first example, Maxwell is lined up across from Jordan Matthews. That’s another reason why he’ll be attractive to Kelly: positional versatility. Maxwell is best-suited to play on the outside, but he has experience playing the slot as well.
You’ll notice the Eagles motion and stack Matthews so that Maxwell can’t press. He allows the catch, but does a great job of closing in on Matthews and riding him out of bounds short of the first down.
Similar play here against Riley Cooper. Maxwell switches onto him, allows the completion on the crosser, but brings Cooper down short of the sticks.
At times, Maxwell goes for the strip and fails to wrap up. But overall, he’s a very good tackler. Per PFF, he missed just one tackle in the passing game all season. Only four other corners were more efficient.
I wouldn’t say run support is a strength of Maxwell’s, but he gets the job done. He’s not Sheldon Brown, but he’s not Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie either.
Given what happened the last time the Eagles signed the top free agent corner on the market, we have to address the risk that could be involved in signing Maxwell.
It’s worth noting that he’s 27 and has started only 17 games in his career. Maxwell got his chance on the outside in 2013 only after both Brandon Browner and Tharold Simon were suspended. The story in Seattle was that Thomas helped him with his practice habits and focus. But at any rate, he has a smaller body of work than you might expect from the top free-agent corner on the market.
And there is of course the Seattle effect. Thomas is the rangiest safety in the game, and as we’ve seen here first-hand, the center-fielder plays a major role in making the corners look either good or bad – especially on teams that play a lot of Cover 3. That has to be taken into account when evaluating Maxwell. Thomas ain’t walking through that door with him.
In terms of injuries, on the surface it seems Maxwell’s issues have been minor. He missed three games last season with a calf strain and didn’t play against the Panthers in the divisional round because he wasn’t feeling well and had shortness of breath. But he returned for the NFC title game and the Super Bowl.
Maxwell commits his share of penalties. His six defensive holdings in 2014 were tied for third-most, and he had nine penalties overall in 13 games. Maxwell is an aggressive player who can get handsy, and that gets him into trouble at times.
We mentioned the length measurables above, but he also has good speed. Maxwell ran a 4.46 coming out of Clemson, and that is reflected on the field. But he’s not great against quick, shifty guys. That showed up on a few occasions in the Super Bowl when Maxwell got matched up against Danny Amendola.
Overall, there’s a lot to like. Maxwell has the measurables the Eagles covet and is a scheme fit. He’s young, has been a good tackler and seems like a high-character guy. Is he on the level of someone like Richard Sherman? No. But he has the skill set to be the best corner on an above-average defense.
Other teams like the Falcons and Jets have been rumored to be interested as well. But the guess here is that the Eagles will go after Maxwell aggressively once free agency starts.