Eagles Depth Chart Analysis: Cornerback
Projected starters: Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll (outside), Ron Brooks (inside)
Reserves: Randall Evans, Aaron Grymes, Jalen Mills, Denzel Rice, Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd, C.J. Smith, Jaylen Watkins.
This is the most interesting position battle the Eagles will have during training camp. I could’ve configured the projected starters list several different ways, and none of them would have been much more valid than the others. It’s impossible to say at this time who will play, or even who will make the roster, but it’s something we’ll follow very closely once camp commences.
Based off the rave reviews from Doug Pederson and his teammates, McKelvin seems to be in the best position to earn a starting job. He clearly benefited during OTAs and minicamp from his experience under Jim Schwartz two seasons ago in Buffalo, and he’ll continue to do so as others play catch-up. Brooks is in a similar boat, as a big reason he probably worked with the starters this spring was because of his experience in Schwartz’s system.
Outside of the Buffalo guys, you have a couple of interesting storylines in Rowe and Carroll. After flashing some potential last season when Carroll went down with an injury, can Rowe take the next step to be a full-time starter? Or will the veteran return and put Rowe on the sidelines once again?
Then you have two more interesting backups with potential: Mills and Shepherd. If Carson Wentz doesn’t pan out, it wouldn’t be surprising if Mills is the most talented player the Eagles drafted this year, even though he was a seventh-round pick. Coaches say they like what they’ve seen so far from the rookie, and Jordan Matthews believes Mills will “play a lot” this season. Shepherd, meanwhile, generated a lot of buzz last offseason before his injury.
Watkins and Rice both spent time on the 53-man roster last year, so if either of them make final cuts, it wouldn’t be shocking. That’s eight guys who could conceivably make the team, even without potential surprises like Evans, and it’s very unlikely they would keep more than six.
What I think will happen
The toughest spot for me to project isn’t on the outside, it’s the nickel corner job. Rowe may be the third-best outside corner the Eagles have, so if they go to nickel, will they substitute him in and move Carroll inside? Or would they simply leave Carroll outside and play Brooks inside because he fits better than Rowe there? I’d be surprised if we see Rowe in the slot, which could really hurt his chances to get on the field if he doesn’t win an outside job.
You also have the possibility, which Malcolm Jenkins raised this spring, that he moves down to corner and the Eagles bring on a third safety instead in nickel situations. If the Eagles’ third-best safety is better than their third-best corner, that’s exactly what they’ll do, but it seems unlikely Blake Countess or Chris Maragos will be better than Brooks, Mills and the other backup corners.
When Tim and I put together our 53-man roster projections, we listed the same six guys at corner: McKelvin, Rowe, Carroll, Brooks, Mills and Shepherd. But, particularly when it comes to who will start, I think it’s fair to say neither of us can say with much confidence how this competition will play out.