Among their best options are Nolan Carroll, Brandon Boykin, Jaylen Watkins, second-round selection Eric Rowe and sixth-rounders JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans. As it stands right now, Carroll possesses the top spot alongside Maxwell, but there’s still a long summer ahead and a bevy of talented individuals who are going to do everything they can to fight for that starting role.
In a quarterback-friendly NFL, cornerback may be the most important position on the field. The Eagles’ susceptibility to the big play on defense has been an Achilles heel for them over the last few seasons, and it’s something Kelly is hoping to change going forward. If the team can piece together a formidable group of defensive backs, they could be the team to beat in the NFC East.
The former fourth-round draft pick has developed into a reliable cover corner, but his greatest success comes lined up inside where he has proven to be one of the league’s best slot corners---he ranked 12th among all slot corners last season per Pro Football Focus.
Because of this, the likelihood of him moving outside is slim. He may be the team’s best pure coverage guy, but his size and skillset wouldn’t make him a good suitor as the No. 2 corner. With NFL teams placing more value on slot receivers, Boykin is much too valuable inside to risk moving.
Entering his second season, the former Florida Gator is going to be looking to prove his worth this summer after a mediocre rookie campaign in 2014. Among all Eagles defensive backs, Watkins posted the second-worst coverage rating on PFF. He’s going to need to improve in that department if he hopes to see the field often in his sophomore NFL season.
Like Boykin, his ideal fit may be in the slot where his flaws in coverage could be masked in a short playing area while allowing him to use his physicality to his advantage.
There are still questions as to whether or not the second-round pick is even a cornerback, but as of right now, that’s where he’s slotted. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was quoted as saying Rowe was one of his favorite players in this year’s class, and with good reason. His upside his undeniable, and he could prove to be the dependable No. 2 corner the Eagles are looking for on the outside.
At 6-foot-1, Rowe has the size to match up against the league’s big receivers. He boasts excellent ball skills with a reputation as a quality press cover corner. With great length and ideal speed numbers, the former Utah standout could emerge as the team’s best option to lock down the other half of the field opposite Maxwell.
JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans
Both of these sixth-round selections have some room to grow before they can work their way into the starting lineup, but don’t be surprised if Shepherd earns some playing time later in the season. His selling point is his ball skills. As a former receiver, he’s lethal down field, registering 32 passes defended and five interceptions over the last two seasons at Kansas.
Evans, meanwhile, is a turnover machine who also has good ball skills. He recorded seven interceptions and forced five fumbles during his collegiate career at Kansas State. He could prove to be an asset on special teams early on.
The aforementioned incumbent, Carroll looks like the guy to beat for the players previously listed. He has been running with the first-team defense and playing well.
The 27-year-old played well for the Eagles last season, notching a positive grade in pass coverage through 388 defensive snaps. He appeared in all 16 games but started just one, stuck behind the veteran Carey Williams.
His performance has been rewarded with an opportunity to step up to the plate first and prove he’s worthy of the starting gig. With a collection of talented players vying for the same job behind him, he’ll have left no question about his abilities if he starts the season atop the depth chart.
His 2013 season with the Miami Dolphins is proof the potential is there. In 12 starts, he recorded 47 tackles, including 15 defensive stops, and he also racked up three interceptions and 12 passes defended.
Lou Musto is the publisher of WarNest.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.