June 28, 2024   7 MIN READ

Uphill Climb

Undrafted CB Has Sights Set On Beating Odds


By the end of draft weekend, Shon Stephens had experienced a wave of innumerable emotions.

Immersed in the moment at his aunt’s house, and surrounded by family, Stephens watched the names scroll by, waiting his turn.

At one point during the fifth round, a team reached out to Stephens’ representative to let them know they were going to give him the long-awaited call, but those plans ultimately fell through and the team went in a different direction.

The wait would extend through the seventh round and during an initial ripple of post-draft signings.

The Eagles eventually phoned Stephens’ camp Saturday evening, extending an invitation to participate in rookie minicamp on a tryout basis.

Far from a guarantee, to be sure, but a steppingstone toward his primary objective.

The Pittsburgh Steelers called immediately after with the same proposal, but Stephens agreed to take the Eagles up on their offer, as it was his first opportunity and they demonstrated initial interest and belief in him.

“My plan was, if I’m coming out there to Philly, I’m not leaving, so let me pack up all this stuff because I’m gonna take full advantage of this opportunity,” Stephens said in an exclusive with Inside The Birds. “I wasn’t nervous or anything; I was really numb to the feeling. I’ve been working hard, so I thought everything was gonna fall right in place.”

Shon Stephens

GETTY IMAGES: CB Shon Stephens hopes to be an unlikely candidate to make the 53 out of Ferris St.

Arriving in Philadelphia with nothing but an opportunity, Stephens was singularly focused on hurdling one of the many obstacles encountered in his career and extending his NFL shelf life.

He just wasn’t aware of how deep the competition pool ran over the two-day crash course.

“I didn’t know how everything worked at first,” he said. “So, I was surprised that all the drafted guys participated in the camp. And just different guys who have been playing football for years. I didn’t know it was all combined in one camp.

“That was the only thing kind of shocking to me. It was a real good opportunity to show my talent right next to people who were drafted in the first round, and all these good guys.”

Stephens, a Ferris State product who weighed in at 173 pounds at Michigan State’s Pro Day and arrived at rookie minicamp at 168, managed to stand out among a crowded field on both days with blistering speed, ball skills and versatility.

He also proved he was capable of holding his own, producing an interception during one of the drills.

“Every opportunity that I got to get in either 7-on-7, or even doing [defensive back] drills separately, I was just going as hard as I can and taking full advantage of it,” he said.

“Getting in on 7-on-7, trying to make a play – that was my plan, always try to get my hand on the ball – and that’s how it worked out; I ended up getting my hands on the ball a couple times.”

While Stephens’ impressive showcase was always a high probability given his collegiate accomplishments and mental makeup, the odds were stacked against him, like most tryout players.

With roster spots at a premium at this stage of the offseason, players must be exceptional to warrant a spot on the 90-man training camp roster.

By the conclusion of the final rookie minicamp practice on a Saturday afternoon, Stephens had done just that. And he had until Monday to make a decision.

That the Eagles saw something in him and offered him his initial opportunity at chasing his dream – even with an influx of defensive backs on the roster – wasn’t lost on Stephens. There was nothing to mull over.

So far, Stephens made good on his initial plan.

Among the defensive backs in attendance during rookie minicamp, and later OTAs and mandatory minicamp, was Quinyon Mitchell, the Eagles’ first-round pick.

While Mitchell and Stephens land on opposite ends of the totem pole in terms of positional hierarchy and expectations, the two cornerbacks struck up a friendship during the pre-draft process, with the origins dating back to training at XPE Sports in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The pair would even engage in friendly competition during the sessions, jawing about who’s the fastest and routinely going at it to bring out the best in one another.

It kept them going and made for a productive experience, while also ensuring they relished and enjoyed the process.

“We were both smaller-school guys,” Stephens said. “But he’s pretty laid back and humble, and I’m the same way. So, we were just working out and we’d end up talking and laughing and stuff during training and everything. So, we got close pretty fast.

“And then from there on, we just happened to both get picked up by the Eagles. Once I got picked up, he texted me and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And once I got [to Philadelphia], we’ve been close ever since.”

Before each spring practice, Stephens and Mitchell would throw the ball to each other. And while Stephens has caught on fairly quickly, he doesn’t mind asking Mitchell for help when needed. They’ll even jot down notes together.

Stephens has also developed a rapport with second-round pick Cooper DeJean. While navigating the spring sessions, the three rookies would help one another.

Stephens, who is learning both nickel and cornerback, actually began at nickel. And when Eagles coaches wanted him to get more reps, Stephens was inserted at his natural position, outside cornerback, a move met with favorable results.

For his part, Stephens, who collected a practice-ending interception during a May OTA session in which he disguised and undercut the route, has been working on absorbing all the elements that factor into the nickel position, particularly his catch technique, which he said is the hardest aspect of playing the position.

Two resources who have been critical to Stephens’ onboarding have been pass game coordinator Christian Parker and cornerbacks coach Roy Anderson, whom Stephens credited as being instrumental in his growth and development.

And for as fast as Stephens has processed the glut of information, he’s also encountered some unique challenges along the way.

For instance, coming from the Division II level, this marks the first time Stephens has been required to learn and execute Cover 8 and Cover 9.

Still, it hasn’t inhibited his ability to play fast, communicate and break on the football.

Now holding steady at 180 pounds, Stephens is gearing up for training camp in late July. Training out in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., at A3 Sports Performance, Stephens is joined by his brothers and other defensive backs in the area.

There’s also plans to fly out to Pittsburgh in a couple weeks to train with his cousin, Joey Porter Jr., while also strategically readjusting to East Coast time before heading back to Philadelphia.

Never one to neglect his roots or remove the chip from his shoulder, Stephens is also considering a pivot toward pushing boundaries amid hot, uncomfortable confines, preparing himself for the daunting marathon that awaits.

“I’m deciding to either continue to go there or start to work out at my grandpa’s because we have our own weight set,” Stephens said. “I’d like to continue to embrace that garage workout and that backyard workout.

“Just to never forget where I come from and keep that chip on my shoulder. It might be hot outside and I’m grinding. I’m fighting with the heat and I’m lifting. So, I like to always keep that chip on my shoulder.”

Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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