Cerebral Oregon CB Gonzalez Ready To Emerge
Offseason renovations are likely to impact the Eagles’ secondary.
Three of four starters from last season are pending free agents, perhaps having donned the Midnight Green for the final time.
As of Friday, according to an ESPN report, the Eagles have given Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay permission to seek a trade.
Despite the daunting reality of potentially losing starting safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps, the Eagles could have a capable successor for one spot in second-year pro Reed Blankenship.
This year’s crop of free agents also offers a variety of effective low-cost options.
But the same can’t said for cornerback.
Apart from James Bradberry’s uncertain future – and possibly Slay’s – the Eagles are short on viable starting candidates.
But if recent history is any indication, Eagles personnel chief Howie Roseman has a contingency plan to shore up the position.
Remember, Slay was acquired via trade three years ago around this time after the team missed out on free-agent corner Byron Jones.
Veteran corners Steven Nelson and Bradberry – signed in July and May, respectively – were each rentals brought in to complement Slay, in consecutive off-seasons.
But banking on landing a starting-caliber veteran in the third wave of free agency is always a risky proposition.
The most logical approach to rebuilding the position would be through the NFL Draft, where the Eagles currently own two first-round picks and three of the top 62.
While Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon is the odds-on favorite to come off the board when the Eagles are on the clock at No. 10, he’s not a lock. There could be some deliberation, depending how the board falls.
Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez – a lengthy, instinctual perimeter defender who might be the most technically refined of all the cornerback prospects –might have done enough at the Combine in Indianapolis to become the first cornerback drafted.
Witherspoon, nursing a hamstring injury, didn’t participate in the on-field drills at the Combine, which cleared way for Gonzalez to command the spotlight.
Measuring in at 6-foot-1, 197 pounds, Gonzalez recorded a 4.38 40-yard dash, 41.5-inch vertical leap, and 11-foot-1-inch broad jump.
Gaudy testing numbers on the big stage often enhance draft stock, but it’s a multifaceted skill set that separates Gonzalez from others.
“I’m a long, speedy, versatile corner,” Gonzalez said at the Combine. “Someone that can line up on the outside and guard a 6-5 receiver and line up inside and guard a 5-10 speedy type of receiver.
“Being able to be a smart player, learn very quickly. Being able to change to any type of what (type of receiver) I’m going against.”
A three-year starter – Gonzalez started his first two seasons at Colorado – the wiry cornerback cemented his first-round status on the heels of a masterful junior campaign, racking up 50 tackles (1 for loss), four interceptions, seven pass breakups, and a blocked kick in 12 games for the Ducks.
His emergence drew a bevy of postseason accolades, including Pac-12 All-Conference first team and Associated Press All-Pac 12 second team.
Along from his ball skills, Gonzalez established himself during his time in the Pac 12 as a fluid, explosive, and savvy defender oozing with athleticism.
Perhaps even more notable was Gonzalez’s ardent film study and keen attention to detail, extreme preparation that catapulted him to among college football’s elite.
“A lot goes into it, a lot of film study,” Gonzalez acknowledged. “Just starting from the smallest things to find out how I can get an advantage on the receiver. Then just going out there with confidence and trusting in my technique, doing what I do. It all starts from film study.”
When it came to identifying a signature play from last season, Gonzalez didn’t point to any of his four interceptions.
He didn’t even cite his blocked field-goal attempt against Cal, his school’s first blocked kick since 2017.
Instead, Gonzalez reflected on a play he made in a 45-27 Week 5 victory, a byproduct of his work behind the scenes in the film room.
“There’s a play when I was playing Stanford,” Gonzalez began. “I did a lot of film study so I knew when they put certain keys up they would run a certain route. There was a play where I noticed they flipped; he kind of flipped mid-route or mid-stance. And I went up and made the play. The PBU, yeah.”
A plug-and-play starter from Day 1, Gonzalez would conceivably provide playmaking ability and experience to Philadelphia’s defensive backfield, equipped with the intangibles to man his own island as a rookie.
Scheme variance figures to be another asset that could vault Gonzalez into top-10 consideration.
Gonzalez has checked off every box throughout the pre-draft process, positioning himself to become the first or second cornerback taken, a reality that isn’t lost on the 20-year-old.
“It means everything,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what I have strived for my whole life. All I’ve worked for is here, so I’m excited to get going.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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