After Embarrassing Years, Birds Have Finally Found Stellar CB Play
Through shrewd, calculated maneuvers and unabated roster construction, the Eagles have finally compiled an abundance of talent at the cornerback position.
Perpetual coverage shortcomings prompted the organization to target established veterans Darius Slay and James Bradberry in recent years, solidifying a porous perimeter that for so many years resembled little more than mile markers along the opposition’s smooth journey down the sideline.
Together, Slay and Bradberry arguably comprise the league’s top cornerback tandem. Both will be crucial in fueling a newly constructed defense under coordinator Sean Desai.
While Slay and Bradberry’s respective roster spots – along with staple slot cornerback Avonte Maddox’s – are etched in stone, the same can’t be said about others in the pecking order.
Greedy Williams, signed to a modest one-year deal in free agency, brings with him name value and pedigree, but eyes a rebound following a turbulent four-year stint with the Cleveland Browns, the team that drafted Williams with the No. 46 selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Williams, who appeared in 39 games (21 starts) for the Browns, experienced a volatile start to his career due to injuries and inconsistent play.
His $600,000 in guaranteed money, coupled with Williams’ abbreviated special teams experience, further indicate that the former LSU standout could face an uphill battle at training camp despite the glaring need for experienced depth on the outside.
Perhaps Williams’ most capable challenger, third-year pro Zech McPhearson, has continuity working in his favor. But his lack of experience, length and projected upside works against him.
McPhearson, a third-phase stalwart and evolving leader for coordinator Michael Clay, has contributed just 278 defensive snaps over his two years of service, 179 of which were logged during his rookie season.
While appearing relatively comfortable, fluid, and tenacious on the perimeter in his opportunities it became increasingly apparent that McPhearson’s skill set translated best as a nickel defender, where he saw extensive time during OTAs in seven-on-seven drills.
Cross-training increases value and often brands a fringe player more appealing during the evaluation process.
Given McPhearson’s positional versatility, special teams prowess, and organizational investment, the 2021 fourth-round pick could be viewed as having the inside track entering camp.
Special teams contributions often become deciding factors when deliberating final roster spots, which could potentially favor second-year cornerback Josh Jobe.
An undrafted free-agent signing out of Alabama last spring, Jobe managed to parlay a string of steady summer practice sessions and encouraging preseason play into a spot on the Eagles’ 53-man roster.
Jobe, who accounted for 76% of special teams snaps across 11 games (220 snaps), served as the gunner opposite McPherson. He provides length, physicality, and urgency in his play.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Jobe, who sports a rocked-up frame that supports his physical nature, also appears to boast a skill set that suggests positional versatility, further enhancing his value and odds of lightning striking twice.
There are also an intriguing pair of undrafted free agents from this year’s crop in Alabama’s Eli Ricks and LSU’s Mekhi Garner, who both offer coveted measurables and developmental tools.
In most years, players of their caliber and long-term upside are typically stashed, as to not expose to waivers.
This year, however, the tides have officially turned.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.