The 2013 season saw the Philadelphia Eagles give up more passing yards than any other team in the NFL. Going into this offseason, we all knew the Eagles, with head coach Chip Kelly at the helm, were going to address this issue during the offseason. Despite only making some minor additions to the squad, the Eagles’ pass defense has the potential to be much better in year two of Chip’s tenure. Let’s take a shot at predicting the Eagles’ depth chart at cornerback for the 2014 season.
Starting with the easiest to predict, Eagles nickel corner Brandon Boykin emerged in 2013 as one of the premier nickel corners in the league. Tied for second with 6 interceptions, Boykin seemed to always be in the right spot at the right time, delivering huge in big moments, while only playing roughly half of the defensive snaps. While he has been vocal about his desire to move to the outside, the return of Eagles cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, along with the addition of ex-Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll, make that move unlikely in 2014.
Cornerback Cary Williams looks to be the entrenched starter of last year’s group. While his play was somewhat unspectacular, he did a solid job in coverage last year and brings an attitude to the defense. His mentality of wanting the Eagles’ defense to be feared is admirable, and he certainly plays with an edge on the field. Despite his large salary cap hit next year, cutting him would leave the Eagles with dead money, so it is likely he will be starting again in 2014.
The other returning starting cornerback, Bradley Fletcher, also had a solid season in 2013. Again, he wasn’t a shutdown cornerback by any means, but he was good in coverage. His starting spot, and roster spot are up for grabs. If he is beat out by Carroll for the starting job, it is unlikely that the Eagles will want to keep a backup cornerback making as much money as he is next year.
Eagles cornerback Jaylen Watkins, this year’s fourth-round draft pick, is a bit of a wildcard here. He played very well at Florida, and is easily the fastest of the bunch, except for maybe Boykin. He will likely play this season as the team’s fourth cornerback, or dime back, though a move to safety could be in the cards. Watkins, the half-brother of Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft, is a tremendous athlete. The Eagles should try to get him on the field as much as possible, whether it be as a safety or a corner.
This group is rounded out by Eagles cornerbacks Curtis Marsh and Roc Carmichael. Both will be competing for a backup spot this offseason. Carmichael looks to have the upper hand in the battle, as he started when Fletcher went out with an injury last year. If the Eagles feel like Carroll deserves the starting spot and cut Fletcher, both Marsh and Carmichael will likely make the team. If, however, the Eagles feel like keeping Fletcher and Carroll, Marsh and Carmichael are battling it out in training camp for the remaining roster spot at cornerback.
Personally I feel that you can never have too much quality depth at the cornerback position. I hope that the Eagles recognize this and keep both Fletcher and Carroll on the roster no matter who wins the starting spot.
Projected Starters: Williams, Carroll, Boykin
Projected Backups: Fletcher, Carmichael, Watkins
Now we all know that the Eagles’ woes in pass defense were not only the result of cornerback play. The safety spot was a huge issue last year, so I will address that in a follow up article.
Let me know what you think.