Entering this offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles knew they had to make major moves addressing both the defense and special teams. A pass defense that ranked 32nd needed some additional reinforcements as they brought in new safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos, resigned safety Nate Allen, and brought on board a fourth intriguing option in the secondary. Former Miami Dolphin cornerback Nolan Carroll was signed by Philadelphia on a two-year, $3.65 million contract. Carroll, the former special teams standout, hopes to provide help in a multitude of ways in 2014.
The Eagles hope to utilize their new acquisition on both special teams and in their defensive secondary. But can Carroll help more than both he and the Eagles bargained for? Can he be a starting cornerback for the Eagles?
Nolan Carroll has started 26 games over the course of his career in Miami. The 6’1, 205 lb 2010 fifth-rounder from Maryland has ideal length and size for today’s modern NFL. Last year Carroll tallied 11 pass breakups, three interceptions and a pair of sacks on the year. Opposing quarterbacks testing Carroll were often stymied as they had a 65.0 quarterback rating throwing against the former Dolphin as he only allowed two touchdowns in 2014. Carroll was also a sound tackler as he picked up 44 tackles, missing only three which placed him ninth in the league according to Pro Football Focus in tackling efficiency. Overall Carroll was graded #52 out of 110 qualifying cornerbacks which would make him a serviceable #2 cornerback given 32 teams in the NFL.
So can the former Terrapin take over one of the starting cornerback positions for Philadelphia?
For the Eagles, last year’s most efficient corner is not that hard for most fans to guess – slot cornerback Brandon Boykin. Boykin was tied for second in the league last year with six interceptions and was graded by PFF as the #14 cornerback in the league, but earned the #1 ranked coverage grade. Boykin deserves a shot at starting outside, but head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis prefer to have him man the slot based on his size.
Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, both newcomers to Philadelphia in 2013, predominantly played the two outside starting cornerback positions. Was that starting time warranted, or were they just the two best corners the Eagles had at the size Kelly desired?
Bradley Fletcher was able to hold his own last year as he picked up 70 combined tackles and a pair of interceptions to go with 15 passes defensed earning him a ranking of #44 overall. He had to fight off injuries during part of the season, but Fletcher was a dependable, reliable defender for Bill Davis. Cary Williams was another story, as he ranked #80 overall even after collecting three picks and a dozen passes defensed. While Williams added some toughness to the run defense, he was a bit streaky in coverage as reflected by his ranking. He had up and down games and was not the consistent presence the Davis needed from his top cornerback.
With the Eagles currently having the #44 and #80 ranked cornerbacks in 2013 starting on the outside, shouldn’t Nolan Carroll, the #52 cornerback, at least be given an opportunity to start this year? Fletcher is entering the final year of his contract and Williams will have a cap hit of over $8 million next year. The Eagles should give the younger, cheaper Carroll every chance this training camp to claim one of the starting cornerback positions and help improve the backend of their defense.