The Philadelphia Eagles suffered a harsh blow over the weekend when rookie JaCorey Shepherd tore his right ACL. A week after trading incumbent slot cornerback Brandon Boykin, a three-year starter and one of the best slot corners in the league, the Eagles lost Shepherd, who they were feeling very comfortable with as the starter. With Shepherd out, we need to look at some alternatives for the Philadelphia at the slot cornerback position.
I acknowledge that it’s not often losing a rookie sixth round pick is devastating to a team. I don’t believe the loss of Shepherd is a devastating blow to the team, but it is important that they have someone serviceable at the position. In today’s league, talented slot receivers are more abundant than in prior years. In the NFC East alone, the Eagles will have to face Giants slot receiver Victor Cruz and Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley twice a year.
The way I see it, the Eagles have three options to replace Shepherd.
Option 1 would be to try out other players at the position, leaving the rest of the secondary as is. Rookie sixth rounder Randall Evans has had experience at the position in college. The Eagles loved his versatility at Kansas State. Another guy with versatility would be this year’s free agent signee EJ Biggers, who has also played slot cornerback (albeit not very well) on the Redskins. Another option would be last year’s fourth round pick, Jaylen Watkins. Watkins was extremely versatile at Florida and should be able to cover slot receivers fairly well. The last option, and perhaps the best, would be this year’s undrafted free agent Denzel Rice. Rice has been an absolute stud this offseason, always putting himself in a position to make a play.
The second option would be to move free agent Walter Thurmond from safety to slot cornerback and replace him with either safety Earl Wolff or rookie Eric Rowe. Thurmond was a good slot corner in his time with the Seahawks, but he struggled to stay on the field. Wolff had a very good rookie year but has not improved since then due to knee injuries. Rowe, this year’s second round pick, played safety for three years at Utah before switching to cornerback his senior year. The Eagles want to keep him at outside cornerback, so this would probably be unlikely.
The final option would be to move Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll, who has looked great this offseason at outside cornerback, to slot corner and have Rowe start outside. I would be hesitant to do this because Carroll has looked so good outside this offseason and typically rookies struggle on the outside, but it remains an option.
Of the three options, I think the first would be my favorite. Rice has shown enough this offseason to have all the coaches gushing about his ability. If he can separate himself in camp and continue to develop his footwork, this kid has the instincts to do very well for the Eagles this year.
Fly Eagles Fly.
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