The Eagles' No. 1 cornerback this season might be a 30-year-old who was not a full-time starter last season.
Leodis McKelvin was signed to a two-year, $6.2 million contract when the Eagles agreed to trade Byron Maxwell, and McKelvin is the frontrunner to replace Maxwell. McKelvin lined up with the first-team defense throughout the spring, and coach Doug Pederson said he separated himself from competitors for the position.
"Leodis has probably been the guy that's really stood out the most to me," Pederson said. "He's a guy that it seems like he's making plays quite a bit, knocking PBUs [pass breakups] and getting his hands on balls and doing the things that you expect from a veteran corner. He's a smart guy, very athletic, and [the team is] excited for the upcoming season with him."
McKelvin started only five of nine games last season, and was not a top-two cornerback for the Bills. But McKelvin pointed out that he was on the verge of becoming a top cornerback when the Bills signed him to a four-year, $20 million contract during the 2013 offseason. Injury hampered that progress.
"I feel I progressed myself when I was in Buffalo – when I signed my new deal … in 2013, I was up [near the top] in pass completion percentage," McKelvin said, "And the next year, I was leading the league in interceptions [before] my ankle. So my progress was coming to be a No. 1 corner, and I'm ready to come out here and play at a high level."
Because both were in Buffalo at the same time, McKelvin knows defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense, which is one of his biggest assets. He plays the way Schwartz wants at the position, embracing the man-to-man concepts and the simplicity of the scheme. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, McKelvin is far from the prototype that the previous coaching staff wanted. But he says his style of plays trumps his size.
"I'm very aggressive," McKelvin said. "I don't back down. ...I just need to make sure I go attack the ball and put myself in great position with bigger guys."
McKelvin's spot as the Eagles' top cornerback also can be interpreted as a troubling indication of how Eric Rowe is developing in the defense. Rowe, a 2015 second-round pick, started the final month of last season and has the tools to be a starting cornerback. With Maxwell in Miami and Nolan Carroll coming off injury, Rowe seemed to have a path to a starting job. Except he's mostly been with the second-team defense, playing behind Ron Brooks, Carroll, and even rookie Jalen Mills at times.
"I think he's been learning a new system," Pederson said. "He's a tremendous talent, he's a long corner learning some techniques that Jim [Schwartz] is bringing and [defensive backs coach Cory Undlin] is teaching. It's just a growth process. It's a learning process.
"Even though he played some games last year, you come in and you think you have an opportunity to play, and then with the talent that we've brought in around him, it challenges guys that way and it's all part of the competition factor at those positions. He's doing a nice job. …He's got some learning to do, but fully confident that he can handle it and get the job done."