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Eagles likely to draft a cornerback

For a team that values its cornerbacks and has paid some of them handsomely, it's mildly surprising that the Eagles haven't expended a high draft pick on the position in six years.

The Eagles say they have confidence in Ellis Hobbs, but might draft another cornerback. (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff file photo)
The Eagles say they have confidence in Ellis Hobbs, but might draft another cornerback. (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff file photo)Read more

For a team that values its cornerbacks and has paid some of them handsomely, it's mildly surprising that the Eagles haven't expended a high draft pick on the position in six years.

You have to go back to 2002 to find the last time they selected a cornerback in the first round. In that draft, the Eagles used two of their first three picks on corners, taking Lito Sheppard with the 26th overall selection and Sheldon Brown with their second pick in the second round.

But with Sheppard and Brown being traded in each of the last two off-seasons there is a cyclical feeling to this year's draft, one in which the Eagles enter with several needs - cornerback being perhaps the most pressing.

That doesn't mean that when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the Radio City Music Hall podium to announce the Eagles' first-round pick late Thursday night, it will be a cornerback. But with five selections over three rounds - from the 24th overall pick to the 87th - the Eagles are sure to address a position they haven't had much luck drafting for in the previous seven years.

"They don't have to go corner in the first round," said Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network. "Let's not forget they've got a couple second-round picks courtesy of Donovan McNabb. They got No. 37, where you could come back and get a corner also."

That early second-round pick that the Eagles received from the Redskins in exchange for McNabb affords them some flexibility. Of course, 11 total selections - including a fourth-rounder that came from Cleveland in the Brown trade - should help the Eagles get whom they want and how they want.

Only a few cornerbacks are considered to be first-round caliber, but a number of prospects have either a second- or third-round grade, according to Mayock and other draft analysts. And that could be where the Eagles find a step-in-right-away starter, even though they say they're content with Brown's current replacement, Ellis Hobbs.

"To say that we don't need to replace a player of Sheldon Brown's quality, no, I think we do," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "We just also have a lot of confidence in Ellis Hobbs."

Hobbs, though, couldn't supplant Brown after the Eagles traded for him during last year's draft. And when the former New England Patriot did get into the rotation, he was inconsistent. In November, he suffered a season-ending neck injury, one that required surgery to correct a herniated disk.

"Hobbs may have started in New England, but there was a reason, more than his contract griping, that led to his leaving," one NFL scout said. "He suffers from lapses and isn't the greatest tackler, and you can't have that opposite Asante [Samuel]."

Samuel, for all his deeds - three straight Pro Bowls, 29 interceptions in the last four seasons - has become a liability. Signed to a $59 million deal two years ago, Samuel may be the worst tackling starting cornerback in the league. It wasn't as apparent when he was with the Patriots, but the Eagles' blitz-happy defensive scheme often left Samuel without support.

"I didn't get signed here because I was a great tackler," Samuel said in October. "Everybody saw my film."

If teams hadn't noticed before, they did after that comment. Samuel's distaste for press coverage didn't help matters. By the end of the season, Denver - and especially Dallas - exploited him with quick bubble screens and hitches.

"As good a football player as he is, he can be even better," coach Andy Reid said at the owners' meetings last month. "And I think that's the way he's handling the off-season. He started hitting the weights and doing the things he needs to do to add a little more strength."

A week after Reid's remarks, as the McNabb trade gossip heated up, Samuel was part of a rumored trade between the Eagles and Raiders. Around the same time, Samuel joined McNabb and Brown as the only starters to miss a voluntary conditioning program. His absence, coupled with his skipping parts of last year's OTAs, has privately irked the organization.

When Brown recently went on a radio show and said that several players had questioned defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's scheme, which often involves press coverage, it seemed logical to suggest that Samuel was one of those players.

And yet, when the Eagles elected to trade one of their cornerbacks, it was Brown who was dealt on April 2. He is two years older, but it's not as if the 29-year-old Samuel is in any danger of getting carded any time soon.

And even though the interceptions are nice, especially for a defense lacking in playmakers, the Eagles' pass defense allowed 27 touchdowns through the air last season after allowing a total of just 35 in the previous two seasons.

"I've watched a lot of tape of Asante over the last few years, and what he does best is he's an instinctive ball hawk and he makes plays, and there's value to that," Mayock said. "The flip side, however, is he's not physical, he doesn't like press coverage, and he is a sporadic tackler, at best.

"So if I'm looking for a corner on the other side I'm looking for a more physical guy."

The consensus is that Florida's Joe Haden is the best and, well, the most physical. The ability to cover is still the most important attribute for a corner, but with offenses increasingly using short passes to supplement the run game, solid tackling is a must. Haden, though, is expected to be gone by pick No. 17. Kyle Wilson of Boise State could be available at No. 24.

"If he's not [gone], he's the guy I would jump all over if I'm the Eagles," Mayock said. "I think he tackles. I think he plays both press and off-man."

Patrick Robinson (Florida St.), Devin McCourty (Rutgers), and Kareem Jackson (Alabama) are also possibilities at No. 24, although they could still be on the board at 37. Dominique Franks (Oklahoma), Chris Cook (Virginia), and Brandon Ghee (Wake Forest) also have high grades.

Of course, the Eagles could take two of the above cornerbacks, even if they project Samuel and Hobbs as their starters. When Reid drafted Sheppard and Brown eight years ago, Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor were entrenched at cornerback. In two years' time, both were gone and Sheppard and Brown were starting.