Eagles need a slot replacement for Patrick Robinson. Could it be 5-9 rookie Avonte Maddox?
The Eagles lost slot corner Patrick Robinson to the Saints in free agency. Will his replacement be Jalen Mills? Sidney Jones? Or maybe draft pick, Avonte Maddox?
If you're a reporter covering the Eagles, May 29 is a day you no doubt have circled on your calendar.
It's Jim Schwartz Day.
It will be the very first time we're going to get the opportunity to talk to the Eagles' elusive defensive coordinator since, well, four days before their 41-33 Super Bowl victory over Bill Belichick and the Evil Empire.
One of the first things he'll no doubt be asked about since he declined to talk after the game will be the matter of those 505 passing yards by Tom Brady against his unit before Brandon Graham's fourth-quarter strip sack made it all moot.
At some point shortly after that, we'll move back to the present and he'll be quizzed about his cornerback situation, particularly who is going to replace Patrick Robinson in the slot this season.
He will, of course, tell us it's far too early to know that, and he'll be right. Heck, last year, Robinson, who ended up becoming one of the defense's most valuable players, didn't even start taking snaps inside until mid-August. And then, it was basically a what've-we-got-to-lose move by Schwartz after Robinson struggled so badly on the outside that he was in serious jeopardy of not even making the team.
Robinson is gone. He signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Saints shortly after the start of the free-agency signing period in March.
Despite his contribution to the Eagles' Super Bowl cause last year, including that important, early, momentum-swinging, 50-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Vikings in the NFC championship game, the cap-strapped Eagles couldn't justify giving that kind of a contract to a cornerback who will turn 31 in September.
With Robinson gone and 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones ready to compete for a starting job after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles, it's going to be interesting to see how the Eagles' cornerback situation shakes out. Will Jalen Mills, who started on the outside with Ronald Darby last season, slide inside to make room for Jones on the outside? Will Mills stay put and Jones move into the slot, at least until he regains all his quickness and speed and confidence? Or until Darby becomes a free agent after next season?
Or will rookie fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox surprise everyone and wind up winning the slot job, while Mills, Jones and Darby duke it out in training camp and the preseason for the two outside jobs?
Maddox is a little guy – 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds soaking wet, with short arms (29½ inches). But he started 38 games at Pitt and performed very well at the combine.
He ran a 4.39 40, jumped 37 inches and ran a 1.50 10-yard split, which was faster than 11 of the 12 projected corners taken ahead of him in the draft.
"They think he's a pit bull,'' NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. "They did a ton of work on him. A ton. A lot of their guys studied and graded him.
Andy Weidl, the Eagles' assistant director of player personnel, "was studying him right up until the second day of the draft," Baldinger continued. "They think he can win at all three phases – at the line of scrimmage, at the stem [of the route], and with the ball in the air.''
Despite his size, Maddox wasn't afraid to come up and make tackles at Pitt.
"This is a guy that fits in well with our DB room,'' vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. "It's a group of highly competitive guys, and he's going to blend in perfectly, and even stand out to a degree.
"Even though he's not the biggest guy, he will attack and support. He was a productive tackler for Pittsburgh.''
Finding a capable slot replacement for Robinson is a high priority for the Eagles. Their 2018 schedule includes many of the league's top slot receivers, including the Giants' Sterling Shepard, the Redskins' Jamison Crowder, the Rams' Cooper Kupp, the Cowboys' Cole Beasley, the Vikings' Adam Thielen, and the Falcons' Mohamed Sanu.
Maddox played almost exclusively outside at Pitt. But most teams prefer bigger corners outside, as they're better equipped to match up against the plethora of tall wideouts in the league.
Jones and Mills both are 6-0. Darby is 5-11 and 12 pounds heavier than Maddox. The only two 5-9 corners who started on the outside in the league last season were the Bucs' Brent Grimes and the Broncos' Chris Harris Jr. They are the exception, not the rule.
"I feel like I can play inside and outside,'' Maddox said. "Anywhere they need me to play, I'm willing to do it for them. I played a little bit of slot my freshman year at Pitt. And I played there in the East-West [Shrine] game.
"I know I can play slot corner. You always have to know where 'three' [slot receiver] is and know your leverage. I feel like I should be fine.''
Maddox will get snaps both inside and outside during OTAs and the early part of training camp.
"We're going to get him in there and working with our coaches, and we'll see where he's at,'' Douglas said. "Will we give him reps inside? Yeah, we'll give him reps inside, just like we've done with several of our players.
"So right now, we don't know where it's exactly going to fall, but he'll have an opportunity to work in there.''
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