Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas and the rule of thirds | Bob Ford
The former third-round draft pick is still trying to become a starter.
A third-round draft pick in the NFL is assured of nothing aside from an honest chance to succeed, maybe even more than one. He will get more consideration than a lower pick, but not nearly as much as a higher one; stuck firmly in the middle of the team's calculation between what it cost to get him and what it would cost to keep him.
Rasul Douglas was the Eagles' third-round pick in 2017, a rangy cornerback with very good hands, solid tackling ability, and eight interceptions in his final season at West Virginia. He was also considered a touch slow and unsuited for press coverage in the NFL, but that is the nature of a third-round pick. If there weren't a few drawbacks, he would have been a first-rounder.
The Eagles' draft history gives an accurate definition of third-round picks. For every Jordan Hicks and Bennie Logan, there is a Curtis Marsh and a Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. It's hard to hit big with the pick, although it should be mentioned that the Eagles won the Super Bowl with an MVP quarterback taken in the third round, albeit one who was dismissed and then retrieved.
The personal story of Douglas' making his way to the NFL is heartening. While scuffling to get noticed playing community college ball, he slept on the floor of a small apartment and took his meals from the dollar menu at McDonald's, often eating only half at a time and husbanding the remainder for morning.
A little adversity, therefore, is relative for Douglas, particularly when properly nourished and earning a good living in professional football. Still, his path from the 2017 draft to the present isn't one that promises long-term success. This season, he has played significant snaps in only two games, and those because the thin Eagles secondary suffered yet more injuries during play and Douglas was hustled in from the sideline.
This Sunday, it appears Douglas will get another chance, and make his first start of the season, because outside cornerback Jalen Mills is still recovering from a foot sprain suffered two weekends ago in London.
"I don't know," Douglas said, asked about starting. "I've got to act like I'm a starter, prepare like I'm a starter, then when the game comes, I'll find out my role, and if I'm going to play or not. If I'm not, then I'll stand on the sideline and be a cheerleader, and stay into the game as if I'm playing. You never know. Maybe my number will be called. Maybe the second play of the game, maybe the last play of the game."
In his rookie year, Douglas got five starts. Four of them came after Jaylen Watkins tore his hamstring near the start of the year and before Patrick Robinson was healthy to play. The other was in the live forfeit to Dallas that ended the season. Although on paper it looks as if Douglas had a bigger role last season, he was still on the field only because of emergency, getting just 16 snaps after the ninth game of the season, excepting the Dallas finale.
This year, it has been more of the same. Douglas was on the field as a free safety when Sidney Jones was hurt against the Giants and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz opted to move Avonte Maddox to cornerback. He got on the field again when Mills was hurt against the Jaguars. Eighty-four of his 93 defensive snaps this season have come in those two games.
He did make his biggest play of the year in one of his very limited appearances. On the field for just two snaps when Ronald Darby cramped up against Atlanta, Douglas intercepted a fourth-quarter, Matt Ryan pass intended for Julio Jones. Otherwise, however, it has been a lot of waiting for Douglas.
"Just a patient season. It's low-key frustrating because I want to be out there. I want to help us win," Douglas said. "I did good [against New York and Jacksonville], but it was just for that game. The next game, it's a new role or a different role. … With guys playing good in front of me, the coaches just decided to stay with them and not come to me. Hopefully, I'll get to play, but I can't control that."
Even with Mills out, there's no guarantee Schwartz will put his faith in Douglas if he has another option. In two seasons, that has never been the case. Corey Graham was a full participant in practice after being inactive for three games, and he could slide to free safety while Maddox takes one of the corner spots.
The Eagles also signed Cre'Von LeBlanc off the street this week (releasing Dexter McDougle in another mind-bending change of direction), and who knows whether Douglas could see the field? He has seen enough to take nothing for granted.
"He's handled it like a professional, and he's stayed prepared," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "He's preparing not only to play corner, but to play safety if something happens … and it's all happened. That's a tough ask, but it's the situation we're in."
If Sunday does provide him another start and he plays well, Douglas will take it for what it is. He knows nothing is guaranteed for a third-round pick, not even a roster spot. His salary-cap hit goes way down for next season and is almost non-existent for his fourth year. The reality of the business is that Douglas probably won't get many more opportunities here.
"I leave the coaching up to the coaches," Douglas said. "If they decide to play me, I'll be happy. If they don't, they don't."
Against the Cowboys, he has a good chance to be happy. Or, more simply, he has a chance. Third-round picks get those, but not forever.