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Eagles CBs: Who has best claim to playing time?

Eliot Shorr-Parks
June 23, 2019 - 5:30 am
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In the NFL, the best player doesn’t always play. That is simply the fact and the reality in the business of football. 

Chances are that reality will end up being crystal clear this upcoming season in the Eagles’ cornerback room. 

Almost every player on the Eagles’ cornerback depth chart has an argument to not only play, but to start. Considering cornerback is not a position like running back or receiver, where you can shuffle players in-and-out, the reality is only three will be playing — and the other three, barring injury, will be sitting on the bench. 

So who has the strongest claim to being out on the field and avoiding the bench?

Here is a ranking of the Eagles’ cornerbacks, not based off of playing time, but by off-the-field power:

Avonte Maddox

Claim to Playing Time: 4th-round pick in 2018, arguably brightest future

Will it stick?: Maddox getting a ton of playing time seems to be the closest thing to a lock there is at cornerback for the Eagles. Maddox was starting on the outside during mandatory minicamp, and them moved inside when they went to nickel. That seems to show that he is not only the current starting nickel, but one of the top backups at outside cornerbacks as well. Maddox has all kinds of things working in his favor. He was a semi-high pick, he had an awesome year last season and in just his second season it makes a ton of sense for the Eagles to develop him. Sitting Maddox on the bench is pointless and will hurt the team. He has without question the strongest claim. 

Ronald Darby:

Claim to Playing Time: Just signed one-year deal, team traded 3rd round pick for him

Will it stick?: Money makes the decisions in the NFL, and no player on the roster has more money in their contract right now than Darby does — and he just got it. Not only did the Eagles just bring back Darby, but he decided to come back on a one-year deal, something he wouldn’t have done if he wasn’t very sure he would be playing when healthy. Add in the fact that the Eagles traded a third-round pick away to get him, and the front office has made it clear how highly they think of Darby. That will result in him getting on the field as soon as he is ready. 

Sidney Jones:

Claim to Playing Time: 2nd-round pick (2017) invested in him despite obvious risks

Will it stick?: The Eagles’ front office badly want Jones to work out and not be a bust. Taking him at the top of the second round was a risk considering he was coming off of a torn Achilles, but it is a risk the team used a valuable asset to make. The early returns have been mixed. Jones has had trouble staying on the field, and when he has played, has certainly gone trough some growing pains. The potential is still there. The question is whether the Eagles will force him onto the field, over players like Douglas, Mills and LeBlanc, to see if he can turn into a quality starter. 

Jalen Mills:

Claim to Playing Time: Best cornerback on the roster over the last three seasons

Will it stick?: If Mills wasn’t hurt, this wouldn’t even be a question — Mills would be on the field starting. The foot injury, however, complicates things. Mills has been the best cornerback on the roster, but he doesn’t have many off-the-field factors working in his favor. He was a seventh-round pick. He is in the final year of his deal. That is a big deal and could be a hint at how they the front office feels about Mills. If Mills isn’t ready for training camp, and Jones is really impressive, will the Eagles take Jones out to hand Mills back the job? Mills doesn’t have the contract that Darby does and he doesn’t have the draft-stock that Jones does. He has remained a consistent starter by playing at a quality level and remaining healthy. Opening the door to be replaced could end up giving the front office the excuse they need to force another player in there over Mills — and if they do, that would be a mistake. 

Rasul Douglas:

Claim to Playing Time: 3rd-round pick (2017)

Will it stick?: The Eagles have made it pretty clear they aren’t going to give Douglas much of a chance to play. He was never given a real chance to start as either a rookie or in 2018. He played at a quality level in 2017 but was benched when Darby returned. He played at a high level towards the end of last season as well. Unlike the other cornerbacks, it seems like Douglas has almost no room for error. 

Cre’von LeBlanc:

Claim to Playing Time: Stepped up big-time last season 

Will it stick?: We got our answer pretty early on this offseason as to how much of a chance at playing time the Eagles are going to give LeBlanc. LeBlanc was the only cornerback among the top six that ran exclusively with the second-team. The Eagles seeing Maddox as a nickel cornerback, the role he played in minicamp, is a blow to LeBlanc’s chances. The Eagles won’t bench Maddox for LeBlanc. At this point, LeBlanc’s best chance at getting on the field is Maddox moving to the outside, either as the result of injury or a player being benched due to poor play. With the depth the Eagles have on the outside, however, it is going to take a lot. 

You can follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!

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