The deepest the Eagles secondary has been in years…
Preface: The Eagles secondary is littered with young talent. Click here to hear our expectations from Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, and Rasul Douglas on our most recent episode of The Blue Route Pod. Video is also available on our YouTube channel.
What a difference a year makes. The secondary was absolutely decimated by injuries last November and December. To be honest, it is August and not much has changed. Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Rodney McLeod are continuing the path to recovery from their respective injuries. Meanwhile, the Eagles head into the preseason with surprising depth and youth who are energized to make a major impact for the Philadelphia Eagles secondary.
Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, and Rasul Douglas headline a young group of up-and-coming defensive backs. From all indications during training camp so far, the individuals in this trio have been major standouts at practice. How do the Eagles look at secondary this season? Who is ready to take that next step in their development? One thing is for sure, this is a position that has Eagles fans extremely excited. Let’s break it down…
Malcolm Jenkins and Fletcher Cox are the heart and soul of the defense. Moving on. Okay, kidding. Jenkins’ leadership on defense was invaluable in 2018 and more importantly during the 2017 Super Bowl run. Remember the time Eagles fans were upset that the Birds didn’t sign Jairus Byrd? Malcolm Jenkins could be the best Eagles free agency signing ever… Think about that…
Sorry Carson and Fletcher, but Jenkins is the undisputed leader of the Philadelphia Eagles. Malcolm has clearly outplayed his contract and deserves to get paid. He did not attend OTAs earlier during the offseason but has attended training camp without being a distraction. Jenkins plays at an elite level; he played all 16 games in 2018 and will be paid 12th-best among NFL safeties. Do the right thing Eagles and pay this man.
I expect another huge 2019 for Malcolm Jenkins this season. The signings of Sendejo and Cyprien should help Malcolm Jenkins significantly this year. In 2018, Jenkins played 100% of the snaps at SS last year. That is insane. Jenkins will turn 32 in December, and it would be wise of Jim Schwartz to do some rotating at safety this season so that Jenkins is ready to go in the playoffs.
It was a huge weekend for the Eagles defense. Per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, Rodney McLeod was a full participant at Saturday’s practice. It was the first full practice since McLeod tore his ACL and MLC in his right knee last September. McLeod is aiming for the August 22nd home preseason game vs the Baltimore Ravens for his return.
Rodney McLeod restructured his contract back in January that will pay him $3 million base salary in 2019. He will be a free agent following next season. I expect McLeod to return to being a very good free safety for the Eagles in 2019. The Eagles need him in the middle of the field, and his return from injury can’t come soon enough.
The speedy cornerback is making progress from the knee injury he suffered last November. Ronald Darby has been limited to individual drills and won’t be involved in team drills for some time. Ian Rapoport indicated that Ronald Darby could still be active when the regular season starts. He is currently on the PUP list and fresh off a one year deal with the Eagles for just under 10 million dollars.
Many expect Ronald Darby to start on the outside as soon as he becomes active. While Darby has excellent speed, his technique is poor and sloppy, especially with his back to the quarterback. When Darby is healthy, he’s arguably the best cornerback on the team. But someone wake me up when that happens. Darby is consistently inconsistent and has played 17 games the last two years.
In my opinion, nothing should be handed to Ronald Darby this training camp. He hasn’t earned anything. He doesn’t tackle and seems to have a knack for giving up huge plays. I’m not questioning his talent. He’s very talented. But talent only takes you so far. Ronald Darby has been way too inconsistent and injury prone to be counted on as a week one starter. Clearly, I’m not the biggest Ronald Darby fan. For this reason, I’m truly hoping that Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas take that next step in their development as outside corners.
Jalen Mills missed the final eight games of 2018 with a foot injury. Currently, Jalen Mills is on the PUP list, and his status for the start of the regular season is in serious jeopardy. If Jalen Mills is still on the PUP list when the regular season starts, that means he won’t be active during the first six weeks of the season. According to Doug Pederson, it’s going to be quite some time until we see Jalen Mills on the field.
One of my favorite players on the Eagles, Avonte Maddox’s versatility on defense was invaluable in 2018. After the Eagles signed Johnathan Cyprien to a one year deal, all signs point to Avonte Maddox focusing on his best position in 2019, the slot cornerback position. He was all over the place in 2018, literally. Maddox played safety, slot corner, and outside corner for the Birds last season. He finished with 50 tackles, 7 pass deflections, two interceptions, and a forced fumble.
Avonte Maddox looks every bit like a cornerstone cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019. Expectations for the second year player could not be higher. With the Eagles playing a ton of nickel, I expect Maddox to truly thrive in the slot this season. I’m looking for Maddox to continue being a playmaker on defense and become one of the best cover corners in the NFL. For good reason in June, Pro Football Focus named Avonte Maddox as the Eagles X-Factor for 2019.
The biggest disappointment has become the biggest standout of Eagles training camp in 2019. The Eagles have thrown Sidney Jones in the slot and the outside, and he hasn’t missed a beat. Jones has had 3 interceptions through 6 practices and countless pass deflections. Local media and Eagles vets have been gushing about his performance throughout training camp. I expect Sidney Jones to play the majority on the outside in 2019.
Sidney Jones is a guy that is primed for a huge breakout season. The only hurdle in his way is currently Ronald Darby’s status. The combination of Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas is really fascinating. These two have put their inconsistent play behind them and have been the biggest names at training camp. On a long list of what I’m most excited for versus the Tennessee Titans on Thursday, Sidney Jones is on the top of the list. Of course, Sidney Jones still has a lot to prove. Most importantly, he needs to stay healthy.
Speaking of ascending talent at cornerback, Rasul Douglas is a name that is turning heads on a daily basis at training camp. Let’s be honest. Rasul Douglas was on a swivel in 2018. To be fair, was he ever really ready? The secondary was decimated last season by injuries, and Douglas was never given a role on defense. He’s clearly put that past behind him and looks every bit like a starting outside cornerback so far during training camp. It’s amazing how different players look in a year’s time. Rasul Douglas is more confident and mature than ever before.
What am I looking for in 2019? I expect Rasul Douglas to continue to show that he’s one of the best ball hawks on the Philadelphia Eagles defense. Rasul Douglas knows his role in 2019. No safety for Rasul Douglas this season. He’s going to play cornerback. Most importantly, Rasul has increased his physicality compared to 2018 during the offseason, and it’s translated. The sky is the limit for Rasul Douglas in 2019.
On a sad note, it was recently reported that Cre’Von LeBlanc has a Lisfranc sprain. He won’t have surgery and is expected to return in November. Cre’Von LeBlanc was an absolute hero for the Eagles defense last season. His performance in the secondary was a major variable in their late playoff push.
The injury had some major ripple effects on the defense. The Eagles signed Johnathan Cyprien and Orlando Scandrick to help the secondary. Cre’Von’s absence means it is not only up to Avonte Maddox to hold down the slot position, but it also makes Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas taking that next step in their development that much more significant.
Cre’Von LeBlanc will be fighting for a roster spot when he returns in November. Personally, I’m not worried at all as this is nothing new for Cre’Von. He has been fighting for a roster spot his whole NFL career and will continue to do so. Just like last year, I expect LeBlanc to continue making plays when the Eagles gear up for their playoff push during the second half of the season.
A couple of days ago, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Johnathan Cyprien to a one year deal. For more in depth analysis on Cyprien, click here. Victor from The Philly Special Podcast did an excellent breakdown.
May the best man win. The former second round pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars adds depth to the secondary and will fight with Andrew Sendejo for snaps on the Eagles defense at the safety position. This news is also not great for Blake Countess, who is certainly on the bubble to make the roster. More importantly, Cyprien gives the Eagles a hybrid safety/linebacker that loves versatility at defense.
The Eagles base package on defense is Big Nickel, which means Cyprien should easily find his opportunity in Philadelphia. Cyprien’s arrival allows Rodney McCleod to take his time returning to the field. With so many talented running backs in the NFC East such as Barkley, Guice, and Elliott, adding a safety that is strong at the line of scrimmage is never a bad thing. Cyprien is a strong tackler and can hit like a Mack truck. I expect Cyprien to rotate at the safety position, especially on early downs to help against the run.
Best of luck Sendejo. Speaking of…
Okay, joking aside, Sendejo is fine. In my opinion, the Johnathan Cyprien signing has no impact on Andrew Sendejo. Andrew Sendejo is going to make the final 53 man roster. Sendejo has taken all first team reps at safety during training camp so far. Even further, Doug Pederson recently raved about Sendejo’s play during training camp, calling him smart, tough, and physical.
The Eagles are not cutting Andrew Sendejo for a compensatory pick. It’s not happening.
A week ago, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Orlando Scandrick to add depth to the secondary position. With Darby, Jones, Maddox, Mills, and Douglas ahead of him on the depth chart, Scandrick certainly has a steep hill to climb. Scandrick is an 11 year veteran and versatile cornerback that played multiple positions last season (corner, safety, and linebacker).
I expect Orlando Scandrick to provide healthy competition for the Eagles young players like Maddox, Douglas, and Jones. He’s a nickel corner and a solid tackler but not a guy we should expect a major role. Scandrick has the NFL pedigree, but nothing will be given to him during training camp and preseason. How fast the Eagles young corners progress and how quickly Scandrick learns the playbook will really dictate his role on the defense in 2019.
Overall Conclusion and Grade – C+
The Eagles secondary currently has some major setbacks as well as a ton of unproven talent. The Eagles have continued to add depth at cornerback and safety over the past week. What does it all mean? Does that mean the injuries to Ronald Darby, Rodney McCleod, and Jalen Mills are more serious than expected?
I give the secondary a C+ heading into the 2019 season. It’s a position that could have a huge swing in either direction when the regular season starts. If many of the starters show they are healthy come week one, then it’s one of the deepest positions on the Eagles roster. However, the secondary has a lot of unproven talent. More specifically, the Eagles are expecting major leap forwards from Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Sidney Jones. If they aren’t ready, things could go south very quickly.
There is level of excitement in the Eagles secondary moving forward. With a little luck, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas could be our future starting outside cornerbacks in 2020. I’m very much looking forward to watching their development and journey in 2019. Beyond Jones and Douglas, Mills and Darby should be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Without question, the secondary will be one of the most entertaining areas to watch during preseason and the regular season. Get your popcorn ready.