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By Stone Loitfellner, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
Although many fans are in agreement that wide receiver should be top priority this offseason, especially in the draft, it can be argued that cornerback is just behind wide receiver on the Eagles draft board. As of now, Philadelphia is set to lose their number one corner, Ronald Darby, and Jalen Mills to free agency, leaving them with Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Cre’Von LeBlanc and Craig James. Without knocking these players’ heart and drive to play the game, because they have both, the Eagles could still benefit from a highly acclaimed talent and/or a proven corner from free agency. A likely scenario to happen is the Eagles signing at least one cornerback before looking into the draft to boost their secondary. However, don’t start to think that this means Philly will sway away from drafting a corner in the early rounds.
So, continuing my Eagles 2020 draft wishlist we’ll take a look at my top ten cornerback prospects that Eagles should consider drafting. If you missed out on my first wishlist looking at wide receiver prospects, my ranking system factors in prospects intangibles, pre-combine rankings and mock draft positions. To explain further, the rankings on the wishlist will be affected by where the prospect is predicted to go in the draft with early-round talents being ranked higher than later round talents regardless of the upside.
1. C.J. Henderson 6’1″ 202lbs – Florida
The talented corner out of Florida could be a perfect fit for Philly’s first-round pick if he makes it there. So far the earliest projection for Henderson is 17th to the Cowboys in Matt Miller’s seven-round mock draft. However, Walterfootball.com and Mel Kiper have the young talent going to Jacksonville the pick before Philly at number 20 overall.
Like his projection in the draft Henderson slightly slides in his position ranking with WalterFootball and Sports Illustrated placing him at second overall with CBS ranking him as their fourth-best corner prospect. Regardless of where he sits in the top five his play backs up his praise, posting 26 solo tackles, 11 pass defends and a single sack. Although everyone likes to see interceptions, don’t let the lack thereof worry you. Henderson is a physical corner with speed to complement that. He knows how to play the ball and registered two interceptions in 2018 and four in 2017. As much as words can describe his play and his talent, sometimes seeing is better than talking. Take a look at Henderson’s career highlights to get a good look at the young talent.
Even though it’s highly likely that the Eagles will go with a wide receiver in the first round, if Henderson is available at pick 21, it’s definitely worth the consideration since the Eagles haven’t drafted a cornerback in the first round since Lito Shepeard in 2002 with the 26th overall pick. This could be a useful opportunity for Philly to bolster their secondary and, with the draft being stockpiled with talented receivers, Henderson may be worth the first-round fee.
2. Jaylon Johnson 6’0″ 195lbs – Utah
With the Eagles sitting at the 53rd pick, it can be tricky trying to predict what corner will make their way down to that spot and who will be snatched up in the 32 picks between Philly’s 21st and 53rd pick. However, Jaylon Johnson has been projected by WalterFootball to be drafted by the Eagles with their second-round pick. On the other hand though, Matt Miller has Johnson narrowly avoiding the second round going 32nd overall to the Chiefs. Johnson has also been ranked inside the top ten by Walterfootball and CBS with Walterfootball ranking him at nine and CBS placing him tenth overall, surely making him a desired prospect.
Whoever lands the talented prospect is getting a hard-nosed player that isn’t afraid to play physical and battle with the receiver to knock the ball out of his hands. Johnson’s physicality shows in his 2019 stats, posting 36 total tackles, 34 of which unassisted, 11 pass deflections and was able to snatch two interceptions, bringing one back for a touchdown. To add to his talents, throughout his career Johnson has shown the ability to track the ball with seven interceptions in his three seasons at Utah. Johnson’s rounded skillset can be seen on full display in his highlights.
Johnson is a likely prospect to be taken by the Eagles in the second round. After C.J. Henderson, most of the corners ranked in the top ten are projected to be off the board by the 53rd pick. Still, Johnson’s toughness and playmaking abilities make him a highly coveted prospect that could surely boost the Eagles’ secondary, whether or not they sign a cornerback in free agency.
3. Jeff Gladney 6’0″ 183lbs – TCU
Another valuable option that has a good chance of being there at pick 53 is the senior Jeff Gladney, who just makes WalterFootball’s top ten, landing in the final slot. Meanwhile, CBS approves of the young talent just a bit more ranking him the seventh-best corner prospect. However, the mock drafts have a bit more of a dramatic change in projections. Matt Miller having Gladney go to the Titans with the 29th overall pick in the draft, while WalterFootball has him going 51st overall to Dallas. Even CBS has Gladney going in the first round to Minnesota with the 25th pick, making Gladney a first-round hopeful that could just possibly make it to pick 53 for Philadelphia to get a chance at drafting him.
Gladney is a high-intensity player that doesn’t mind laying the wood and being the hammer, not the nail, when making a hit almost immediately, as displayed in this highlight reel when he lays out the Texas Tech receiver as soon as he tries to turn upfield. The senior’s play awareness is shown in the very next play of the video when he reads a flea-flicker, tracks the receiver and anticipates the pass for the pick in a game against Purdue. His highlights also show his ability to play the ball at the point of the catch and battle it out of the hands of the receiver before they have a chance to fully make the catch. Of course, his 14 pass breakups and ability to knock the ball away, in turn, decrease his tackle numbers, with just 24 solo tackles on the season.
Although Gladney shows tons of upside, some scouts find concerns in his length, his lack of jamming at the line of scrimmage and find that his route anticipation can use some development, but of course, every rookie could use some development somewhere. The big question for Philadelphia is if Gladney will make it to the 53rd pick or if he will be scooped up before they have a true chance to draft the talented corner prospect.
4. Bryce Hall 6’1″ 200lbs – Virginia
A talented prospect that the Eagles may have a chance at grabbing is Bryce Hall. Hall is a tall, long and physical defender that knows how to play the ball, but is projected to be drafted anywhere between the second and fourth round with mocks mostly expecting him to go in the third. Matt Miller has him go 73rd overall to Jacksonville, while Walterfootball has him going to Tampa Bay just three picks later. So, the Eagles may have to trade up from their 85th spot, take a chance on him sliding or use their second-rounder on the Virginia product. Hall has also been ranked highly with CBS giving him the fifth-best corner ranking and Walterfootball placing him at 12th, while TheDraftNetwork has him at eleventh.
The cause of Hall’s slight fall in the draft is most likely due to his final college season being cut short due to an ankle injury that needed surgery. Still, Hall’s 2018 performance shouldn’t be ignored. The young talent posted 62 total tackles, 39 of which were unassisted, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and 21 pass defends. Just look no further than his highlights to see his talents on display, especially during a play against Nebraska, where he rips the ball away from Kelvin Harmon with one hand to secure the interception.
Hall could truly bring an all-around skillset to Philadelphia, with his ability to play the ball, contest receivers and even rush the passer at times. However, it is said that he can struggle to handle receivers with better route-running skills that can stop and go at will, which has been an issue with the Eagles secondary in the past. Still, it’s hopefully a trait that can be worked on and, if Hall’s ability to find the ball in the air and physicality translates to the NFL, any team would be glad to have him.
5. Darnay Holmes 5’10” 198lbs – UCLA
Yet another high-motor corner can be found in Darnay Holmes who’s best trait could be argued to be his quickness and acceleration. Holmes is more likely a candidate for Philly to land between the second and fifth-rounds. WalterFootball has him going to Denver with the 83rd overall pick, while Matt Miller has him slated all the way down at pick 162 for Tampa Bay. Even with Holmes being slated as a late-round pick, Walterfootball ranks him just outside the top 10 at 11, while CBS has him ranked a bit lower at 17th.
Although Holmes is listed for the later rounds, his college stats show a player that seems to sniff out the ball with eight interceptions in three seasons. There could be possible concerns in Holmes’ lack of pass defends with just six, but he was still able to notch two interceptions last season. Holmes also receives praise for his tackling abilities, posting 33 (23 unassisted) during last year’s campaign. The skilled prospect is also credited with respectable man coverage skills but can be limited due to his lack of physicality and length to stop receivers’ release off the line of scrimmage. Nevertheless, it can be seen quickly in his highlights that Holmes possesses a playmaking ability that the Eagles could benefit from having in their secondary.
Even with Holmes’ playmaking ability and knack to find the football in the air, there are concerns with his ability to tackle mostly due to him seemingly avoiding getting involved on some tackles and stays back on the run instead of attacking upfront. This could be part of the reason Holmes is projected to go in the third to fifth round, which could work out for Philadelphia, giving them a ballhawk corner with plenty of upside at a fairly cheap cost, while addressing other positions beforehand.
6. Lavert Hill 5’11” 182lbs – Michigan
Lavert Hill is a prospect with quite the sliding scale, being projected to be drafted 88th overall by WalterFootball but 228th overall by Matt Miller, a four-round difference. The same type of differential in rankings can be found in his positional placement with WalterFootball penciling him in at 13 while CBS has him over 10 spots lower at 24.
Hill’s lower projections seem to be mostly due to his size which can hold him back on more physical plays like 50/50 jump balls and deep passes. There is also some concern with his tackling technique, putting his head and eyes down leading him to miss the ballcarrier or fail to wrap him up for the tackle. Still, Hill’s 2019 stats are pretty impressive, posting 10 solo tackles, 10 pass defends and three interceptions. Just take a quick look at his tape to see his abilities in action.
Although he lacks the desired size some scouts and GM’s are looking for, Hill is a talented corner that can play man-up, allowing little to no separation on routes that can also play the ball at the point of the catch and knocking it away from a receivers’ hands seconds before a catch can be made. Hill’s projections for the draft, albeit varying, are adequate for the Eagles, giving them a chance at a talented corner who knows how to play the ball, without using a first or second-round pick.
7. Troy Pride Jr. 6’0″ 193lbs – Norte Dame
Pride Jr. is a prospect with less of a sliding scale, narrowly avoiding the fourth round in WalterFootball’s mock draft, where he’s slated to go to Tennessee with the 93rd pick. Meanwhile, Matt Miller has him just falling out of the third round into the fourth to go to the Ravens at pick 145, just ahead of the Eagles’ 146th pick but also five picks after the Eagles’ 140th pick, putting him in a projected sweet spot for Philadelphia to have multiple chances at.
Although Pride Jr. only posted six pass defends and one interception, he did put up 40 tackles, 27 of which done solo. His tackling skills haven’t gone unnoticed either, being described to have quick feet and explosiveness that helps him cut under ballcarriers to bring them down. Besides that, TheDraftNetwork finds his footwork to be one of his best traits, stating that he has smooth, quick feet that make him effective in man-to-man situations, allowing him to press his man at the line of scrimmage and stay with him as they go upfield.
Still, there are concerns in his run support, finding a lack of aggressiveness up front and scouts find his lack of length can make it tough for him to initially shed blocks. Pride Jr. has also been said to have a high football IQ that can play man-to-man and zone coverage that, with him being slated for the late third and fourth rounds, puts him in an adequate position for Philly.
8. A.J. Green 6’2″ 202lbs – Oklahoma State
Another corner with good size is A.J. Green, who Matt Miller actually has the Eagles taking in the third round with the 85th pick. One of the best traits Green posses is his ability to take a variety of techniques in coverage, being able to use inside and outside leverage with more than enough reps in zone and man-to-man coverage to expect him to be able to handle the same task in the NFL. Even with his size, Green still has the speed to stay with wideouts down the field and seems to play his best when he can match-up with a receiver one on one.
Green interestingly has put up similar stats throughout his career having the exact same number of tackles over the past two seasons with 39 solo tackles and 10 assist in both 2018 and 2019. In 2017, he also had 39 solo tackles, but was shy by just two assist tackles with eight. In three seasons with Oklahoma State, Green was able to record six interceptions and 21 pass break-ups. Let the stats speak for themselves or take a peek at his highlight tape where you can see Green’s athleticism and coverage skills in use.
Obviously already predicted to go to Philadelphia in the draft, I don’t have to explain how the Eagles can get the young talent. A.J. Green, albeit not the A.J. Green fans were expecting, could be an essential addition to the team for years to come, with Green having plenty of room to grow.
9. Lamar Jackson 6’2″ 208lbs – Nebraska
The big-bodied cornerback prospect is set to go in the fourth to sixth rounds, mostly due to concerns that his size will cause a position switch at some point in his NFL career. He projects as an outside corner role that doesn’t have the quickness to play nickel. Still, it’s unlikely Jackson will fall much further in the draft with Matt Miller having him going at pick 108 to the Texans. The Eagles hold the 124th pick in the fourth round, but do hold the 103rd pick at the very end of the third round which they could use to snag Jackson.
Jackson put out an impressive 2019 campaign where he was able to rack up 30 solo tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, three interceptions and 12 pass defends. Jackson’s athleticism and length help him tremendously in pass coverage and, unlike smaller corners, Jackson is more than welcome to be aggressive against the run and tackle ball carriers head-on. Viewing his Nebraska highlights, it’s easy to see how his size benefits his play and how he can stay with receivers off the line and throughout their route.
Jackson’s combination of size and football intelligence could make him a perfect mid-round pick for the Eagles if they’re willing to take a chance on him being able to take on NFL receivers on the outside as a man-up corner, but they could actually benefit from placing him at safety at times, if not permanently. Especially if they let Malcolm Jenkins and/or Rodney Mcleod go in free agency.
10. Harrison Hand 5’11” 197lbs – Temple
To wrap up the list, there’s the prospect that moved (transferred from Baylor) right into the Eagles backyard that Matt Miller projected to go to the Saints with the 170th overall pick, just three picks after the Eagles. For a fifth-round projection, Hand had quite the impressive 2019 season, recording 59 tackles, 43 of which unassisted, one forced fumble, three interceptions and five pass break-ups.
Hand is a sizeable corner that receives the most praise for his physicality but has issues in transition that has some scouts finding him more suited to play safety. Regardless, even being viewed as an early day three option, scouts see starter potential in Hand. Although he may have to work on his man-to-man skills, Hand is considered a ballhawk when playing zone, consistently undercutting passes.
With Philadelphia having two third-round picks just one pick apart they are in prime position to draft the corner. Of course, Hand could go early in the round, but going off projections, Hand could be an under the radar pick that could really bolster the Eagles secondary.
Noah Igbinoghene 5’10” 198lbs – Auburn
Dane Jackson 6’0″ 187lbs – Pittsburgh
Stanford Samuels III 6’1″ 187lbs – Florida State
Reggie Robinson II 6’1″ 205lbs – Tulsa
Michael Ojemudia 6’1″ 200lbs – Iowa