Taking look at potential players and positions for next season.
By Dave Spadaro
In the world of the NFL, where offenses rule, a great cornerback is a hard man to find.
Often the best athletes on the field, cornerbacks have the game stacked against them: Cornerbacks can’t touch wide receivers five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and, thus, play a bit of catchup against the free-running pass catchers.
The Eagles had quite a thing going at cornerback for more than a decade, with Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor ruling the field in the late 1990s and early 2000s, followed by the duo of Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown through 2008–2009 and then Asante Samuel from 2008–2011.
But since then, they have had trouble filling the position with quality. High-priced free agents (Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell) have flamed out. Lower-dollar options (Walter Thurmond, Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, Leodis McKelvin) didn’t last long. Draft picks (Eric Rowe) didn’t hang around very long.
Now, though, the Eagles have a bright outlook at cornerback. They won the Super Bowl in the 2017 season with a combination of youth (rookie Rasul Douglas, second-year man Jalen Mills) and experience acquired in free agency (Patrick Robinson) and via trade (Ronald Darby). Robinson moved on in free agency, signing with New Orleans. The player to watch now at the position is one of their own acquired in the 2017 draft — Sidney Jones sat out much of his rookie season rehabbing the torn Achilles tendon that he suffered just before the draft and is now healthy and prepared to make his move.
“I’m all the way back,” Jones said after a recent Organized Team Activity practice at the NovaCare Complex. “I feel great. I learned a lot last year about being in the NFL, and it’s exciting for me to be back on the field. I want to show everybody what I can do.”
At 6–0, 181 pounds, Jones has excellent size to match up against bigger NFL receivers, and his smooth acceleration and change of direction set him apart from the rest of the Eagles’ cornerbacks. Had Jones not been injured six weeks before the ’17 draft, he likely would have been taken among the top 15 draft picks. The Eagles nabbed Jones at №43 overall and are now hopeful for big things from him in 2018.
“He’s in the mix,” head coach Doug Pederson said when asked if Jones is in line to start at cornerback.
Nobody has higher expectations than does Jones. He calls himself “a playmaker,” and there’s evidence to support that self-confidence after a brilliant collegiate career at the University of Washington, where Jones had 30 passes defended and nine interceptions in 40 career games and was an All-American in his final season. Jones played in last year’s regular-season finale against Dallas to knock the rust off, and he’s full go in the spring for the Eagles.
Just how much of a difference can Jones make? Well, if he plays as the Eagles think he can play, Jones just might be the shutdown cornerback this defense hasn’t had, really, since Vincent. Taylor, Sheppard and Brown were good, and Samuel was an interception machine, but none of them were truly in the “shutdown” category. Jones just might be that good. He’s a player to watch through the summer and into the regular season as the Eagles hope their search for their next superstar at cornerback is over. ••