Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles' draft options at CB, WR after Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith signings

Eagles' draft options at CB, WR after Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith signings

During the 2016 season, it was clear the Eagles had two glaring needs: wide receiver and cornerback.

On Thursday, de facto GM Howie Roseman eliminated one of those needs by signing veteran receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.

But what about corner? A.J. Bouye, Stephon Gilmore and Logan Ryan were three of the top corners on the market. The Eagles weren't seriously linked to any of them, and on Thursday Bouye landed with the Jaguars, Gilmore agreed with the Patriots and Ryan went to the Titans.

Roseman chose to surround Wentz with proven commodities rather than add to the defense.

With how phenomenal this cornerback draft class is, that appears to be a wise move.

The experts have spoken, and they say this defensive back class could be historically good. As a draft nerd who spends a good portion of his free time studying college football players, I can tell you this year's crop is stupid deep. There could be as many as seven corners taken in the first round this year.

But the depth doesn't stop there either. Players like Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon are intriguing prospects. Both players met with the Eagles during the combine and both will likely be available in the third round. This was something Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas surely factored in when assessing the free-agent market.

Besides, Roseman has been down this road before. The Eagles shelled out big money to Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell and both were disasters. They've tried Band-Aid corners like Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who were equally as dreadful. Knowing how strong this draft is, why overpay someone like Bouye -- who the Jaguars paid handsomely -- after only one strong season?

With that said, drafting a corner is no sure thing. Of all the corners the Eagles have drafted recently -- that they haven't traded to Super Bowl champions -- Jalen Mills is the only one still on the roster (Jaylen Watkins is sort of a hybrid but spent most of last season as a safety). Roseman and Douglas are now under even more pressure to find the right fit.

And speaking of fit, Jim Schwartz's defense isn't the easiest on a young corner. Mills will likely be the only corner returning from 2016. Given his lack of foot speed, he seems destined for the slot. Maybe the Eagles disagree with that sentiment, but if I'm right, they'll need two starting outside corners before the season starts.

Schwartz needs his corners to play on an island if his defense is going to work. If you're able to snag Washington's Sidney Jones, he could likely handle those duties from Day 1. He's the most gifted cover corner with the best technique in the class. But drafting a corner in the second or third round and expecting him to play in this defense is a big ask.

Conversely, the Eagles spent big at wide receiver after not really throwing any money at the position over the last decade or so. Jordan Matthews has been mostly successful in the slot, but the team hasn't drafted a legitimate outside receiver since taking Jeremy Maclin in the first round in 2009.

After missing on Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor, the Eagles didn't draft a receiver last season. Jeffery and Smith are here, but both are on one-year deals. Roseman still needs to look closely at the position for the future. The position may not be as stacked as corner but the receiver crop has many intriguing names beyond the top trio of Mike Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross.

Zay Jones out of East Carolina has seen his stock soar and for good reason. Jones posted ridiculous numbers at ECU, hauling in 158(!) passes for 1,746 yards. He impressed at both the Senior Bowl and the combine, where he measured at 6-foot-2 and ran a 4.45 40. Someone like explosive Louisiana Tech receiver Carlos Henderson, who could be available in the third or fourth round, is worth a hard look. Henderson averaged 18.7 yards per catch and caught 10 touchdowns.

Another need that gets somewhat overlooked is at defensive end. Brandon Graham was the Eagles' only edge rusher to get consistent pressure last season. The hope is Vinny Curry will bounce back after signing a huge deal last offseason, but you can't rely on that. If someone like Tennessee's Derek Barnett is there at No. 14, he's worth a look. Barnett recorded 32 sacks in just three seasons with the Volunteers.

There are a number of Eagles fans enamored with Florida State's Dalvin Cook. I get it. He is talented and the Eagles don't have a starting running back. Cook's multiple shoulder surgeries and an off-field incident (he was acquitted after a woman alleged that he had punched her in the face) are red flags. For a running back to be taken in the top half of the draft, he has to be a near sure thing. Consider this: Of the NFL's top 10 rushers last season, only rookie Ezekiel Elliott was a first-round pick. Luckily for the Eagles, this is another position rich with talent in the draft.

It's a risk to rely on so many young players to fill needs, but it's a calculated one by Roseman. They say the third time's a charm, but in this case, the last thing the Eagles needed was another Asomugha or Maxwell.

Roob: Talented, young cornerbacks no 'Band-Aids' for Eagles

Roob: Talented, young cornerbacks no 'Band-Aids' for Eagles

It's hard not to wonder: With Jalen Mills on the brink of establishing himself as a true No. 1 cornerback and rookie Rasul Douglas shining in his first two NFL starts, what happens when Ronald Darby gets back? And what happens when Sidney Jones gets back?

Answer? Who cares!

All I know is that after a decade of watching recycled, over-priced, disinterested veterans like Ellis Hobbs, Nnamdi Asomugha, Byron Maxwell, Bradley Fletcher, Nolan Carroll, Cary Williams and Leodis McKelvin, it sure is encouraging to see the Eagles stockpile promising, young largely home-grown cornerbacks.

Soon after last year ended, Howie Roseman vowed to finally stop trying to solve the Eagles' cornerback problems with what he called "Band-Aids."

"What we’ve done at the cornerback position is put Band-Aids on things," he said.

And then Roseman and Joe Douglas went and did something about it.

The Eagles drafted Jones and Douglas in the second and third rounds, then traded Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to the Bills for Darby, and with Mills returning for a second season, all of a sudden the Eagles found themselves with four promising cornerbacks 23 or younger, something unprecedented in franchise history.

The thinking was that the Eagles would be patient and take their lumps waiting for these raw, young corners to develop into legit NFL starters instead of riding the free agent veteran carousel year after year.

And that's where their plan went awry. Because Mills and Douglas are both playing at a high level, and that long-term plan seems to be way ahead of schedule.

It sure looks like for the first time since Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown first became starters 15 years ago, the Eagles have capable cornerbacks they can grow with.

Mills has come so far. He now has the technique to match his confidence. He had Terrelle Pryor most of opening day, and Pryor finished with six catches for 66 yards. Last week in Kansas City, he tracked explosive Tyreek Hill most of the game, and Hill caught four passes for 43 yards with a long gain of 18 yards. Mills drew one of the league's best Sunday — Odell Beckham Jr. — and although he caught seven passes, none went longer than 14 yards. 

Douglas, inactive on opening day, has been shockingly good in his two starts. He's proven to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical corner who makes up for average speed with very good technique, and he's as sure a tackler as the Eagles have had at corner since Brown.

How can you not be excited about these two?

The Eagles were without four defensive backs Sunday — Darby, Jaylen Watkins, Rodney McCloud and Corey Graham (five if you include Jones) — and they still beat a healthy division opponent with a Hall of Fame quarterback who threw 47 times and went after Mills and Douglas snap after snap.

I don't care what Manning's stats say, Mills and Douglas have both given the Eagles distinguished cornerback play the last two weeks, and now remind yourself that Mills just turned 23 in April, and Douglas doesn't turn 23 until next summer.

Which brings us to the future.

Jones, a projected first-round pick before his Achilles injury, has the glossiest résumé of any of these guys. He doesn't turn 22 until May. And Darby, who the Eagles liked enough to part with Matthews and a third-round pick, doesn't turn 24 until soon after the season ends.

Now maybe if the Eagles knew what they had in Douglas, they never would have made the Darby trade. But it doesn't matter at this point.

What's important is the Eagles have stocked the cornerback position with enough young talent that they should be in good shape for the foreseeable future. It's tough to find talented young cornerbacks, and the Eagles seem to have found a bunch of them.

And maybe it seems like they have too many. What do you do with all these guys?!?!?! But if you've lived through Asomugha and Maxwell and Fletcher and all the other guys the Eagles have paraded through the Linc over the last decade you're never going to worry about having too many young corners.

So what do the Eagles do when guys start coming back? And remember, even 30-year-old Patrick Robinson has been way better than expected in the slot.

We know Mills will play somewhere. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz could start Darby and Douglas and use Mills in the slot. Or he could keep Robinson in the slot with Mills and Douglas outside, leaving Darby as the fourth corner. He could go with Darby and Mills outside and Douglas in the slot.

And when Jones enters the picture? Jones and Mills outside with Douglas in the slot? Darby and Jones outside with Mills in the slot and Douglas at safety?

There are a million different ways to go, but all that stuff will sort itself out.

Really, all that's important now is that the Eagles have a stable of young corners to grow with. And not a Band-Aid in sight.

Jake Elliott's photo after unforgettable finish a major breath of fresh air

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USA Today Images

Jake Elliott's photo after unforgettable finish a major breath of fresh air

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

The saying is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard, but there is some debate who coined the phrase. We’ll let historians debate the origin. Fast-forward some 90-odd years later to a hot Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia and the visual of Jake Elliott triumphantly being carried off the field on the shoulders of Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill.

It was a fitting close to a crazy game. Elliott had just buried the longest field goal in franchise history. The sixth-longest ever in the NFL. Sixty-one yards of pure bliss for Eagles fans. All courtesy of a player who was not even on the team two weeks ago. A guy most had never heard of prior to that, including his now teammates, being given the ultimate escort. A kicker nonetheless. The still photo now serves a screen saver or backdrop for countless Eagles fans. A reminder of yet another wild finish between these two old rivals. But the image also represents something much deeper.

Sunday was dominated by images of the sidelines during the national anthem, as players responded to the President Trump's comments. The Eagles, along with their owner, Jeffrey Lurie, stood arms locked along with Philadelphia police during the national anthem. Others around the league sat or kneeled. Some teams never came out of the locker room. Some went the traditional route of standing with their hand over their heart to honor our flag. But unlike Colin Kaepernick’s protests last year or Malcolm Jenkins' clenched fist, this was a much broader protest being made by NFL players.

That this a complex, polarizing issue, no one will argue. The overriding message or theme from the players who took part in the demonstrations was it was done in response to the president’s cry Friday that NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” should say “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.” The protests were also done to raise awareness of the racial inequalities in our country. There are those who find any action other than standing at attention for the anthem to be disrespectful to our country regardless of the reasoning behind it.

Sports has long been the cocoon that allows fans to escape "real world" problems. Attend or turn on a game and you could get a two-three hour respite from work or politics or family issues. Those days are gone. The two worlds have collided, and, like it or not, there is no untangling the two forces.

But there was something about the shot of Elliott, a white man being carried off the field by two African-American men. There was no division, race or class or otherwise. It was unbridled joy by three human beings from differing backgrounds. They put color and beliefs — and politics — to the side and celebrated a unique accomplishment. And that is what is still beautiful about sports. Pollyanna perhaps. But individuals of all races and ethnicities and backgrounds working together for a greater good.

Kind of the way it’s supposed to be in that "real world." Picture that.