NFL Combine: All vying for top spot, best cornerbacks in draft give Eagles options

NFL Combine: All vying for top spot, best cornerbacks in draft give Eagles options

INDIANAPOLIS -- Florida's Teez Tabor doesn't just think he's the best cornerback in the 2017 NFL draft.

He thinks he's the best player in the draft.

"That’s just the confidence I have in myself," he said, "and the ability I have to play the game of football."

Confidence is not lacking for the young cornerback. In fact, based on his media availability at the combine, confidence is oozing out of him. 

That confidence -- some might call it cockiness -- showed in just about every answer he gave Sunday afternoon. He said the NFL teams he's met with so far "without a doubt" like that confidence.

So which teams have shown him the most interest?

"Really everybody," Tabor said chuckling. "I mean, it's hard not to like a player like me."

While Tabor would clearly have himself at the top of the cornerback rankings in this year's draft, there's plenty of debate about that. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock ranks the corners in this order: 1. Sidney Jones, 2. Marshon Lattimore, 3. Marlon Humphrey, 4. Tabor, 5. Tre'Davious White.

But there are a lot more than that in this draft. The class is incredibly deep at corner and there are expected to be starters taken well into the fourth round.  

While the Eagles have signed plenty of "Band-Aids" at corner in free agency in the past, general manager Howie Roseman said the team doesn't want to force it anymore. He'd be willing to have a bare cornerback group until the draft. And if the Eagles want to take a corner in the first round, they'll have plenty of options. 

Among the top five on Mayock's list, as of Sunday afternoon, the Eagles had formally met with Jones, Lattimore and were scheduled to meet with Humphrey. There are plenty of options throughout the draft at corner, but here's a look at those top five guys.

1. Sidney Jones, Washington
Jones is Mayock's top corner in the draft for good reason. He's already being compared to another Huskies' product: two-time Pro Bowler Marcus Peters.

"I'm a lockdown corner," said Jones, who had a formal interview with the Eagles. "I'm an all-around corner. I give you instincts, ball skills and great football IQ. I'm a team player."

Jones didn't do the bench press at the combine -- he'll do it at his pro day on March 11 -- but said he'll compete in everything else. He has a chance to solidify his spot as the best of a very good bunch.

Despite his slender frame -- 6-foot-1, 186 pounds -- Jones isn't afraid to hit.

"I'm very aggressive," he said. "It's something I take a lot of pride in. I was a free safety until my freshman year of high school. Being a hitter is something that is always in my heart."

2. Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Lattimore is a fascinating story because 2016 was the first year where he really got a chance to play and he was dynamic. He had four interceptions and nine pass breakups last year.

The big question about Lattimore -- and the one he hears from every NFL team he's met with, including the Eagles -- is about his hamstrings. Hamstring injuries forced him to miss the 2014 season and flared up again in 2015, ending that season early. Lattimore, a redshirt sophomore in 2016, has worked hard to leave his hamstring issues in the past.

"Just doing something different," he said. "It's not luck at all. I did yoga, I did extra exercises, stretching, all of that. It's no luck in that."

Lattimore said he knew this season was going to be different when he made it through preseason camp without the injuries flaring up. Then he went out and had a great season a year after his former Ohio State teammate Eli Apple (from Voorhees, New Jersey) was a first-round pick of the Giants.

"It's a lot of talent here from top to bottom," Lattimore said. "A team's going to get a great player in the fourth round just like they would in the first round. It's a deep draft and I'm honored to be considered one of the top cornerbacks in this draft. Just coming from where I came from, it's a blessing."

3. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
While most of the guys on this list come from schools that churn out defensive backs, Alabama isn't one of them. Still, Humphrey is considered a really good prospect.
 
He's the son of former Crimson Tide running back Bobby Humphrey, which meant plenty of added pressure for the defensive back. But he handled it all really well.

"I think my best attribute is my speed and toughness," said Humphrey, who had a formal interview scheduled with the Eagles for Sunday night. "I think I can run with any guy. I think I can run with just about anybody." 

Humphrey said in most of his meetings with teams, the negative get more time than the positives.

"The negative feedback is just finishing the play, top of the route, things like that," he said.

4. Teez Tabor, Florida
The big question about Tabor is his speed, but he'll get a chance to put those fears to rest Monday on the field.

The biggest positive for Tabor is his aggressiveness on the field. Aggressiveness, of course, is a trait Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz really seems to value a ton.

"My passion for the game of football," Tabor said when asked where his aggressiveness comes from. "I'm not going to sit back and watch it happen. I'm going to make it happen."

The other question about Tabor isn't about his performance on the field. A failed drug test and a fight with a teammate have been focal points of his conversations with NFL teams.

5. Tre'Davious White, LSU
White, a senior in 2016, followed a long line of really good defensive backs to come from LSU. He's very close with Eagles' second-year corner Jalen Mills. White credited LSU's coaches with getting their guys ready to play at the next level.

White is the kind of guy who is used to being on an island, which is something he'd be asked to do in Philly. As of Sunday afternoon, he hadn't had a formal interview with the Eagles but had talked informally with them. He was also at the Senior Bowl.

"I don't want to leave no question marks," White said. "I can pretty much do it all. I played inside and outside at a high level. I played a game at safety at the end of my junior year, so I have a high football IQ and know how to play all three positions in the defensive backfield at a high level."

Eagles' plethora of wide receivers sets up 'great' competition to make roster

Eagles' plethora of wide receivers sets up 'great' competition to make roster

The math is pretty interesting.

Five wide receivers who played last year are still on the roster. Two veteran free agents added. Two draft picks added. Four others acquired as street free agents.

Thirteen wide receivers on the roster. Five will survive. Maybe six.

The Eagles promised they would upgrade the wide receiver position, and it sure seems like they have.

"We're trying to build competition," executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. "That's going to make everyone better."

The bar is not very high.

The Eagles last year had perhaps the worst group of wide receivers in franchise history and arguably one of the worst in NFL history.

All the wideouts combined finished with just seven catches for 30 or more yards, only two of them for touchdowns.

The Eagles were the only team in the NFL without a single wide receiver over 12.5 yards per catch.

Enter free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and draft picks Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson.

A lot of bodies. Increased competition. More talent. It'll be fascinating to see how it all shakes out.

"We're not looking at numbers," Roseman said. "We're not worried about what's going to happen in August. A lot is going to happen between now and August. The best situation we could have is have a lot of good players at a particular position."

Out of the whole group, Jeffery is the only lock. Jordan Matthews has been unspectacular but steady but is due to become a free agent after the 2017 season, so it's not inconceivable the Eagles could trade him.

Nelson Agholor, the 2015 first-round pick, could be expendable, although he would count about $2 million more against the cap if the Eagles release him ($4.684 million) as opposed to keeping him ($2.557 million).

Dorial Green-Beckham, a second-round pick of the Titans just two years ago, failed to produce last year, and it's hard to imagine the Eagles finding him a roster spot.

Even without DGB, the once-thin wideout depth chart now includes Matthews, Jeffery, Agholor, Smith, Hollins and Gibson.

That's six. And most teams don't keep six.

Pederson said it will all sort itself out at training camp.

"Really the most important thing for me is I want guys that love football, No. 1," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Guys who want to come in here and compete and earn a spot and earn that jersey on Sundays.

"You know, when these two guys (Hollins and Gibson) were sitting right there for us, we all kind of got excited and just looking forward to working with them, getting them here in the building here in a couple weeks, get them in that first rookie camp and expose them to our offense and then see what they can do from there.

"This is going to be a different set of challenges for each one of them, competing now against NFL-caliber corners and safeties, so getting them in here and getting them to work is something that we're looking forward to here in a couple days."

This is only the fourth time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that the Eagles have taken two wide receivers in the first five rounds of a draft.

In 1990, they took three — Mike Bellamy, Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams. In 2000, they selected Todd Pinkston and Gari Scott. And just three years ago they took Matthews and Josh Huff.

In Hollins, the Eagles got a receiver who led all of Division I with 24.8 yards per catch as a junior and averaged over 20 yards per catch for his career.

He was considered one of the finest special teamers available in the draft, but Roseman said Hollins is here to be a wide receiver first.

"He's 6-foot-4, he can run, a physical receiver, can go up and get the football," Roseman said. "For us, it was the receiving ability first. You're talking about a guy who's got tremendous size and tremendous speed. We feel like if he didn't have the collarbone (injury), he goes two rounds before that.

"Tremendous upside as a receiver, and he's got the intelligence and work ethic to work on whatever his deficiencies are. In the meantime, he has a role to fill (on special teams) and you can get him on the field on the 46-man roster.

"But we're not looking to draft special teams players in the fourth round. We're looking at a guy like that who's got the ability to be an eventual starter."

Gibson is another speedy wideout and averaged 22.1 yards per catch at West Virginia, with 17 touchdowns.

In fact, Gibson and Hollins ranked No. 2 and No. 5 in Division I over the past three years in yards-per-catch:

23.1 … Jalen Robinette (Air Force)
22.6 … Shelton Gibson (West Virginia)
22.0 … Chris Moore (Cincinnati)
20.9 … Breshard Perriman (Central Florida)
20.6 … Mack Hollins (North Carolina)

"Shelton Gibson is a guy who … can take the top off," Roseman said. "You can see he gets separation. He can get vertical, and for us, he was the best player on the board."

Matthews (67-872), Jeremy Maclin (56-773) and DeSean Jackson (62-912) all put up solid numbers as rookies, but Hollins and Gibson are Day 2 picks, and Pederson said the transition to the NFL for them could be a challenging one.

"You know, most receivers coming out of college don't have an extensive route tree like we will have, and so there's a learning curve there," he said.

"But both these guys are sharp guys. You see it on tape when you get a chance to visit with them. They understand offense. They understand coverage. They are going to be a little bit of a work in progress."

Last year, the Eagles finished the season with Matthews, Agholor, Bryce Treggs, Green-Beckham and Paul Turner on the roster.

The lack of talent at wideout really hampered rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who nonetheless enjoyed a promising season.

With an upgraded group of wide receivers, Wentz should have more opportunities to shine. 

"I think it's great," Pederson said. "I stood up here last year and said 'competition at every position.'

"I'm excited to see these guys work. I'm excited to see who's going to rise to the top and who's going to be there at the end. It's just going to make us better."

Bills fire GM Doug Whaley, scouting staff

Bills fire GM Doug Whaley, scouting staff

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Whether it was sitting together in a golf cart watching training camp or sharing dinner and drinks at a nearby restaurant, Bills owner Terry Pegula and general manager Doug Whaley were nearly inseparable last summer.

Some nine months later, their professional relationship soured to such an extent that Pegula fired Whaley and his entire scouting staff on Sunday.

The decision was reached shortly after the two met at 8 a.m., a day following the NFL draft, and it completed a front-office purge that began with coach Rex Ryan being fired in the final week of last season.

Pegula's voice cracked briefly with emotion when discussing the latest move, saying: "There were a few tears around the building, to be honest with you. He's a good guy."

But not good enough to keep his job, with Pegula saying he reached the conclusion following a lengthy offseason review.

It's a shake-up that further solidifies the influence rookie coach Sean McDermott has gained in the three months since being hired. The 42-year-old detail-oriented defensive specialist has become the voice of the franchise in discussing all team-related topics, including free agency and the draft.

Pegula said the timing coincided with the end of the draft, but he declined to detail the reasons why the overhaul was necessary. Nor would Pegula explain his reasoning for showing Whaley the door while praising the collaborative approach that took place between the GM and McDermott in the draft room.

"We have certain aspects we need to get a little better in," Pegula said. "(Whaley's) a smart man, but we made the decision. And the reasons remain private to us."

Pegula said "things change," when asked why he signed Whaley to a four-year contract extension in January 2016, and then backed him this January after Ryan was fired.

Pegula also took the emphasis off McDermott's authority by saying the decision to fire Whaley was made by him and his wife, Kim.

The Bills also dismissed player-personnel director Jim Monos and Kelvin Fisher, the team's former amateur scouting director who had previously been demoted to an advisory role.

Pegula will immediately begin a GM search and said it was too early to speculate on candidates. He said McDermott would have some input.

One possible candidate is Carolina Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane because of his ties to McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as the team's defensive coordinator.

McDermott on Saturday praised Whaley's role in the draft process but sidestepped questions regarding the GM's job security.

The Bills made six picks and swung several trades in addressing immediate and long-term needs.

Buffalo opened by acquiring two selections, including a first-rounder next year, in a trade with Kansas City to move back 17 spots and select LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White at 27th.

The Bills have now gone through six general managers during their 17-year playoff drought -- the longest active streak in North America's four major professional sports. It's the first GM search for the Pegulas, who retained Whaley when they purchased the team in October 2014.

Whaley worked up the scouting ranks with the Pittsburgh Steelers, before the Bills hired him as an assistant general manager in 2010. He was groomed to become the GM and took over the job in May 2013 when Buddy Nix stepped down.

The Bills' drafting history had been spotty this decade.

Of the 35 players Buffalo drafted from 2010-13, only defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and left tackle Cordy Glenn remain on the roster.

Whaley has been second-guessed on a number of selections, including the decision to trade two draft picks -- including Buffalo's 2015 first-round selection -- to Cleveland to move up five spots and pick receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth selection in the 2014 draft.

It was considered a high price to pay in a draft that produced a bounty of top-flight receivers.

Whaley acknowledged he took a gamble and suggested his tenure in Buffalo might well be judged on that one move.

Both of Pegula's Buffalo-based sports franchises are hitting the reset button. Pegula fired Sabers GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma 10 days after the NHL season ended two weeks ago.

Without going into detail, Pegula said he is close to hiring a general manager.

Between the two teams, the Pegulas have now employed a combined seven coaches and three GMs since purchasing the Sabres in February 2011.

Pegula chalked up the rate of change as being common in sports, and disputed the notion it reflects poorly on him.

"We're going to try to make the best decision we can in the future," Pegula said. "We've made big decisions all our lives."