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The Big Question: What's Next At CB?

Posted Mar 23, 2015

Welcome to The Big Question. Every Monday during the offseason, Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf will debate one of the hot topics surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. We invite fans to continue the discussion in the comments section. Enjoy ...

CM: We’re in the oh-so-brief lull between the end of the first wave of free agency and the buildup to the NFL Draft. One position that was addressed during the Eagles’ flurry of moves was cornerback where the Eagles signed Byron Maxwell, one of the overall top free agents available on the open market, and Walter Thurmond, who brings a versatile skill set to the team. These moves were made after the Eagles said goodbye to both of last year’s starting cornerbacks in Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. What are your thoughts on the state of the cornerback position as the Eagles prep for the draft?

BW: I’ll start with Maxwell, the shiny new toy in the secondary for Bill Davis. Obviously, the expectation for Maxwell is that he’ll come in and be a No. 1-caliber corner from Week 1 on – that’s what he’s getting paid to do. He’s got the size at 6-0, 202, and at only 27 years old, he has the relative youth to expect that his best days are not yet behind him. As Chris has noted in the past, Maxwell should see his targets decrease by virtue of going from being the nominal No. 2 corner on his team to being the top guy. On the flip side, the question is how he’ll adjust to no longer having Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor protecting him deep and the Seahawks’ impressive cadre of linebacker covering slants. I have high hopes.

But of course the real question is who we expect to start opposite Maxwell. It seems like this is a three-man competition between Thurmond, Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll, though I wouldn’t necessarily count out Jaylen Watkins from making a 2015 impact. What’s interesting to me about that group is that all four have experience playing in the slot, which theoretically should give Davis the flexibility to move his corners around depending on matchups. As for the draft, I think it would be a surprise if the Eagles don’t address the position at some point but I also am not expecting any kind of immediate dividends from a rookie. To me, we’re heading towards a true “training camp battle,” which should make July and August all the juicier. 

DS: I agree with Bo on much of what he says, but I need to go a step beyond: I don't think the Eagles are finished at the position. I think they've got some flexibility here, and some of what I believe ties into the rest of the secondary. For example, the safety spot next to Malcolm Jenkins is an obvious question mark, right? Would the Eagles consider moving Jaylen Watkins to that spot in the OTAs just to see how quickly he picks things up after an introduction to safety last season? How about Nolan Carroll III? Can he play as an "in-the-box" safety?

While Maxwell gives the Eagles a really solid starter on one side, the looming question is about the other side. And, honestly, I don't rule out a high draft pick for cornerback, one who can potentially make an immediate impact.

The Eagles knew they needed to overhaul cornerback and they're in the process of doing so with the additions of Maxwell and Thurmond. Thurmond, by the way, is really an intriguing guy -- long arms, aggressive, knows the system the Eagles are playing but plagued by injuries last year when he had a chance to play with the Giants. Thurmond is here on a one-year contract, so he's thinking this is his chance to stake his claim to a starting role and then get some contract security.

CM: I spent Monday morning pouring through mock drafts for our tracker and cornerback remains the top position selected by the analysts. I’m not going to reveal who the consensus top pick is, you’ll have to wait for that until later in the week. But the Eagles on paper, and I know what that means in March, have a good blend of talent, youth and experience at the cornerback position, but I agree that a high draft pick could be used on the position.

What I wonder is how will Bill Davis utilize Maxwell this year? Typically, Davis kept Cary Williams on the right side of the formation and Bradley Fletcher to the left. Will the versatility of the cornerbacks on the roster give Davis more freedom to move them around? Or philosophically, does he want Maxwell at one spot with the other starter on the other?

The Thurmond signing is very intriguing because the two sides were very interested a year ago, but the Eagles signed Nolan Carroll first. Thurmond went to New York and never got to really prove himself. As Spuds noted, Thurmond is on a one-year “prove-it” deal. But the fact that Chip Kelly said that Boykin is also in the mix to start on the outside caught my ear as well.

DS: Yeah, the Boykin situation is pretty key. He didn't perform at quite the level inside in 2014 as he did in 2013 when it seemed he had his hands on the football at every key moment. Does Boykin get a shot outside? Is Thurmond better suited, in fact, for a slot cornerback role? We shall see.

In the meantime, the message here is to never "settle" at cornerback. The Eagles don't need to force the issue, but if they have a chance to add someone who can upgrade cornerback in the draft, they are well served to do so. Defenses just can't have enough good cover men in this league. Seattle is built on that premise.

I still say the draft is stocked well enough with cornerbacks that the Eagles can help themselves there. That they may want to address wide receiver, offensive line and safety in the draft adds to the questions during draft weekend.

BW: The only thing I would add is that we will definitely see more players added to the competition at corner. Even if the Eagles do address the position in the draft, be it early or late, the team will still need to bring in players just to fill out the Training Camp roster. There are only five corners on the team at the moment, compared to the eight the team had last summer. So while I’m sure there will be a couple rookies added to the mix, either through the draft or undrafted free agency, I wouldn’t rule out another veteran addition at some point down the line, especially considering Thurmond’s injury history.

CM: While I wouldn’t expect a rookie draft pick to provide a major immediate impact, it’s foolish to dismiss the long-term prospects of a mid-to-late-round addition. Just look at the current roster. Maxwell was a sixth-round pick. Boykin, Thurmond and Watkins were fourth-round selections; and Carroll was a fourth-round find.

I was looking up background info on Thurmond and when he signed with the Giants last year he was originally pegged to be the starter opposite Prince Amukamara. Shortly after, though, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was signed and Thurmond became insurance.

We’ve mentioned the one-year deal for Thurmond, but it’s the final year of Boykin’s deal. He’s got just as much to prove. I hope that and the chance to play on the outside bring back the beast who nabbed six picks just two seasons ago.

DS: My final thoughts: If the Eagles go with what they have, they're banking on Thurmond playing as a starter and playing well. Bill Davis wants his corners to press at the line and then turn and run with the wide receivers. We know that Maxwell can do that. We haven't seen a lot of that from Boykin. Carroll is, I think, best suited for the role he played last year as a dime cornerback/quasi linebacker/safety. Watkins is just too raw to know yet.

That leaves Thurmond. He's the least-ballyhooed addition of the offseason, yet he may be one of the most important if the cornerback position is not addressed prominently in the draft. Is Thurmond ready for that big-time leap?

I still say the draft could produce an immediate contributor. I say the Eagles aren't done at safety. But if they are, Thurmond is huge.

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