The Eagles have boasted amazing depth at the cornerback position throughout the Andy Reid era and now is no exception.
Asante Samuel was added in the 2008 off-season to add a jolt of playmaking excitement to the secondary. Samuel delivered with a team-high 21 pass knockdowns and four interceptions including one that was returned for a touchdown in the regular season as he earned Pro Bowl honors. Samuel, however, saved his best for the playoffs. In the Wild Card win over Minnesota, Samuel picked off a Tarvaris Jackson pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. One week later, Samuel nabbed a pass from Giants quarterback Eli Manning and nearly returned that one for a score.
Samuel is just two postseason picks away from tying the all-time NFL record of nine. His interception return in the playoffs against the Vikings was the fourth of his postseason career, which is an all-time NFL record. Since 2006, Samuel has 20 interceptions in the regular season which is second-best in the NFL.
On the opposite side of Samuel at the right corner spot is Sheldon Brown, who made headlines this week when he voiced his displeasure over his current contract. Brown has played in every game since he was drafted by the Eagles in 2002. In fact, Brown's streak of having played in 112 consecutive regular season games is second in the league behind Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber (176). Last season, Brown finished second on the team with a career-high 20 pass knockdowns.
Joselio Hanson took over last season as the team's nickelback and was rewarded with a five-year contract in February. Signed off the street by the Eagles in 2006 and has played in all 48 regular season and five postseason games since. Last season, Hanson recorded his first career interception against the Cardinals when he started for Samuel against the Cardinals. In the unforgettable regular season finale against the Cowboys, Hanson returned a fumble 96 yards for the first touchdown of his career.
Jack Ikegwuonu is a wild card for the Eagles at the cornerback position. After tearing the ACL in his knee while preparing for the Combine last year, the Eagles took a gamble by using a fourth-round draft pick on him. Ikegwuonu, whose physical style has been compared to that of former Eagle Al Harris, was rated as a first-round prospect before the injury. He spent all of last season on injured reserve, but has been cleared by doctors to participate in the post-draft mini-camp.
At the end of last season, the Eagles acquired Dimitri Patterson who had previously been with the Chiefs. In two seasons with Kansas City, Patterson logged 14 special teams tackles in 20 games. The 5-10, 190-pound Patterson was originally signed by the Redskins in 2005 as a rookie free agent, played in three games and recorded an interception.
Trae Williams spent most of last season on the Eagles practice squad. A fifth-round pick of the Jaguars last season, Williams played his college ball at South Florida with Dallas' first-round pick Mike Jenkins.
The 2002 NFL Draft was the best draft overall in the Andy Reid era and the cornerbacks were large part of it. In the first round, the Eagles grabbed Lito Sheppard with the 26th overall pick. Sheppard was an exciting playmaker who earned two Pro Bowl nods before he fell down the depth chart last season and eventually was traded in the off-season. Sheldon Brown was a second-round pick in that draft.
With Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Sheppard and Brown, the Eagles didn't have to use a lot of picks at the cornerback position. The Eagles used a third-round selection on Matt Ware out of UCLA. Everyone liked his size, but he didn't have the speed to play the position in the NFL. Dexter Wynn was selected in the fifth round of the same draft as Ware. Wynn stayed on for a few seasons as a returner.
The Eagles used a sixth-round pick in 2007 on Rashad Barksdale, a project from I-AA Albany. Barksdale was originally a baseball player and had tremendous size. He was drafted despite playing just one year of college ball. However, Barksdale was beat out in training camp and the preseason by rookie free agent Nick Graham.
Last year, the Eagles used a fourth-round pick on Jack Ikegwuonu out of Wisconsin. He was tabbed to be a first-round selection before his ACL injury that was incurred while training for the Combine.
PREVIEWEagles fans were certainly surprised when Sheppard and Brown were drafted in 2002. And they were surprised once again when the Eagles felt they had to have the best free agent in the 2008 off-season in Samuel. After Samuel, Brown and Hanson, the rest of the cornerbacks are unproven. Ikegwuonu looks to be in fantastic physical shape, but the Eagles have not seen him practice yet. Patterson caught on during the postseason and Williams has never played in an NFL regular season contest.
The Eagles value the cornerback position very highly and if the top-rated player on the board at No. 21 is someone like Illinois' Vontae Davis or Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith, don't be surprised to see the Eagles pull the trigger. Utah's Sean Smith, who is expected to be a first day selection, is the tallest cornerback available at 6-4. The Eagles do not have a 6-foot corner on the roster. Some mid-round options who are tall include Maryland's Kevin Barnes and Iowa's Bradley Fletcher.