Twenty years ago, the Eagles signed cornerback Troy Vincent away from the Miami Dolphins. I didn't know a whole lot about Vincent. Since I was an Eagles fan, I focused on the NFC. I would see Vincent's name in The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly, but I hadn't really watched him play much. He was listed as a top free agent that year so I was stoked when the Eagles stole him away from Miami.
I didn't have to watch Vincent long to see what all the hype was about. He was a terrific cornerback. He was athletic enough to handle speedy receivers. He was big enough to deal with the big receivers he faced. Vincent wasn't one of those finesse corners. He would hit and tackle like a safety. He was an active run defender. He was everything you could want in a defensive back. As a bonus, Vincent was a leader on and off the field.
Vincent wasn't a shutdown corner like Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, but he was pretty close. The Eagles' secondary was built around his cover skills from 1996-2003. Jim Johnson could build his gameplans knowing that Vincent would take care of his side of the field. Instead of putting Vincent on the top receiver, Johnson liked to put Bobby Taylor on that guy with Brian Dawkins helping over the top. Vincent would then smother the number two receiver. Throwing the ball against the Eagles proved to be quite the challenge in those days.
Lito Sheppard took over as the Eagles' top cover corner in 2004. He wasn't as good as Vincent, but was very good at times. The big issue with Sheppard was how inconsistent he was. He played at a high level in 2004 and helped the team to reach the Super Bowl. Sheppard was highly erratic in 2005, really struggling at times. Injuries didn't help matters. He bounced back nicely in 2006. Injuries were an issue again in 2007, the last year Sheppard would be a full-time starter for the Eagles.
The Eagles tried to find shutdown corners by acquiring Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie. Samuel was a terrific playmaker, but took way too many chances to be considered anything close to a shutdown corner. Asomugha and DRC were the wrong guys at the wrong time.
You don't need an elite corner to have a top-flight defense, but it certainly helps. The Broncos' pass rush was great, but you shouldn't overlook the impact Aqib Talib had. The Seahawks have been dominant in recent years and Sherman has been a big part of that. The Arizona Cardinals were fifth in yards allowed last year in part because of Patrick Peterson playing at an elite level.
The Eagles don't have any elite corners right now. Leodis McKelvin has been a good starter and has plenty of experience. Nolan Carroll is coming off his best season. Eric Rowe is coming off a good rookie season. He might turn out to be a great corner, but right now he's not even guaranteed a starting job. Rowe will have to earn that in Training Camp. Guys like Jaylen Watkins, JaCorey Shepherd and Denzel Rice have potential, but are complete unknowns right now.
I think Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz would love to take a top-shelf talent with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. The question is whether anyone outside of Jalen Ramsey is worth a pick that high. Ramsey will be long gone by the time the Eagles select. Vernon Hargreaves is the No. 2 corner for just about everyone and is a possible target.
Hargreaves is 5-10 and 204 pounds. You would prefer to spend a top 10 pick on a corner who is six-feet tall or more. Hargreaves ran 4.50 at the Combine. That's solid speed, but you would prefer him to be a bit faster. Put on the game tape and you'll mostly be impressed. Hargreaves shows explosiveness and great movement skills. There are times when he is physical and will hit and tackle. You will also see him get beat deep a time or two. You will see him struggle against the run in some games.
Hargreaves is a tricky player. There is no doubt that he is a very talented prospect and has NFL ability. You also can't ignore his issues. Scouts and coaches are going to have to work together to come up with a consensus grade on him. You don't want to miss on taking a gifted corner, but you don't want to reach for someone who has holes in his game.
The Eagles have enough corners on the roster to go into the season right now. The problem is that they would like to add a really talented piece to the mix. They could go for someone in the middle rounds. There are some interesting players in that area. The problem is that Richard Sherman is the exception.
Let's talk about some mid-round prospects who could be of interest.
Kendall Fuller is the latest in a long line of outstanding Virginia Tech defensive backs. Unfortunately, he hurt his knee in the summer of 2015. Fuller tried to play through the torn meniscus injury, but it was painful and affected his performance. He opted for surgery and missed virtually the entire season. Fuller hasn't been able to work out for teams so far. He is a first-round talent, but his medical situation will push him down to the second or third round. If he lasted to the Eagles' spot in the third, I could see them jumping at the chance to take him. Fuller would give them a corner with big-time talent.
Cyrus Jones went to Alabama as a wide receiver, but ended up starting at cornerback the past two years. He broke up 20 passes and picked off five. He is a good athlete with great ball skills. Jones doesn't have ideal size and he isn't explosive, but his best days at corner are ahead of him. His ball skills could make teams covet him in the mid-rounds.
Eric Murray is my favorite guy in this discussion. Put on the Minnesota-TCU game and you'll be ready to spend the eighth pick on him. Murray has solid size at 5-11 and 199 pounds. He has good arm length to help in that area. Murray ran 4.49 at the Combine and showed explosiveness with a vertical jump of 39 inches. His game tape is outstanding. Murray makes plays all over the field. He can cover, blitz, tackle and anything else you want. He's not great in any area, but his ability, instincts and ultra-competitive nature make him one of my favorite prospects in the draft.
The most interesting candidate is Robby Anderson from Temple. He played defensive back and receiver in high school. He moved to receiver full time at Temple. Anderson put on quite a show at his Pro Day. He is 6-3 and 190 pounds, a good frame for a corner. He ran 4.34 in the 40 and then posted a vertical of 36.5 inches. There is a lot to work with. Anderson went through defensive back drills in the workout and impressed teams. He would be a major project, but would have tremendous upside. Spending a late-round pick on him might be a smart gamble.
I don't think the Eagles need to add bodies to the cornerback position. They have plenty of guys. I think they need to look for prospects with upside or some compelling trait. The defense has playmakers up front, in the middle and at safety. The one area that could still use a talent boost is cornerback. The upcoming draft will give the Eagles a chance to add an interesting piece to the mix.