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Training Camp Position Preview: Cornerback

James Bradberry
James Bradberry

One of the keys to the successful Eagles' offseason was the ability to return outstanding starters Darius "Big Play" Slay and James Bradberry, both of whom earned honors in 2022 – Slay was voted into the Pro Bowl and Bradberry was named as a second-team All-Pro after signing with the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent. Both played exceptionally well last season as the Eagles ranked first in the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed. Now, both have long-term deals to remain in Philadelphia, a great comfort to the players and to the overall state of the defense.

The cornerbacks also have a great situation at the slot position, with one of the best in the league at that position, Avonte Maddox, returning for his sixth season. After that, it's all about competition, competition, competition, and it's going to be fierce for roster spots and playing time. Zech McPhearson, a key special teams player here, returns for his third season and will look to take the next step on the outside and impress the coaches inside in the slot. Josh Jobe made the roster in 2022 as an undrafted rookie and will try to make that big leap in his second season after contributing on special teams. Josiah Scott replaced Maddox when Maddox had injuries in 2022 and provided the defense with some steady reps. Mario Goodrich spent time last season on the practice squad and wants to impress on a consistent basis in the summer. The Eagles added Greedy Williams in free agency, hoping to reset the talented cornerback's career after his four seasons in Cleveland. A second-round pick in 2019 from LSU, Williams hopes to stay healthy and build on the promise he showed with the Browns.

There are a handful of young cornerbacks in the developmental stage, headlined by fourth-round draft pick Kelee Ringo, another Georgia product. One of the youngest players in the NFL Draft, Ringo is big and talented and will learn in the very talented and experienced cornerback room. Eli Ricks and Mekhi Garner joined the team as undrafted rookies and aim to gain some acclaim in the talented cornerback picture. – Dave Spadaro

Did You Know?

• Darius Slay was voted to the Pro Bowl in the 2022 season. It is the fifth time in his career (second with the Eagles) he has been named.

• James Bradberry had the third-most passes defensed in the NFL in the 2022 season, with 17.

• Avonte Maddox ranked second in the NFL among defensive backs in 2022 with three forced fumbles, a career high.

• Zech McPhearson led the Eagles with nine special teams tackles, playing a team-high 362 snaps on special teams. He added five total tackles, one quarterback sack, one pass defensed, and one tackle for loss in 99 defensive snaps.

• Josh Jobe played in 11 games as a rookie, seeing time mostly on special teams (232 snaps).

What Does the Tape Show?

The Eagles boasted one of the best starting corner tandems in football a year ago, as Darius Slay and James Bradberry were a huge reason why the team had so much success on defense. Both veterans return here in 2023 and figure to frustrate opposing pass catchers on a weekly basis once again.

Slay's versatility in coverage is one of his trademarks. No matter the scheme, Slay can operate at a high level, shadowing opposing top targets and proving to be one of the top shutdown corners in football. With the phenoms in today's game at wide receiver, that's as hard a job as there is in the league, but Slay is consistently up to the challenge. Exhibit A: his performance in Week 2 of last year against Justin Jefferson.

Opposite Slay, Bradberry was an extremely disruptive player as well in 2022. Like Slay, Bradberry also shined in both man and zone coverage, matching up against receivers and tight ends throughout the year. I had a chance to break down a handful of plays with Bradberry at the mid-way point of the season last year, and you can see for yourself just how much preparation goes into his weekly performances on Sunday.

On the inside, Avonte Maddox also proved to be one of the better slot corners in football in 2022. Maddox is aggressive, smart, and versatile, with a knack for finding the ball and finishing in the air. One of my favorite plays of his also came back in Week 2 against the Vikings, where he snared a Kirk Cousins pass for a critical interception in the high red zone. – Fran Duffy

New to the Nest

• Mekhi Garner – Garner played three seasons at Louisiana, earning All-Sun Belt honors as a sophomore after registering 10 pass deflections and three interceptions. For his final college season, he transferred to LSU and posted a career-high 43 tackles to go along with eight pass deflections.

• Eli Ricks – Ricks was the No. 1 cornerback in the 2020 recruiting class after winning two high school National Championships at California's Mater Dei and then earning an invite to the All-American Bowl following a stellar senior year at Florida's IMG Academy. As a freshman at LSU, he earned the nickname "Pick-6-Ricks" after scoring two touchdowns on four interceptions. Ricks transferred to Alabama for his junior season and played in 10 games, but prior to the season was listed on several preseason All-American teams and awards watch lists.

• Kelee Ringo – Two seasons on the field, two National Championships. Not bad for the redshirt sophomore who was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round out of Georgia. Ringo capped off his first year with a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown in the National Championship Game against Alabama. He followed that up with All-SEC honors in 2022 and another ring. Off the field, Ringo's mother, Tralee Hale, is a survivor of a rare form of breast cancer. Despite surgery and chemotherapy, she never missed a game and in February 2022 was declared cancer free.

• Greedy Williams – Nicknamed Greedy because of the way he drank milk as a child, Williams was a two-time first-team All-SEC selection and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2018 while at LSU. Add in a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash (fourth fastest among DBs at the 2019 Combine) and you have a second-round pick. After playing more than 50 percent of the snaps and starting eight games in 2021, Williams has a fresh start in Philadelphia after playing just 105 snaps on defense last season. – Chris McPherson

Key Stats

74 – All four of the new cornerbacks on the team are listed as 6-foot-2 or 74 inches tall.

10.4 – According to NextGen Stats, Slay was targeted on fewer than 12 percent of his man coverage snaps in 2022, one of the lowest rates in the league. When he was manned up on opposing receivers, quarterbacks (smartly) looked away from his side of the field last fall. When they did target him, Slay allowed just 10.4 yards per catch in man coverage – also one of the best numbers in football.

353 – Also according to NextGen Stats, Bradberry allowed just 353 yards on 85 targets in coverage last season, more than 100 fewer yards than any other defender with as many targets against him since ... wait for it ... 2016!

They Said It

"I'm glad to have Slay back. He's not only a good teammate; he's also a good friend off the field. What he brings to the table, I feel like it helps me and I feel like what I bring to the table helps him. We're different corners and we're both really, really good at what we do. We're able to match up against certain offenses because we do different things and we do different things well." – James Bradberry

Check out the cornerbacks on the Eagles' roster heading into Training Camp, presented by Independence Blue Cross. Players are listed in numerical order.

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