Entering the NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles had two extremely major position groups to address: Pass Catchers (specifically at Wide Receiver) and Secondary (specifically at Cornerback). Both of these positions were depleted last season due to injury, lackluster play, and inexperience. With their first selection on this year’s NFL Draft, the Eagles drafted Heisman Trophy winning Alabama WR DeVonta Smith, addressing their biggest need on that side of the ball. Defensively, the Eagles looked primed to select the Florida State CB with their second selection of the night but chose Alabama C/G Landon Dickerson instead. The Eagles did Draft Texas Tech CB Zech McPherson in the 4th round, but at that point, Philly had already lost major value at a position they desperately needed, and still do. LSU S JaCoby Stevens was a 6th round selection for them, but he was listed as an LB when the announcement was made.
So did Philadelphia address the position group enough, or do they have more work to do?
With the Eagles going into the offseason with Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, and virtually practice squad players behind them at CB, Philadelphia is desperate for help right now. The Eagles recently traded CB Jameston Houston and a 2023 6th round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for CB Josiah Scott, who’s only a slim upgrade from Houston. The Eagles also have scheduled a workout with former Patriots and Raiders DB Obi Melifonwu, which would help bring in some more reassurance in the secondary. Those reinforcements of Scott and potentially Melifonwu are as cheap as cheap is going to get, so expecting productive play out of them may not be the wisest decision.
However, the list I have provided below of available players who are capable of starting Week 1 for Philadelphia in some shape or form.
A player of Nelson’s caliber is rarely available this late into the offseason, especially weeks after the draft. The 28-year old Nelson has 68 career games as a starter, which would provide valuable experience to a very limited group in the secondary at Cornerback. Over his career, Nelson has 35 pass deflections and 7 interceptions, while allowing only four touchdowns in 567 coverage snaps, and a passer rating of 82.3 when targeted last season. Darius Slay gave up a passer rating of 115.6 when targeted last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Nelson is a phenomenal man-to-man Cornerback and very capable zone Cornerback, which new Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon will rely on heavily. Nelson may not be a younger, potential-ridden player the Eagles should target in this stage of their rebuild, however at age 28 for the entire 2021-22 NFL season, signing Nelson to a 1-year deal with a chance at re-signing him might be a great move for a team needing his services. It would turn a team weakness into a team strength (for starting CB). Being able to play on the outside as a true number 2 CB (or even 1B) would allow Avonte Maddox to move to the Slot and excel there.
Now, in terms of fitting Philadelphia’s timeline as a rebuilding team, Gareon Conley would be an excellent fit for this team. At 25 years old, Conley was a former first-round pick by the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders in the 2017 NFL Draft, the same draft Philadelphia actually passed on Conley in to take DE Derek Barnett. That pick appeared to be the right one, as Conley was traded from the Raiders to Houston after 2 seasons, where he wasn’t great last season.
Conley has had some success in his young NFL career, however, having played in 31 games since being drafted (26 starts), with 29 deflections and 4 interceptions. It’s a risky move for Philadelphia, but Conley still provides the Eagles starting experience they don’t currently have a lot of, as well as some more depth in their secondary. It could prove to be a reward for them if Conley pans out and lives up to his potential. The Eagles can sign him for cheap after a poor 2020 season, and he can play on the outside, moving Avonte Maddox to the Slot, where he’s best suited.
Bashaud Breeland is actually the most experienced of almost all these options. Breeland has started 88 games in the NFL, deflecting 81 passes with 14 interceptions during his time with Washington, Green Bay, and Kansas City. Breeland has been very consistent throughout his time in the league, having started in at least double-digit games with at least 2 interceptions in six of his seven seasons in the NFL. He would provide immediate, short-term help for Philadelphia at CB, although I don’t see him as a long-term answer due to his age (already 29 years old), and inability to play at the same level as Nelson or provide long-term appeal/potential (Conley).
A familiar face in Philadelphia, LeBlanc would bring just that to the locker room and position group in need of it. The 26-year-old cornerback appeared in 21 games (6 starts) over the last 3 seasons with Philly after claiming him up off waivers from the Lions back in November 2018. LeBlanc would be more of a depth signing, specifically in the Slot, where he could compete for and likely win the starting job. He also has experience playing all over the secondary art Safety, too, and he’s an exceptional Special Teams player, too. At 26 years old, he might not be a bad pickup considering how cheap he would be.
Finally, we have Brian Poole. The connection here is his former DB Coach Dennard Wilson coached him during his time with the New York Jets. Poole is one of the better Corners left on the market, even though he’s fairly limited to playing the Slot. At 28 years old, Poole has given up fewer than 7.5 yards per target each of the last 3 seasons, while opposing QBs posted a mere passer rating of 61.6 on throws into his coverage in a very small sample size this past season. Poole would provide some short-term, immediate help for Philadelphia in the secondary, where they could reassess the position group in a year’s time.
These are 5 names I expect the Eagles to target, and seriously consider signing come Week 1. With the lack of experience, depth, and skill they have in the position group, it just makes too much sense to add 1 or 2 of these names. Nelson and Conley would be the only potential long-term answers for Philadelphia, while LeBlanc could provide some help in the mid-term (same for Nelson). Poole and Breeland are best suited as 1 year stop gaps, helping the team in the short term. The Eagles need serious help in the secondary at Corner, and these are the players best suited to do that for them at this very moment.