It might sound like a funny thing to say about the league’s 32nd-ranked pass defense, but cornerback was a bigger need for the Philadelphia Eagles than many people seemed to realize. Enter Jaylen Watkins, who potentially brings long-term stability to the position for the first time in years.
Cary Williams is going on 30, and according to Spotrac, his salary-cap figure grows to $8.1 million in 2015, the final year of his contract. Bradley Fletcher is set to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
One or both of the starting cornerback jobs could be vacant as early as next year. Who was supposed to fill those holes?
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Having had the chance to watch Brandon Boykin in training camp last summer, I know for a fact he has the skill set to play on the outside. Only the Eagles prefer him in the slot, and it’s hard to argue with the results. Boykin was tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions in 2013—and he was only on the field for roughly 50 percent of the snaps.
Even if Boykin moved outside, all that does is create another hole.
The Eagles did add Nolan Carroll during free agency. Carroll started 22 games over the past two seasons for the Miami Dolphins and certainly adds much-needed depth to the secondary, but a two-year deal suggests that’s all he is.
Even Williams and Fletcher were only ever intended to be stopgaps. Signed as free agents in 2013, they were brought to Philadelphia to clean up the mess made by “superstar” corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—one of whom couldn’t play, the other wishing he didn’t have to.
So it only makes sense to start grooming a potential replacement now, rather than wait until the defensive backfield is in crisis mode again. The question is will a fourth-round pick be good enough to start at the next level?
Watkins certainly has a chance. His height of 5’11” is a hair shorter than the Eagles seem to prefer, but certainly adequate, plus his measurables at the scouting combine were off the chart. Via NFL.com, Watkins was fifth among all corners with a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, tops with 22 reps in the bench press.
Decent size, high-end strength and speed—what’s not to love?
Every prospect has his share of flaws. The only huge knock on Watkins, however, seems to be he wasn’t much of a playmaker at Florida. He recorded just three interceptions in four seasons, while somehow never managing to come up with a single forced fumble or sack.
But whether that actually means anything at the next level, I’m not sure.
Even if Watkins doesn’t cut it as a starting cornerback in the NFL, the Eagles should be able to find some use for him. He’s lined up in the slot and at safety quite a bit as well.
Heck, Watkins would probably stand a chance to start at safety for Philadelphia as a rookie if the coaching staff allows him to compete against Nate Allen and Earl Wolff this summer.
More likely, Watkins will contribute on special teams for now and prepare to take over for either Williams or Fletcher in ’14. Worst-case scenario, Boykin could slide outside like he wants, and Watkins mans the slot. No matter where he winds up playing, though, it seems like the Eagles got themselves a player.