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Can Nolan Carroll Steal a Starting Spot at Cornerback in Philadelphia?

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Can Nolan Carroll Steal a Starting Spot at Cornerback in Philadelphia?
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles are household names with bigger resumes, but Nolan Carroll could wind up making more of an impact than everyone else the Philadelphia Eagles added to the roster this offseason. 

At 27, Carroll should be smack dab in the middle of his prime. He quietly started 22 games the last two seasons in Miami and is coming off a career year with three picks, two sacks and an opposing passer rating of just 47.8, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

Lowest opposing completion percentages vs. CBs, 2013
Player Team Opp. comp. %
1. Trumaine McBride Giants 43.8
2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Broncos 44.1
3. Leodis McKelvin Bills 46.1
4. Nolan Carroll Dolphins 47.8
5. Johnathan Joseph Texans 48.3

Pro Football Focus

I know, the Eagles are already paying Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher a combined $8.3 million a year at cornerback, and third-year slot specialist Brandon Boykin is supposed to play a major role in 2014 as well. But Carroll could be the dark horse of this secondary. 

It's even possible he supplants either Williams or Fletcher in the starting lineup come September. 

"I think everybody has a legitimate chance at the starting jobs," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said this week, according to ESPN.com's Phil Sheridan. "That’s one thing about the offseason and training camp that we pride ourselves on. It’s open competition at all spots. Anything’s possible."

Sheridan notes that during Sunday's training camp practice, Carroll took a significant number of reps with the first-team defense. 

"It might have been a matter of the coaches just getting a look at Carroll," he wrote, "or it might have been the first sign of movement in the competition."

It's not as though Williams or Fletcher have been bad, but this was the league's 32nd-ranked pass defense last season, so nobody should be immune. 

NFL's worst pass defenses, 2013
Team Yards allowed
32. Philadelphia Eagles 4,636
31. Minnesota Vikings 4,595
30. Dallas Cowboys 4,589

Pro Football Reference

Fletcher and Williams have the talent to continue to be reliable starters, but neither is particularly consistent and the two of them committed a combined 13 penalties last season.

Most penalized corners in the NFC East, 2013
Cornerback Team Penalties
1. Orlando Scandrick Cowboys 8
3. Bradley Fletcher Eagles 7
3. Prince Amukamara Giants 7
4. Cary Williams Eagles 6
5. Brandon Carr Cowboys 6
6. David Amerson Redskins 4

Pro Football Focus

Williams has been known to lose his cool, which has a major impact on his play. The guy was penalized for pass interference three times in a tight loss to the Chargers last year, and yet he still surrendered eight completions that day. He gave up at least nine completions on two other occasions. 

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Fletcher rarely gets that low, and his advanced stats are better as a result. He's got a good combination of size and speed and plenty of experience, but he's not the type of player who jumps out at you. In fact, he and Carroll share a lot of qualities. But Carroll is a year younger and is a little bit bigger, which could help push him ahead. 

After all, it was Eagles head coach Chip Kelly who said, per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, "we want taller, longer people because bigger people beat up little people." Size matters to this coaching staff. 

Defensive backs coach John Lovett said in June, according to Sheridan:

Nolan can definitely challenge to start here. He had a tremendous OTA. He’s another guy we were thrilled to death about getting. He’s explosive, he’s physical, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He understands coverage concepts. He’s really had a great preseason.

Of course, even if Carroll doesn't win the job outright in August, he'll still have plenty of time and opportunities. This is the NFC East in the most pass-happy era in NFL history, and injuries happen. You can't have too many good cornerbacks, which is why Carroll's strong showing during organized team activities was so encouraging. 

As they put the pads on this week at NovaCare, you get the feeling he'll keep impressing. 

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