The last position group we’ll preview before predicting the 53 man roster is the one with the most up in the air. Adding Ronald Darby to the roost gives the Eagles three surefire starters in the secondary, but when it comes to who’ll line up across the field from Darby and who’ll make the final cut, training camp and pre-season have a whole lot left to decide.
Locks: Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod
The Eagles made clear their evaluation of Darby when they sent Jordan Matthews and a draft pick to Buffalo in return for the third year corner and Darby made his case to the fans while weaving between his former teammates on a long interception return Thursday night. He’s clearly the new No. 1 corner on the team.
Jones may not play in 2017 and won’t initially take up a spot on the 53-man roster, but the Eagles’ second round pick isn’t going anywhere. The same is true of Douglas, their third round selection, save the fact that he will be ready to play from Week 1.
Jenkins and McLeod are unchallenged starters at safety, and should build on the chemistry they displayed last season. Making the success 2016 began with last an entire season should be goal number one.
Safe Bets: Jalen Mills, Chris Maragos
Mills somehow managed to be the brightest young spot on the Eagles defense last year while turning in a rollercoaster of performances. The positive feelings about Mills have as much to do with beating expectations for a seventh round pick as they do his cornerback appropriate mindset. After the 2017 draft he won’t have to deal with being the only corner Eagles fans can envision still on the team in three seasons.
Maragos is at this point synonymous with the Eagles special teams unit and no worse an option as a reserve safety than the other choices on the roster. The special teams are the finished product in Philadelphia and his role in the organization shouldn’t change anytime soon.
Bubble: Patrick Robinson, Ron Brooks, Aaron Grymes, Corey Graham, Jaylen Watkins, Terrence Brooks,
For the first time in several years the Eagles have several young players cemented at cornerback and a few veterans vying to make the roster. Ron Brooks was expected to man the nickel spot before injury knocked him out of the 2016 season and forced Malcolm Jenkins out of his best role and into the slot. He seems ready to reclaim the position this season despite tweaking his hamstring against Green Bay.
Less clear is the status of free agent signee Robinson, who has been his own harshest critic this summer. The arrival of Darby may push Robinson’s best chance at playing time inside to the nickel, where he would have to win a competition with Brooks. But also in the running is Aaron Grymes, a camp favorite a year ago who missed his chance due to — you guessed it — injury. He’s headed in the right direction. Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said Buffalo “was the best game he’s played since he’s been here.”
Graham joined as a free agent recently and has shaken up the roster battle at both corner and safety. While he has experience at both positions, the Eagles seem keenest on Graham, 32, as a safety, the role he filled in 32 games for Buffalo over the past two seasons. His presence — and early grasp of the playbook evidenced by his immediate appearances on the field — makes the status of returning backup safeties Watkins and Terrence Brooks tenuous.
Practice Squad Watch: CJ Smith, Mitchell White, Tre Sullivan
Smith has already been on the Eagles practice squad, but made his way off it to play in ten games last season. While everyone hopes there is tougher competition for him to get on the field this season, a similar contribution definitely isn’t out of the question this season.
White, like Grymes, made a name for himself playing in the Canadian Football League and saw a lot of playing time against Green Bay. He was actually released by the Eagles a week ago, but resigned once they had roster space two days later. They’re obviously some level of intrigued. Grymes himself will also be practice squad eligible should he not make the 53-man roster.
Sullivan caught attention for the hit that sent Packers receiver Malachi Dupre to the hospital two weeks ago. The rookie safety definitely made opponents aware of his presence on the field. He isn’t the only undrafted rookie from Shepherd University trying to make the team; his college teammate Billy Brown is working with the tight ends and receivers on the offensive side of the ball.