Cornerback has been, will be, and is an issue for the Eagles. It’s no secret for this defense. The organization will be drafting and signing cornerbacks while longing for the days of Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard long after you and I are gone.
This upcoming 2017 season is no different with both starting cornerback spots seemingly wide-open. An early consensus is that one of these spots will go to second year CB Jalen Mills, who had an up and down rookie season last year. That potentially leaves only one spot open for the other 10 cornerbacks currently on the Eagles 90-man Roster. Out of these 10, Sidney Jones is injured and will be out for significant time this year, if not the entire season. That leaves 3rd-Round Pick Rasul Douglas and veterans Patrick Robinson and Ron Brooks as the top three to ultimately compete for the 2nd starting CB spot, unless someone can emerge from the remaining crop.
Out of Douglas, Robinson, and Brooks, it seems like most are pointing towards Douglas as being the answer. Douglas was a ball hawk at West Virginia and shows a lot of potential, but we haven’t even seen him practice against NFL receivers in pads yet. It seems like maybe people want Douglas because of that exact reason; we know what we’re getting with Robinson and Brooks, but Douglas provides hope. There’s always the possibility that he turns out to be really good, and that’s definitely an exciting thought.
The more realistic expectation is that Douglas will probably struggle this year, as many rookie cornerbacks often do. Ron Brooks was a below-average cornerback last year before he ruptured his right quad tendon and missed the rest of the season, and the injury sure won’t help him improve this year. Even if Brooks does improve, he’s primarily used in nickel packages covering the slot as opposed to being on the outside.
That leaves Patrick Robinson, who was signed to the league minimum this year, will turn 30 this season, and is coming off a rough stint with the Colts. Robinson’s career began with the Saints, where he was inconsistent but showed flashes of good play. His best season was in 2012 when he recorded career highs with 18 passes defended and 63 tackles. In his lone year with the Chargers in 2015, Robinson put together an extremely solid season that earned him a deal with the Colts, where he struggled mightily.
One case for Robinson is that he’s never been surrounded by great talent on defense. Starting with 2016, the secondaries that Robinson has been a part of have finished the following in DVOA:
2016 – 27th
2015 – 21st
2014 – 27th
2013 – 6th
2012 – 28th
2011 – 26th
2010 – 10th
Out of his 7 seasons in the NFL, the defenses he plays for have only finished in the top 10 of passing DVOA twice. You might think that this proves the point that he stinks – why would you want someone that plays on bad defenses? It could be the contrary.
Robinson arrived in New Orleans just a year after the Saints won the Super Bowl, and just about the time when they started to enter salary cap hell. Surrounding Drew Brees with offensive weapons hurt the defense that helped them win the Lombardi Trophy. Dedicating money to offensive pieces like Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, and many more left little for defensive help, which has been evident over the past several seasons for the Saints.
Robinson posted his best seasons in New Orleans in 2011 and 2012, when some of the Super Bowl pieces were still on the roster. An injury in 2013 put Robinson on the shelf for the majority of the season. When he came back in 2014, the defense was a mess and Robinson struggled in part because of that.
In his lone season with the Chargers, Robinson had the luxury of having one of the best free safeties in football playing behind him in Eric Weddle. With the help of a strong free safety behind him, something Robinson had not experienced since his early years in New Orleans, Robinson did enough to earn a new deal with the Colts and was considered an upgrade for the weak Indy defense, but Robinson struggled on an aging Colts defense that regressed mightily in 2016.
So now Robinson is with the Eagles, and the good thing for both him and the team is that he’ll return to having one of the best free safeties in football behind him in Rodney McLeod. Robinson will also be back with former teammates Malcolm Jenkins, who was with the Saints during Robinson’s two best seasons. The recipe for Robinson to have the help around him that his talent level requires is there. Robinson will not be the lockdown corner that we so badly desire, but with the right help around him, he has the potential to be a serviceable cornerback and might be the best option that the team has for 2017.