Eagles know what they like in a cornerback

Justin Gilbert MICHAEL CONROY / AP
Justin Gilbert MICHAEL CONROY / AP
Posted: May 07, 2014

Chip Kelly has remained discreet about his requirements for certain positions, but not cornerback. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Kelly's search for tall, long, physical cornerbacks has not been a secret.

"Obviously we'd like all our corners to be 6-2-plus and long and that's the ideal world," Kelly said in November. "There's not a ton of them out there."

The NFL draft starts Thursday, and it's an opportune time to find a cornerback who fits the Eagles' prototype. Although talent is ultimately what will sway the Eagles to pick a player, look for the Eagles to target cornerbacks who are at least 6 feet tall with long arms.

"I think the corners have some interesting guys in terms of height, length," general manager Howie Roseman said of this year's prospects.

When Roseman discussed scouting receivers last week, he noted the adjustment of learning to play against a cornerback who is a "6-foot, 205-pound guy with 34-inch arms." The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl with a defensive backfield mostly filled with cornerbacks who have the size the Eagles seek.

During the interview process to become head coach, Kelly outlined specific measurements he seeks at each position. Once he was hired, scouts were given a template.

"Chip kind of knows exactly what he wants in terms of size at positions, so I think whereas maybe under Andy [Reid] . . . a corner, for instance, he was not going to get too hung up on how tall a guy was if he could play," said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Eagles scout under Reid. " And I think Chip is somebody that wants more size at position. . . . It makes it a little bit easier to scout because you eliminate some players, but there's also the risk that you end up passing up some guys that are going to be great players at the next level because they simply don't fit."

The Eagles finished 2013 with the worst pass defense in the NFL, and they need to develop young talent to play outside cornerback. The team sounds committed to keeping Brandon Boykin in the slot.

Among the top cornerbacks in the draft, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller are ideal for the Eagles. Ohio State's Bradley Roby and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard are also projected first-round picks.

"What's interesting about the corners is that most of the personnel guys have Roby and Gilbert as their highest-rated corners just because they have better movement skills," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "Most of the coaches like Fuller and Dennard because they're better football players today. You know what you're getting.

"Fuller is my number-one corner, first-round corner. He has it in his DNA. He can play on, off, he can play man or zone."

In the first round, Fuller could be the focus. Gilbert is expected to be off the board at No. 22, and Fuller has the skill set that would appeal to the Eagles if he slips.

In addition to the measurables (6-feet, 190 pounds, 32 7/8-inch arms, 38 1/2-inch vertical leap), Fuller offers versatility with experience at safety and linebacker. He's ready to play in different coverage schemes, too. The Eagles emphasize versatility because it allows defensive coordinator Bill Davis to adjust the game plan for the opponent.

It's unlikely the Eagles go after smaller cornerbacks such as Texas Christian's Jason Verrett, even if the talent is enticing. Boykin is entrenched in the slot, and he's an exception to the team's demand for size at the position.

The problem for the Eagles is the demand for cornerbacks - particularly high in the draft. Among the first-round teams that could be in the market for a cornerback are Detroit (No. 10), Tennessee (No. 11), Pittsburgh (No. 15), and the New York Jets (No. 18). It's also possible that a team such as San Francisco jumps ahead of the Eagles for a cornerback.

There are two 6-3 cornerbacks in the draft: Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Utah's Keith McGill. If the Eagles bypass a cornerback in the first round and are looking for a player with size to develop in the second round, they would make sense on the second day of the draft.

It's clear what Kelly is looking for at the position, and it could be evident this weekend. As Roseman said earlier this offseason, "You can never have enough big, long corners on a football team."


Top Target: Kyle Fuller

Physique

Height: 6-foot

Weight: 190 pounds

Arm length: 327/8 inches

Hands: 93/8 inches

Combine Results

40-yard dash: 4.49 seconds

Vertical jump: 38.5 inches

3-cone drill: 6.90 seconds

Bench press: 12 reps

Broad jump: 128 inches

20-yard shuttle: 4.19 seconds

The Skinny

A four-year starter at Virginia Tech, Fuller made all-ACC teams the last three seasons. Fuller is a physical cornerback who has experience playing both safety and linebacker. His coverage skills and awareness are believed to be NFL-ready. Fuller finished with six interceptions and 4 1/2 sacks at Virginia Tech. He is capable of playing both man coverage and zone coverage, and was also a special-teams contributor for the Hokies. He has a frame that could carry more weight, but his measurables are already appealing — especially his long arms and leaping ability. Fuller’s senior season was cut short in November because of a sports hernia that also kept him out of the Senior Bowl. He was a team captain at Virginia Tech and comes from a football family — two of his brothers reached the NFL, and his younger brother was a standout freshman at Virginia Tech last season.

Top Prospects

                                                   Ht.    Wt.   Proj. rd.

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State        6-0   202      1

Bradley Roby, Ohio State                5-11 194      1

Darqueze Dennard, Mich. State       5-11  199      1

Jason Verrett, Texas Christian        5-9    189     1-2

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska     6-3    218     1-2

Pierre Desir, Lindenwood                6-1    198     2-3

Keith McGill, Utah                          6-3    211     2-3

Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State        5-8   184     2-3

Others

                                                  Ht.     Wt.    Proj. rd.

Terrance Mitchell, Oregon              5-11   192    3-4

Marcus Roberson, Florida               6-0    191    3-4

Dontae Johnson, N.C. State           6-2     200   3-5

Travis Carrie, Ohio                       6-0     206   5-7


NFL Draft

Schedule

Thursday: First round, 8 p.m. ( NFL Network; ESPN)

Friday: Second and third rounds, 7 p.m. ( NFL Network; ESPN 7-8, ESPN2 after 8)

Saturday: Fourth through seventh rounds, noon ( NFL Network, ESPN)

First-round order

1. Houston

2. x-St. Louis

3. Jacksonville

4. Cleveland

5. Oakland

6. Atlanta

7. Tampa Bay

8. Minnesota

9. Buffalo

10. Detroit

11. Tennessee

12. N.Y. Giants

13. St. Louis

14. Chicago

15. Pittsburgh

16. Dallas

17. Baltimore

18. N.Y. Jets

19. Miami

20. Arizona

21. Green Bay

22. EAGLES

23. Kansas City

24. Cincinnati

25. San Diego

26. y-Cleveland

27. New Orleans

28. Carolina

29. New England

30. San Francisco

31. Denver

32. Seattle

x–from Washington

y–from Indianapolis

Eagles picks

First round: 22d overall

Second: 54th

Third: 86th

Fourth: 122d

Fifth: 162d

Seventh: 237th


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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