The Eagles enter the NFL draft with a significant need at cornerback and dwindling options to fill it.
With only one proven outside cornerback in Darius Slay, the starting spot opposite the veteran figures to be addressed at some point in the NFL draft, which starts Thursday.
Depending on who you talk to, there are at least two surefire first-round corner prospects and a handful of guys whose range starts outside of the top 10 and finishes in the early second round.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the best prospects:
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati
Gardner is considered the top cornerback in this year’s class by some because his combination of size, speed, and disposition resembles that of a lockdown cornerback. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound prospect plays with the competitive toughness and resilience teams look for. He ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, exhibiting that he has the speed to play press-man coverage for which his 79-inch wingspan will make him ideal.
It’s not just straight-line speed with Gardner, though. He’s a fluid mover who can be sticky in coverage and he’s even got good ball skills, recording three interceptions in each of the last three seasons with the Bearcats.
It’s rare to see a cornerback check so many boxes, which is why Gardner should go early in this year’s draft.
Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
If Gardner isn’t CB1, then Stingley is.
The 6-foot, 190-pound prospect has elite physical traits, and his upside is hard to measure as a result. He flashed serious potential as a press-man coverage cornerback with six interceptions as a freshman in 2019 before injuries have slowed him down the following two years.
Stingley is coming off a Lisfranc foot injury that cost him all but three games last season, and he didn’t participate in athletic testing at the combine because of his rehab. He’d made a full recovery by his pro day and reportedly ran a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash with limited preparation time.
If you want to see Stingley’s upside in the league, go find the practice film of him covering Bengals star receiver Ja’Marr Chase when the two were at LSU in 2019. If there’s even a chance that version of Stingley still exists, he is worth an early first-round pick.
Trent McDuffie, Washington
McDuffie has been labeled a “safe” option for teams looking for a first-round cornerback, fairly or unfairly.
At 5-11, 193 pounds, he’s a bit undersized to be an outside cornerback and he doesn’t have the eye-popping athleticism you’d like to see from a highly touted corner prospect. But when you watch him, those concerns go away.
McDuffie is a rock-solid cover man who projects favorably for zone-heavy schemes like the one the Eagles employ. He’s got great instincts, quickness, and toughness and should be able to match and mirror receivers on underneath routes with success at the next level. Any concerns about his smaller frame should be dispelled when you watch him play the run; he’s an aggressive, capable tackler who embraces the physicality required of corners in the run game.
He may not be a home-run swing in the way the top guys are, but McDuffie is a “good football player” who profiles as a first rounder because of his high floor.
Kaiir Elam, Florida
Elam is a late first-, early second-round prospect because of his top-end speed at 6-1, 191 pounds.
He ran 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the combine and projects as another corner equipped to play in press coverage at the next level. He’s also a willing tackler who fights through blocks.
As a three-year starter, Elam has extensive experience covering elite receivers in the SEC, and he has the instincts to show for that experience. The biggest concern with him is his tendency to get “handsy” downfield, and he’ll likely draw penalties early on in his NFL career. If he can clean that up, he has the athleticism and size to be a competent corner.
Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
Booth is another corner hoping to go somewhere in the latter half of the first round with a chance to slide into the second.
The 6-foot, 194-pound corner’s footwork is raved about and he’s explosive out of his backpedal. Even though he’s not as tall as other corners in the class, he’s got a 77-inch wingspan, which is 71st percentile according to mockdraftable.com.
Booth’s also got good ball skills, recording five interceptions over the last two seasons.
There are some questions about his long speed, especially after he didn’t test leading into the draft because of a core injury that required surgery. Still, for teams that primarily ask their corners to match underneath routes with safety help over the top, Booth could be an enticing prospect.
Tariq Woolen, UTSA
It’s hard to call anyone who ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at 6-4, 205 pounds a “sleeper,” but Woolen is the definition of a boom-or-bust selection.
In this draft series, we’ve tried to avoid hyperbole, but Woolen’s physical profile is unbelievable. His spider chart is shocking (90th percentile or better in everything except hand size.) He’s got long speed and short-area quickness to keep up with just about anyone. He can jump with anyone, too.
It’s fair to call his technique “raw” at this point, but for good reason. He converted to cornerback two seasons ago after spending his first three years in school playing wide receiver.
The 22-year-old doesn’t project as an immediate starter, and there’s a chance he never develops into an NFL-quality corner in terms of his technique, but his athletic profile will make him a Day 2 target for someone. If he gets the right coaching, Woolen could become a true difference-maker on the outside.
Kyler Gordon, Washington
Gordon, the “other” Washington corner, also will hear his name called sometime in the first couple rounds.
His physical tools are promising, and he’s gritty against the run, but his feel for the game is a work in progress. Couple that with him running 4.52 in the 40, and Gordon’s stock mostly is as a Day 2 prospect at this point.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, who ranked Gordon 35th in his draft rankings earlier this week, argued his athleticism is better than the testing suggests.
“I know he ran in the low 4.5s, but he plays so much faster than that and can really find and play the ball,” Jeremiah said last week.
Those who believe in Gordon will point to the explosiveness he flashed on film, while those who aren’t out on him will reference his late ascent into a starting role with Washington and the fact that he may not be able to stick on the outside in the NFL.