National Football League
2024 NFL Draft: Will Eagles take a CB in first round for first time since 2002?
National Football League

2024 NFL Draft: Will Eagles take a CB in first round for first time since 2002?

Published Apr. 12, 2024 9:42 a.m. ET

When the Philadelphia Eagles made their Super Bowl run two years ago, their defense featured one of the best and toughest secondaries in the NFL. Then last year, their entire secondary seemed to fall apart.

That's why one of their top offseason priorities was to rebuild that secondary to what it once was. And it's why they might be preparing to take a cornerback in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time in 22 years.

With less than two weeks to go until the draft, that's shaping as a strong possibility for the Eagles, who have the 22nd overall pick. The cornerback class is generally considered to be very strong, with perhaps as many as six potentially being selected in the first round.

[Rob Rang: 2024 NFL Draft CB rankings: 5 first-round grades among top 10 prospects]


The Eagles certainly could use one after what happened to their cornerback corps last year. Veteran Darius Slay, who just turned 33, missed the final four games of the season with a knee injury and struggled when he returned for the playoff game. James Bradberry, who'll be 31 in August, had an awful season, regressing badly after being named a second-team All-Pro the year before.

And while the Eagles have some promising young corners, like Kelee Ringo, Eli Ricks and Josh Jobe, none of them showed they were ready for a full-time role. Neither is Avonte Maddox, who was cut by the Eagles and then re-signed, given that injuries have limited him to 13 games over the past two years.

The lack of a cornerback ready to start could be a major issue for the Eagles. Given Slay's age, they have to consider that they'll likely need to replace him soon. They also need someone ready to go if Bradberry shows early that his struggles last season weren't a fluke.

"I think it's obvious to everyone, including JB, that JB didn't have the year that he was expecting and that we were expecting," Eagles GM Howie Roseman said at the NFL owners meetings. "I think, obviously, he understands that, and he is driven to show that he is the player that he was in 2022."

It's hard to count on that, though, especially when the team has a chance to draft a top cornerback such as Clemson's Nate Wiggins, Alabama's Terrion Arnold or Kool-Aid McKinstry, Toledo's Quinyon Mitchell or Iowa's Cooper DeJean.

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If Roseman drafts one of them, it would be the first cornerback drafted in the first round by the Eagles since they took Lito Sheppard with the 26th overall pick in 2002.

Of course, it wasn't just the corners who fell apart last season. Their safety corps was a mess, too. That's a big reason why they re-signed C.J. Gardner-Johnson one year after letting him leave in free agency. It was clear that everyone in the Eagles organization felt that when Gardner-Johnson left, the secondary lost its edge.

"We were looking to gain our swagger and mentality back," Roseman said. "Obviously, what happened at the end of the year didn't feel good, wasn't acceptable for any of us. You get players who can bring that and have that motivation and that mentality."

"When you go back and look at Chauncey, the things that he added when he was here in '22, you saw a guy that was willing to throw his body around and play physically tough and mentally tough, too," added coach Nick Sirianni. "Whether he had a good play or he had a bad play, he was playing his butt off the next play with amazing effort."

Given how important safeties are in the scheme of new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Gardner-Johnson's return could be huge — especially since the only other reliable safety the Eagles have on their roster is Reed Blankenship. They're also hopeful that at some point they'll get Sydney Brown back, too. The 2023 third-round pick was finishing his rookie season strong before he tore his ACL in the regular-season finale.

There aren't likely to be any pure safeties selected in the first round this year, though there are some around the NFL who believe the 6-foot, 203-pound DeJean will be a better safety than corner as a pro. It's unclear which position the Eagles believe he'll play, but his versatility could be an asset in Fangio's scheme.

[RELATED: 2024 NFL Draft: Why Iowa's Cooper DeJean could lead a renaissance at CB]

Regardless, cornerback looks like the bigger need, given that the position created the bigger issues last season. And so far, outside of signing journeyman Tyler Hall, who started six games over the past two seasons with the Raiders, the Eagles haven't done much to address it. The draft will give them their best chance to fill their biggest remaining hole.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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