Philadelphia Eagles Inside The Tape: The Success of Jalen Mills

Oct 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills (31) prepares for action against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills (31) prepares for action against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

 Jalen Mills has been a key contributor for the Philadelphia Eagles this year. We delve into the film to find out why.

He was the darling of every draftnik after the Philadelphia Eagles snagged him in the seventh round. He was a headliner in every ‘late-round draft steals’ article. He was a coaching staff favorite for his competitiveness during training camp. He was well-received by the team, earning a nickname–Green Goblin–to go with his neon hairstyle. And finally, he has begun to earn the respect of fans after a fine performance against the league’s leading receiver, Julio Jones.

He’s the Philadelphia Eagles’ 7th-round pick, taken at number 233 overall. He’s rookie cornerback Jalen Mills.

Preseason outlook:

Count me as one of Mills’ doubters when the Eagles drafted him. I freely admit it. I saw a half nickelback/half free safety that couldn’t cut it on the boundary. With great joy, I can report that 10 games into the season, Jalen Mills has made me look quite stupid.

But how has he gone from 7th-round misfit to starting corner? Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Here’s Mills’ scouting report, from

"StrengthsFour-year starter from deep, talented conference. Has slot cover ability. Hips are loose and he’s able to open and mirror receivers from press. Uses crisp, controlled footwork out of his transitions. Locates the deep pass and can turn to make plays on the ball. Very aware from zone and handles his responsibilities without many busts. Good blitzer from the slot.WeaknessesThin­-waisted with a finesse frame. Takes iffy angles to the ball and isn’’t as committed in run support as evaluators would like. Was not a productive tackler near the line of scrimmage. Mix and match traits might have him caught between slot corner and free safety. Lacks desired speed to carry vertical threats. Shows some confusion on combo routes."

Mills’ was projected to fall into the 6th- or 7th-round due to injury concerns–he only played 6 games in 2015 due to a fractured fibula–and a misdemeanor charge for assaulting a woman in the summer of 2014. In other words, the talent was there, but so was the risk. However, as we saw with fellow rookie seventh-rounder DE Alex McCalister, the Eagles wanted to take some shots as the draft came to a close.

Rise of the Green Goblin:

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While McCalister found himself on IR at the beginning of the season, Mills fought his way to first team reps. He ousted 2015 second rounder CB Eric Rowe, later jettisoned to the New England Patriots for meager compensation. He grew into a Jim Schwartz favorite for his physicality and competitive nature. With 365 snaps at corner this season, he’s played more frequently than presumptive starter CB Leodis McKelvin (251). McKelvin’s low snap count is in part due to a nagging hamstring, but Mills’ play in his absence has encouraged and validated the Eagles’ coaching staff.

No better example of his surprising success can be found than in last week’s game against the high-scoring Atlanta Falcons. When CB Nolan Carroll went down late in the second quarter, the coaching staff had no choice but to rotate the rookie Mills onto league-leading WR Julio Jones for the entire second half.

Against Jones, Mills gave up only 4 receptions for only 48 yards. 28 of those came on one completion.

Not perfect–not by a long shot. But pretty darn good.

We turned to the tape to figure out how Jalen Mills found such success against the NFL’s #1 offense.


Mills has fantastic feet and can really move cleanly in and out of his breaks. He can plant and drive, transition his hips, and change direction at a professional level.

Watch the transitional footwork and closing speed of Mills here:

And again, watch Mills react to and close on a route:

Having such quick feet and smooth hips allows Jalen Mills to mirror routes out of press coverage. He can keep stride with wide receivers from the line and close throwing windows/disrupt catches. A fierce competitor, he plays physical at the line of scrimmage as well.

Watch Jalen Mills’ physicality and route-mirroring here:

And here:


The biggest weakness I see from Jalen Mills is his straight-line speed. He clocked a 4.48 40 yard dash at his pro-day, which isn’t bad, but his Combine performance was notably worse: 4.61. The game isn’t too fast for him, but some vertical routes can be.

Watch him struggle here against WR Taylor Gabriel (4.28 40 yard dash):

Another of Mills’ weaknesses is his awareness of leverage/angles. He’s got nice height (6’0″) and length (31 1/8″ arms), but at only 190 lbs, physical receivers like Jones (6’3″ 220 lbs) can out-muscle and out-position him. As such, if Mills takes a bad angle or loses leverage, a larger receiver can make him pay.

Watch Mills take a poor angle against Julio Jones here, and give up his longest reception of the day:

Why there’s promise:

When Jim Schwartz spoke about Mills this week following the Atlanta game, he couldn’t stop talking about Mills’ competitiveness. Seventh-rounders aren’t supposed to start–they might develop into serviceable backups. But Mills, for all of the injury/character question marks that surrounded him coming out of LSU, and for some of the gameplay issues on which he still must improve, has competed ever since he heard his name called in Chicago, and the tape reflects that competitive spirit.

Watch Mills cover Julio Jones (4.39 40) on a vertical route with fantastic physicality and serviceable straight-line speed:

Watch Mills, not always the most willing/punishing tackler, lay a crucial third down hit on Julio Jones:

Looking forward:

The Philadelphia Eagles must address the cornerback position in the offseason. Leodis McKelvin has not proven himself a starter, and Nolan Carroll hits free agency at the close of this season. In a strong CB class, I would anticipate one of the Eagles’ first two picks going to the position.

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What does this mean for Mills? We don’t know just yet. If he continues improving weekly, he might lock down a starting gig on the outside. If the Eagles draft a cornerback high and retain Carroll, he might have to compete for a starting job. Perhaps the coaching staff will feel comfortable moving him permanently to the slot, where his skill set best translates.

But for now, Mills will get a shot at even more top-shelf wideouts: Doug Baldwin, Odell Beckham Jr. again, Dez Bryant, and Jordy Nelson, to name a few. With the Eagles in the thick of the playoff race, the intensity will ramp up, and the competition will grow only fiercer.

You get the sense that Jalen Mills won’t mind.