Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Mills is a great, but flawed outside cornerback

Jalen Mills(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Jalen Mills(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Jalen Mills has the perfect mentality to play cornerback in the NFL, but his physical shortcomings have at times stifled the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense.

While this may be a bit sacrilege to say based on the current climate, Jalen Mills played very well in the Philadelphia Eagles‘ Week 6 game against the New York Giants.

I know, I know, Mills is a bad cornerback who gets burnt left and right, but the numbers don’t lie, and according to Pro Football Focus, Mills finished out the game with a 73.8 defensive rating, the fourth highest mark of any starter on the defensive side of the ball.

And when dropping into coverage, a big part of playing cornerback, Mills graded out even better.

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On 45 defensive snaps, Mills earned a 76.3 PFF coverage rating on Thursday Night Football, the third highest mark of any player, sitting only behind Ronald Darby (the team’s best statistical defender) and Kamu Grugier-Hill.

But how could this be? How could Mills look so good on paper when he at times looks horrendous on the field?

Well simple: Jalen Mills is a great NFL defensive back, but he’s incredibly physically limited as an outside cornerback.

With a fiery personality, a fierce demeanor, and a seriously gritty side, Mills is the textbook definition of a Jim Schwartz cornerback, an aggressive playmaker willing to fight for every single ball thrown his way.

However, this aggressiveness is a double-edged sword, as it’s arguably Mills biggest weakness.

Coming out of college, one of the major reasons Mills wasn’t considered a premier draft pick, outside of well-publicized off-the-field issues, was his physical measurements. While he has an average build for an NFL cornerback at 6-foot, 191 pounds, Mills has short arms and ran an incredibly slow 4.61 at the 2016 NFL Draft Combine.

This lack of speed and arm length often result in Mills getting burned deep on the outside against much faster wide receivers, a sight practically engrained in the minds of Philly fans across the world.

While being a track star doesn’t necessarily make one a lockdown cornerback per say, as Darby ran a blazing fast 4.38 coming out of college and he consistently struggles with tackling issues, Mills essentially has to have perfect technique to be effective on the outside.

Mills simply doesn’t have the recovery speed needed if he gets beat at the line of scrimmage.

This lack of speed has often forced Schwartz to play his corners off the ball to prevent a big play, a move that has effectively compromised the rush four, drop seven mentality that has defined the team’s defense over the Doug Pederson-era.

That’s the paradox that is Jalen Mills: On one hand, he’s aggressiveness demeanor is infectious and has helped to define the team’s back seven swagger over his tenure in Philly, but Mills lack of physical gifts simply make him a target game in and game out.

On one play, Mills is clearly the Eagles’ best cornerback and on the next, he’s a liability.

But what can the Eagles do to mitigate Mills weaknesses while retaining what makes him such a great player?

Your guess is as good as mine.

The obvious decision would be to move Mills either inside or to safety and allow his natural instincts and aggressiveness to show out at a position that doesn’t require breakaway speed, but the NFL isn’t a game of Madden, and often times, that kind of move is a lot easier said than done.

Could a move inside result in Mills, a clearly prideful player, feeling undervalued? And what would happen if Sidney Jones or Rasul Douglas were to struggle on the outside against the very same type of X-plays that have had Mills number for years? Would the team be forced to return Mills to his former spot, only know with a chip on his shoulder?

Tough, right?

Last year, Mills was the best cornerback on a championship winning team. While his game certainly has flaws, it’s clear he can play in the NFL, but for the Philadelphia Eagles defense to finally take a step forward and truly ascend to the generational echelon they clearly aspire to be, Jim Schwartz needs to find a way to optimize Jalen Mills moving forward.

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