Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Mills is a solid second starter

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Despite his polarizing nature, Jalen Mills could be a solid number two option at cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020 if the money is right.

Jalen Mills may be the most polarizing player on the Philadelphia Eagles‘ defense.

To some, his swagger, short-term memory, and bravado personifies everything Philly stands for, while others will simply write the 25-year-old corner off as that dude who wags his finger after committing pass interference.

If Mills were to sign elsewhere in free agency when the market opens up later this month, I doubt anyone will shed a tear after four long years of forced cohabitation, especially if the team replaces him with a player like Byron Jones, but maybe they should.

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You see, Mills isn’t a bad cornerback, he just hasn’t been put in the right position to be successful for the majority of his career.

On paper, there’s a lot to like about Mills’ style of cornerback play. Despite splitting his college career at cornerback, safety, and down in the nickel, Mills stuck on the outside as a rookie because of his tenacity, aggressiveness, and above all else, ball skills. Through 45 games at LSU, Mills picked off six balls and defensed 11 passes. Those ball skills translated directly to the pro game, as Mills has picked off four balls in midnight green while impressively defensing a team-high 42 balls over a 52 game sample size.

However, the one aspect of Mills’ game that has forever haunted him isn’t an aspect of his game at all. No, it’s his straight-line speed, or should I say lack of it.

At the 2016 NFL Combine, Mills ran an absolutely brutal 4.61 40 yard dash – one of the slowest marks of any defensive back at the combine. He attempted to mask this deficiency by re-running his 40 at LSU’s pro day, improving his number to a 4.48, but that number never translated to the football field. When tasked with covering an even average athlete on the outside, let alone a speedster like T.Y. Hilton, Mills has a tendency to get burned badly on vertical routes. This leads to excessive hand-fighting and has resulted in Mills getting called for 23 pass interference penalties for 283 yards over the last four years.

But here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be like that.

In 2017, Mills actually played quite well when paired up with a certified athletic freak like Ronald Darby. That’s just a fact. However, had Jim Schwartz opted to allow Darby to travel and face off against an opposing team’s fastest outside option, things could have been even better.

Had Schwartz allowed Darby to travel, opposing offensive coordinators couldn’t scheme open artificial big plays by placing speedy receivers on Mills. The team would have also been conceivably less likely to drop into deep off coverage on third and longs – the bane of many Philly fans’ existences.

If Mills is simply tasked with covering a team’s second option, he could be good. His aggressiveness would be appreciated, even lauded, and he could potentially be in-line to play more balls in the air. Heck, because of his vast experience playing all over the Tigers’ secondary in college, it’s feasible that Mills could even slide into the slot if he has a size advantage and beat up on smaller receivers like Cole Beasley.

Barring a light market, or a concerted effort to re-sign the former sixth-round pick to a long-term deal, Mills will likely be replaced on the outside by Rasul Douglas, the second most controversial corner on the Eagles’ roster. Like Mills, Douglas is offensively slow and aggressively inclined to pick up penalties. Unlike Mills, Douglas plays the game tight and has a tendency to let one bad play impact another.

Could the Eagles sign a second cornerback and rebuild their entire secondary via free agency? How did that work with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher?

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For my money, Jalen Mills is a player the Philadelphia Eagles should at least consider bringing back in 2020. Not for Byron Jones money of course, let alone Byron Maxwell money, but if he’d accept the sort of deal Patrick Robinson accepted after a solid season in 2017, a four-year, $20 million offer, I’d be inclined to lock him in. Mills brings continuity, aggression, and tone. If paired up with a legit number one cornerback, Mills can be a fantastic number two, he just needs to be used as such.