Philadelphia Eagles: Nickell Robey-Coleman is a verified slot god

(Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
(Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

Despite having already invested heavily in the secondary, Nickell Robey-Coleman’s verified slot god status should make the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary all the more formidable.

On the eve of the 2018 NFL calendar year, the Philadelphia Eagles had a choice to make.

With limited funds and a pair of defensive starters set to test the open market, Howie Roseman opted to retain starting weakside linebacker, and Jim Schwartz favorite, Nigel Bradham, and allow the team’s breakout secondary star, Patrick Robinson, to parlay a one-year, $1 million prove-it deal into a four-year, $20 million deal with the team that drafted him 32nd overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints.

That decision has haunted the team ever since.

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Now to be fair, Robinson’s 2017 season was a statistical anomaly when viewed in the context of the entirety of his career, as the average slot corner finished out the season as the seventh highest-graded cornerback in the NFL with a 87.5 Pro Football Focus grade. Had he returned in 2018, Robinson may have regressed back to his career-average averageness and straddled the team with another over-30 player on an ugly contract, but instead, the Eagles rolled with former second-round pick Sidney Jones, short and speedy fourth-round draftee Avonte Maddox, and 2018 waiver wire claim Cre’von LeBlanc.

Of these players, only LeBlanc showed a natural fervor for the position but missed the majority of the 2019 season with a foot injury.

So when the Eagles showed interest in Chris Harris at the 2019 trade deadline, arguably the best slot cornerback in the NFL, it wasn’t too surprising. Heck, when the Eagles inquired about signing Chris Harris in free agency, it again wasn’t too surprising, even if trading for a moveable shutdown man corner like Darius Slay was objectively a more pressing need. What is surprising, however, is that even after signing Slay, Jalen Mills, Will Parks, and Rodney McLeod to new deals, Roseman and company opted to take a fifth(?) bite at the defensive backs apple and sign yet another slot corner option in recently released ex-Los Angeles Ram Nickell Robey-Coleman.

Measuring in at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, NRC is among the smallest players in the NFL. Robey-Coleman also isn’t particularly athletic, as his 4.53 40 yard dash, 10 bench press reps, and 4.09 shuffle ranked towards the bottom of the participants at the 2013 NFL Draft Combine. On paper, Robey-Coleman is the antithesis of what teams are looking for in an NFL starting cornerback, and yet, in 2019, he ranked 16th overall in Pro Football Focus’ cornerback grades while playing a career-high 708 defensive snaps.

Why? Because Robey-Coleman fights on every. single. snap.

Despite having a clear disadvantage when tasked with covering the league’s more vertically-gifted players, NRC has remained steadily employed over the last seven seasons based on grit, fire, and an unwavering my-ball mentality. Robey-Coleman is such a physical presence pound-for-pound that the NFL literally had to change a rule – Rule 15, Section 3, Article 10 – to account for a particularly physical hit he laid out on Tommylee Lewis in the NFC Championship game.

Rule 15, Section 3, Article 10 has now been unofficially dubbed the ‘Nickell Robey-Coleman rule’, much to his delight.

In 2014, Robey-Coleman put together one of his best seasons as an NFL player under the watchful eye of Jim Schwartz as a member of the Buffalo Bills; a season that quite possibly cemented his status as an NFL player after going undrafted out of USC in 2013. He started a career-high seven games, appeared in all 16, and finished out the season third in passes defensed, despite only playing 59 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.

Fast forward six years into the future and NRC has established himself as one of the league’s premier slot cornerbacks.

Is Robey-Coleman a fit in every defensive secondary? No, but as Rams’ cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant pointed out in a fantastic NFL Countdown piece you can check out here, he’s talented enough to force coaches to adjust to ensure he can see the field.

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Make no mistake about it, Nickell Robey-Coleman is Jim Schwartz’s kind of cornerback. He fights on every single snap, makes plays on the ball, and generally makes opposing receivers live a living nightmare play-in and play-out. While he may not be an every-down player across from Darius Slay due to his height and speed limitations, don’t be surprised if NRC becomes a fixture of the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary in 2020 and quite possibly beyond. No wonder his verified Twitter handle is @slotgod23.