Philadelphia Eagles: Avonte Maddox looks like a natural in the slot

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

Calling Avonte Maddox‘s 2020 season with the Philadelphia Eagles an unmitigated disaster would be a bit harsh… emphasis on a bit.

After bouncing around the Birds’ defensive backfield for the first two years of his professional career – logging snaps at perimeter cornerback, slot cornerback, free safety, and even box safety – Howie Roseman had the “galaxy brain” idea to moving Maddox to outside cornerback full-time, in order to give the team a top-tier athlete opposite Darius Slay, who himself is one of the faster cornerbacks in the league today.

In theory, the idea wasn’t completely insane. Maddox played on the outside at Pitt for Pat Narduzzi, and considering his elite speed/hops/change of direction, Roseman hoped that he’d stumbled upon the next Darrell Green, or at least the next Donte Jackson.

Instead, Roseman’s efforts earned him the 121st best cornerback in the league according to PFF, which is pretty bad considering only 121 cornerbacks league-wide earned enough snaps to qualify for the rankings (subscription required).

So needless to say, as Maddox enters the final year of his rookie contract, there’s a very real possibility that he could be playing for his very career in 2021, as very few teams will be looking to sign the worst cornerback in the league to a second, much more lucrative long-term contract moving forward.

That is unless Avonte Maddox continues to shine in the slot as the NFL calendar turns over from August into September. If that happens, the Philadelphia Eagles may just lock up their 2018 fourth-round pick to a deal and finally find a suitable, long-term replacement for Patrick Robinson.

Avonte Maddox might still be a player for the Philadelphia Eagles after all.

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Through the first two preseason games of the 2021 calendar year, Avonte Maddox played 15 defensive snaps.

Are 15 defensive snaps enough to make a super decisive decision one way or another on any player regardless of position? Probably not, but considering that’s the current sample size, we may as well examine it, shall we?

Especially since Maddox has looked darn good in the slot so far through the first two preseason games of the season.

Largely lining up over JuJu Smith-Schuster versus Pittsburgh and Jakobi Meyers/Kendrick Bourne versus New England, Maddox didn’t allow a single catch in either contest and stuck with his guy incredibly well regardless of offensive play call/route concept.

While some may scoff at the idea of playing a 5-foot-9, 184-pound defensive back that close to the line of scrimmage in an interior position, as Maddox would surely get swallowed up in the run game and be an ineffective defender versus screens, so far that hasn’t really been the case. Outside of one, um, outside run where Maddox wasn’t particularly well-positioned to get involved in the play, the pride of Pitt looked much improved over NRC last season and even Cre’von LeBlanc during his three-season tenure with the team, even if he could use a bit of the latter’s on-field swagger from time to time.

Not too shabby for a player some believe is really best positioned to play free safety in a single-high scheme.

The only real knock against Maddox so far this preseason is that we haven’t had a chance to see if his tackling has improved, but really, that’s more on Mason Rudolph and Cam Newtown, as neither threw a ball to a receiver in his care and thus, there hasn’t been a solo tackling opportunity. In a perfect world, Maddox would at least receive a few targets in the team’s final exhibition contest of the summer but, considering how often Zech McPhearson was picked on by “The Checkdown King” in Game 2, I highly doubt whoever the Jets trot out to take on the Eagles’ defense, be that Zach Wilson or Mike White, will be targeting number 29 and his stick coverage.

Thank the football gods that Howie Roseman actually signed Steven Nelson, as the team would thoroughly be in particularly dire straits without his addition.

Next. The Philadelphia Eagles should have retained Patrick Robinson in 2018. dark

Will Avonte Maddox ultimately find a home in the slot in 2021? Or will his lack of physicality come to haunt the Birds yet again and limit the sort of exotic rushing options Jonathan Gannon has at his disposal? Either way, it’s clear he was never going to be the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting perimeter cornerback long-term, so Nick Sirianni’s coaching staff deserves some credit for doing their best to put one of their players in the best position to succeed, regardless of the outcome.