In the NFL, there are positional archetypes for a reason.
Sure, occasionally you’ll see a sub-6-foot player shine at quarterback, a 6-foot-4 running back dominate between the tackles, or a sub-300 pound center like Jason Kelce become the best player in the league at his position, but as a general rule, height-weight-speed play into the evaluation process for a reason.
Apparently, no one told that to Howie Roseman, as he spent the better part of Avonte Maddox’s rookie contract trying to play him at any position but the slot.
From playing free safety as a rookie, to a hybrid role in 2019, and a pure perimeter option in 2020, Maddox tried his hand at seemingly every position on the defensive secondary but slot cornerback – and strong safety – with varying degrees of success at each position.
But hey, it’s cool. As a fourth-year pro, Avonte Maddox was finally afforded a shot to start in the slot, and unsurprisingly enough, the position has fit like a Philadelphia Eagles glove.
Avonte Maddox may finally solve the Philadelphia Eagles’ slot issues.
Avonte Maddox is fast.
His 4.39 40 yard dash falls in the 84th percentile among tested cornerbacks, while his 3-cone drill and 60-yard shuffle rank in the 99th and 97th percentile, respectively.
On the field, Maddox is about as twitchy as they come, with a deceptive fieriness to contest passes thrown his way and enough recovery speed to get back into a play even when he loses contact.
While Maddox isn’t what one would call a sure tackler, as he’s missed 10.3 percent of his career tackles and can often get run over by a ball carrier with a full head of steam, playing in space a little closer to the center has been a revelation for the 25-year-old Pitt product.
Throw that all together and what do you have? A darn good slot cornerback, that’s for sure.
While the Eagles don’t ask their interior cornerback – singular, as Jonathan Gannon apparently doesn’t believe in dime coverage- to do anything particularly tricky, mostly dropping into zone with a little man and the occasional blitz thrown in for good measure, Maddox has excelled in the role. He’s been good in pass coverage, only allowing 110 yards versus 20 catches, a willing run supporter even if it’s not his natural specialty, and has even recorded a sack on one of his only four blitz attempts, which is by far the most efficient mark of any player on the team.
But wait, it gets better. Not only is Maddox a statistical darling through his first seven games in the slot, he also just looks incredibly comfortable and confident in the role.
Take, for example, a relatively inconsequential play versus the Las Vegas Raiders. Maddox was deployed on Hunter Renfrow, who was targeted on an out route five-ish yards outside of the endzone. At the time, the comeback looked borderline out of reach, as the Raiders were about to go up 30-7 with about 21 minutes left to play, but still, Maddox rallied after the catch and prevented Renfrow from passing the pylon.
Granted, the Raiders scored on the very next play, with a goal line pass from Derek Carr to Bryan Edwards on fourth-and-1 but still, that sort of effort highlighted a player who was quite literally playing to the whistle regardless of down or distance.
For the longest time, Jalen Mills was lauded for his short memory. Maddox has a similarly short memory, but with the athleticism to back it up.
Boy, if Maddox only had Mills’ height too, then the Philadelphia Eagles would really have something.
The Philadelphia Eagles haven’t had a reliable slot cornerback since Patrick Robinson back in 2017. They’ve cycled through Sidney Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc, and even the “Slot God” himself, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and yet, none of those players were able to secure the spot long-term. If Avonte Maddox can continue to play like he has through the first seven games of the 2021 NFL season, he’ll be on his way to ending that streak… assuming Howie Roseman actually wants to pay up.