Has Darius Slay been the CB1 the Eagles wanted in 2020?

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Dave Zangaro
·5 min read
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Has Slay been the CB1 the Eagles wanted in 2020? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles this offseason invested a ton to make Darius Slay their No. 1 cornerback, trading two draft picks and then signing him to a three-year contract.

With just one game left to go in the 2020 season, Jim Schwartz on Tuesday was asked if bringing in Slay has had the desired effect.

“It certainly didn't show up in the stat sheet as far as like interceptions and things like that,” Schwartz said. “But there were a lot of games that quarterbacks didn't throw very much at him, including this last game.”

It can be tough to judge cornerbacks from stats alone. In fact, Big Play Slay didn’t pick up his first interception until Week 16 against the Cowboys.

Schwartz’s main point on Tuesday was that Slay’s coverage ability allows him to call games differently defensively and, oftentimes, Slay’s contributions are overlooked. In all, Schwartz gave a 500-plus-word answer when asked about Slay on Tuesday, but back to the question at hand:

Has it had the desired effect?

“It's probably an incomplete when it comes to how it's gone, but I do think that it's — he's done yeoman's work when it comes to the things that we've asked him to do, and like I said, it doesn't always show up on the stat sheet,” Schwartz said.

This season in 14 games, Slay has given up 57 catches on 74 targets for 740 yards, according to ProFootballFocus. That comes out to 4.07 receptions and 52.9 yards per game.

Not bad, but not great either.

It’s also fair to say that when Slay faced two of the best receivers in the NFL, he didn’t have his best games. Those games came in back-to-back weeks against the Seahawks and Packers.

D.K. Metcalf caught 8 passes on 11 targets for 158 yards against Slay in Week 12.

And Davante Adams caught 6 passes on 7 targets for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns against Slay in Week 13.

Schwartz would argue that Slay’s willingness to cover those top receivers 1-on-1 allowed him to give help elsewhere. But even Slay admitted fault for that Seattle game, saying it was the worst game of his career.

There’s some middle ground here, of course. Did Slay’s cover ability allow Schwartz to do some other things defensively? Sure. Would you also like to see Slay make some of those plays? Absolutely.

While those matchups weren’t great for Slay, he did pretty well against some other top receivers this season. Here’s a sampling of his work against top receivers this year, per ProFootballFocus:

Terry McLaurin — 3 targets, 2 catches, 28 yards

Cooper Kupp — 2 targets, 1 catch, 5 yards

Robert Woods — 2 targets, 1 catch 13 yards

A.J. Green — 5 targets, 4 catches, 31 yards

JuJu Smith-Schuster — 2 targets, 1 catch, 11 yards

Chase Claypool — 4 targets, 2 catches, 26 yards

Darius Slayton (2 games) — 7 targets, 6 catches, 94 yards 

Michael Gallup (2 games) — 4 targets, 3 catches, 28 yards

Jarvis Landry — 1 target, 1 catch, 13 yards

DK Metcalf — 11 targets, 8 catches, 158 yards

Davante Adams — 7 targets, 6 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs

Michael Thomas — 3 targets, 3 catches, 33 yards

Amari Cooper (2 games) — 1 target, 1 catch, 35 yards

It’s important to note that Slay missed Week 15 with a concussion, so we never got to see him go up against DeAndre Hopkins, who might have been the biggest test of the season. But if coming into this year, I told you that Slay was able to slow down Cooper and McLaurin, you’d probably think he had a great season.

“He shadowed the best receivers. He's made some guys disappear,” Schwartz said. “He's had a couple games that he wasn't — he probably wasn't at the top of his game, but I think that more falls to the NFL and the load that we put on him and knowing that you're not going to pitch a shutout against great receivers every single week.

“When we've been at our best, we've been a man (coverage) team. Sometimes we've had injuries and we've had to go away from that and those things, but there were times early in the season that we were playing a ton of man and we were having good success with it, and I think a lot of that did have to do with Darius and his ability to match up on wide receivers.”

Did Slay live up to expectations in his first year in Philly? I guess that depends on what those expectations were.

In any case, Slay is under contract for two more seasons and cutting him before 2021 wouldn’t be financially viable. So, barring a trade, he’ll be back next season at age 30.

When we look at Slay’s overall body of work this year, maybe he didn’t prove to be one of the elite, shutdown corners in the NFL. But he was pretty good. And he’s clearly the best cornerback the Eagles have had in years.

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