Will this be the year the Eagles finally take a first-round corner?

Will this be the year the Eagles finally take a first-round corner? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

INDIANAPOLIS — If the Eagles want to draft a cornerback in the first round of April’s draft, they’ll have options.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that the Eagles haven’t drafted a corner in the first round since Lito Sheppard in 2002. The organization prefers to build through the trenches so it should never be a surprise to see the Eagles opt for an offensive or defensive lineman.

But maybe this is the right year to take a corner with as many as seven expected to potentially get drafted in the first round. This is a good class of cornerbacks and could give the Eagles an opportunity to find a long-term answer at a position they clearly value after signing aging players Darius Slay and James Bradberry to significant contract extensions last offseason.

It’s time to get younger and there’s a good chance the value will line up with where the Eagles are picking in the first round. In his latest ranking of the top 50 prospects in the draft, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah included seven cornerbacks and we’ll look at them in his order.

Terrion Arnold, Alabama (No. 8)

Size: 6-0, 196 pounds
College stats: 25 games, 6 INTs, 20 PBUs, 108 combined tackles, 7 1/2 TFLs

What we heard from the combine: Sometimes prospects are a bit shy or reserved during their podium sessions at the combine. Not Arnold. He has the type of personality to fill up a room and he’s certainly not lacking for confidence. Everyone says they feel like the best player at their position in the draft but Arnold really seems to mean it. What makes him the best corner in the draft?

"My mindset,” Arnold said. “Anytime I line up or it doesn't matter who I’m going against, I’m coming to dominate. I mean we’re all at at the combine, you here, eyes are on me and I perform.”

It’s very clear that Arnold has a close relationship with fellow Alabama prospect Kool-Aid McKinstry, who we’ll hear about in a little bit. Arnold said that in some of his meetings this week, teams have tried to pin the two friends against each other to compare. Arnold hasn’t played along. McKinstry is like a brother to him and there’s a good chance both hear their names called in the first round. Although, most evaluators seems to agree that McKinstry has the experience but Arnold has the upside.

“It’s why you go to Alabama,” Arnold said about the friendly competition between him and McKinstry. So Kool-Aid and I man we're very close knit, very tight. I mean when I’m looking at him, if he’s on the right side and he just made a play, I’m like, alright man. if they throw this ball my way I gotta make a play. So it’s friendly competition, we challenge each other and we make each other better.”

Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo (No. 15)

Size: 6-0, 196
College stats: 43 games, 6 INTs, 45 PBUs, 123 combined tackles, 7 1/2 TFLs

What we heard from the combine: Mitchell said he didn’t come to Indianapolis to be mediocre. He came to set records. Mitchell arrived to the combine on an upward trajectory after a very impressive performance at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, this year. Coming from a smaller conference, the Senior Bowl was a chance to Mitchell to show he belonged and he absolutely did.

What did he show in Mobile?

“That I can hit with the Big Dawgs,” Mitchell said. “Going into that week, there was a lot of ‘He can’t play in good competition,’ and stuff like that. So just going and showcasing and dominating everybody.”

Mitchell said he had some issues with his grades coming out of high school but Toledo stuck with him throughout the process. And when opportunities to transfer arose, Mitchell rewarded the Rockets’ loyalty by staying at Toledo. It’s rare for players from the MAC to be taken in the first round but it seems like Mitchell is going to be 14th player in conference history to achieve that next month.

When asked to describe his game, the first thing Mitchell pointed to were his ball skills. And he brought up an Eagles player when explaining.

“Over the past few years, I had a lot of production at Toledo,” he said. “So the main thing is ball skills. Just watching corners like Trent McDuffie, Darius Slay and Trevon Diggs and Pat Surtain. Those four guys.”

Ennis Rakestraw Jr., Missouri (No. 23)

Size: 6-0, 188
College stats: 35 games, 1 INT, 24 PBUs, 107 combined tackles, 8 TFLs

What we heard from the combine: Rakestraw’s recruitment in high school didn’t pick up until his senior year but then it really picked up. And he had actually committed to Alabama but recommitted the day before signing day.

“I got to the table and told my mom something wasn’t right,” Rakestraw said. “I’m going to Missouri. She said, ‘Why?’ I said the reason I went to Missouri was because I wanted to go to a program that wasn’t already built up and structured and make them a winning program. I think in my four years, my senior, year we finally got it done.”

In Rakestraw’s first three seasons at Missouri, the Tigers were 17-19 but in 2023, they went 11-2 and 6-2 in the SEC. They had double digit wins for the first time since 2014 and they capped off the season by beating Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

After having to bail on the Senior Bowl because of injury, Rakestraw is a full-go at the combine.

What part of his game does Rakestraw have the most pride in?

“Physicality and tackling,” he said. “Actually for me, all that goes into accountability. My teammates can count on me to be there in the right position at the right time. That’s how I pride myself and measure myself as a corner.”

Nate Wiggins, Clemson (No. 25)

Size: 6-2, 185
College stats: 27 games, 3 INTs, 21 PBUs, 60 combined tackles, 3 TFLs

What we heard from the combine: When asked about his favorite play from college, Wiggins didn’t have to think about it long. It was when he ran down North Carolina RB Omarion Hampton to force a fumble and touchback at the goal line.

“I just feel like that showed every scout what they need to see,” Wiggins said. “I never give up on a play. I’m a hard worker.”

“I live like that. It’s just in me,” Wiggins said. “I can’t explain it. It’s just in me. It’s who I am.”

Wiggins said the fastest time he has run in the 40 was a 4.27 in training. He has great physical gifts and is still just 20 years old. He’s an outside corner with tremendous potential.

And he’s not lacking for confidence either.

“I’m a lockdown corner and I’m very fast and I’m a technician,” he said. “I think that’s why I’m the best in the draft. I can lockdown one side of the field and completely take a receiver out of the game.”

Cooper DeJean, Iowa (No. 31)

Size: 6-1, 205
College stats: 30 games, 7 INTs, 13 PBUs, 120 combined tackles, 5 TFLs

What we heard from the combine: DeJean is in Indianapolis but won’t be able to compete as he works his way back from a fractured fibula and surgery in mid-November. While DeJean has been cleared he didn’t start running full speed until last week so he wants to give himself some time to train before working out for teams. He probably won’t be ready by the Iowa pro day but does plan on working out for NFL teams at some point before the draft.

It’s a shame that DeJean isn’t able to perform at the combine because he has unique athleticism. But he did enough at Iowa to be a likely first-round pick. Although some are split on his future position. There had been some talk about the potential of DeJean eventually moving to safety and that’s a question that has come up with some teams this week in Indy.

“I’ve talked to a few teams, yeah, about just moving around,” DeJean said. “Being able to play multiple, different positions, I think that’s an advantage. Coming into this league, being able to play wherever they put me.”

DeJean didn’t play any safety in college but he might have the skills to do it. At Iowa he showed an ability to play outside cornerback but also get inside a bit too. The Eagles traditionally value versatility, although they hadn’t met with DeJean at the combine.

Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama (No. 35)

Size: 6-1, 195
College stats: 42 games, 2 INTs, 23 PBUs, 93 combined tackles, 5 TFLs

What we heard from the combine: While his teammate Arnold might be the first cornerback taken in the draft, McKinstry also spoke to their tight relationship.

“I would say just because like it's real genuine love between me and Terrion,” McKinstry said. “Yeah, like that's a good thing that he said. The media always try to you know try to make us tear each other down or tear each other apart. I feel like if Terrion Young was to go first, I'd be able to ask him for anything. If I was to go last or vice versa, however it went, we'd still be brothers and it would be nothing that I can ask him for. We have the same relationship that we have leading up to this situation that we're in.”

McKinstry has significant experienced at one of the top programs in college football. He feels like he can fit into any scheme and any coverage.

What is his best trait that will translate to the NFL?

“Just me being able to play man and not being afraid to get in their face and to challenge them at the line of scrimmage,” McKinstry said. “And being able to run with guys and cut them off and make plays down the field, make plays when they're shorter routes.”

McKinstry’s given name is Ga’Quincy but he got his nickname from his grandmother, who said as a baby that he had a Kool-Aid smile. The nickname has stuck ever since.

And, if you’re wondering, his favorite flavor of Kool-Aid is pink lemonade.

Kamari Lassiter, Georgia (No. 40)

Size: 6-0, 180
College stats: 44 games, 1 INT, 14 PBUs, 86 combined tackles, 8 1/2 TFLs

What we heard from the combine: Lassiter might not be a first-round pick but he’s likely to hear his name before long in Day 2. He has a ton of experience for one of the best programs in the country and offers some inside-outside versatility.

Lassiter said he feels comfortable playing outside or in the slot in the NFL.

“What I think I bring to the table as a player is that I’m a cerebral guy,” Lassiter said. “I know football is a very physical game but I like the mental aspect of it. I like to disguise coverages. I understand coverages very well. I understand leverage, I understand when I have help, I understand where my help is, I understand how to use my help to be able to make plays. And on top of that, I’m a very physical corner. I like to just use that to my advantage.”

The Eagles have drafted a ton of Georgia Bulldogs in recent seasons so it wouldn’t be a shock to see them add another one in this draft.

“You talking about the Philly Dawgs?” Lassiter said when asked about those guys. “I talk to those guys all the time. … They just always told me in this setting, the best thing you can do is just be yourself.”

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