Exploring the Eagles' in-house options to replace Avonte Maddox originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Eagles are going to be without nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox for a while and possibly for the rest of the 2023 season.
But Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni likes their in-house options to replace him.
“Are we going to miss Avonte? Of course we are,” Sirianni said. “He's a great football player who has made a lot of plays here. I thought he was playing really good football, really being aggressive. He caused that fumble and then made some really good plays on the perimeter.
“So, we'll miss his contributions as a teammate and on the field. But we like some of our options.”
Maddox, 27, has been one of the better nickel corners in the NFL but has struggled to stay healthy. He missed significant time last season too with several different injuries. Last year, the Eagles replaced Maddox by first playing Josiah Scott but then eventually by moving C.J. Gardner-Johnson from safety to nickel. Neither of those are options anymore.
“We feel like we have good options in-house to be able to move forward,” Sirianni said. “That’s why we cross-train people, whether that's a corner, a safety, whether that's the guys that play nickel.”
The Eagles’ top in-house option behind Maddox coming into training camp would have been third-year cornerback Zech McPhearson. But the former fourth-round pick tore his Achilles during the preseason and is out for the entire 2023 season. That was a hit for the Eagles’ depth in the secondary and their special teams units.
During training camp, McPhearson was clearly the backup nickel. He was taking all the second-team reps and even got first-team reps when Maddox wasn’t on the field. So the Eagles’ depth at this position took a hit before the season even began.
But here’s a look at those top remaining options Sirianni indirectly referenced:
Mario Goodrich: The Eagles signed Goodrich as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson after last year’s draft and he spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. He was elevated for Week 10 last year but didn’t see any game action.
Goodrich, 23, was inactive in Week 1 this year but saw his first game action in Week 2 when both James Bradberry (concussion) and Reed Blankenship (ribs) were on the shelf. Goodrich played 14 snaps on special teams and, because Maddox got hurt so early, he played 39 snaps on defense.
Goodrich finished the game with 4 tackles, including 3 solo. Goodrich actually forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter but the play was negated because the Eagles were offsides. According to ProFootballFocus, Goodrich was in coverage for 6 targets and gave up 6 catches for 60 yards. The Vikings were able to get Justin Jefferson on Goodrich 3 times and the All-Pro had 3 catches for 51 yards. But against everyone else, Goodrich gave up 3 catches for 9 yards.
While Goodrich did end up having a nice training camp this summer, he didn’t get bumped up to second-team nickel until McPhearson went out. Although, it is worth noting that Goodrich did beat out Josiah Scott for that third-team nickel position. Scott had some NFL experience and was the backup nickel in 2022.
James Bradberry: The Eagles’ veteran cornerback took some reps at slot cornerback during the summer and it raised some eyebrows. At the time, it seemed like a move to bolster depth while thinking of some matchup advantages. The one thought was that Bradberry (6-1, 215) would fare well against some athletic tight ends or bigger slot receivers.
Here’s what Bradberry said in the summer about those reps inside:
“I think I'm just adding to my overall knowledge of the game.The more you do, the more valuable you become. I feel like I'm getting adjusted to it. I've taken reps there before as in like in practice just to play around. Maybe when I was in Carolina and stuff. And then in New York (with the Giants in 2021) they had a package where the corners would travel over and play (inside) a little, play some zones and stuff on the inside portion. So I have a little experience with it. Just small.”
Did the Eagles give Bradberry a three-year, $38 million contract to play slot corner this year? Nah, but it still seems possible we might see Bradberry inside if the matchups dictate it.
It’s worth noting that when Bradberry does push inside, it’ll be second-year cornerback Josh Jobe taking over at his outside corner post. In this scenario, you could expect Bradberry to play outside corner in the base package and move inside when the Eagles go to their sub packages. The argument for this move is that the Eagles would rather have Jobe on the field than Goodrich. The argument against it is that you might be weakening two spots.
Other: The Eagles will hopefully get Blankenship (ribs) back for Week 3 so that means he’ll be starting again, presumably next to Justin Evans. It’s worth noting that Terrell Edmunds played OK in his expanded action in Week 2 and the Eagles still have Sydney Brown on their roster. This probably wouldn’t be an every-down type of fix but the Eagles can use one of their safeties in a “big nickel” package at times.
The big nickel has been used by NFL teams for years to offset teams that want to deploy a lot of 12 personnel (two tight ends). Basically, big nickel is just using a hybrid safety on the field as the fifth defensive back instead of a smaller slot corner. We saw Sean Desai run plenty of this during training camp this summer. So far we've seen that it is Evans playing in the slot when the Eagles have three safeties on the field. Evans has played 21 snaps in the slot in two games this year, according to ProFootballFocus, and played 135 for the Saints last year. But the Eagles did just use a third-round pick on Brown, who would be an intriguing option in this role. It probably won't happen right away but this is something to think about down the line.
The only other cornerbacks on the Eagles’ roster are Kelee Ringo and Eli Ricks. Ricks appears to be the new backup nickel cornerback; he got one rep in the slot on Thursday. But if the Eagles are going to go with an internal nickel CB, Goodrich is going to get the first crack at it. And Ringo (6-2, 207) seems more like a boundary corner and would need plenty of cross-training before getting tossed out there.