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We all thought they had lost their minds.
I distinctly remember sitting in the NovaCare Complex auditorium thinking Eagles head coach Andy Reid, director of player personnel Tom Heckert and director of college scouting Marc Ross had lost their minds.
The Eagles went into that 2002 draft with Troy Vincent coming off his third straight Pro Bowl and Bobby Taylor a starter on four playoff teams and still only 28 after seven years as a starter.
No NFL team had a better situation at cornerback.
Yet the Eagles selected cornerbacks in both the first and second rounds.
Lito Sheppard out of Florida at No. 28 in the first round and Sheldon Brown at No. 59 in the second round.
When Vincent and Taylor both made the Pro Bowl that fall, and Vincent even made 1st-team all-pro, it seemed even crazier that the Eagles had selected Lito and Sheldon.
Turns out it wasn’t crazy at all.
Sheppard entered the starting lineup midway through 2003 and remained there through 2008 and Brown was a starter from 2004 through 2009. During their years together, the Eagles had the NFL’s 4th-best pass defense and 4th-best record, reaching the playoffs four times and the Super Bowl once.
Only 14 times in NFL history has a team taken cornerbacks in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the same draft.
What made the Eagles’ 2002 draft unique is that they also picked safety Michael Lewis in the second round, making them the only team in NFL history to take three defensive backs in the first two rounds of the same draft.
Which brings us to this year.
You can make a case that taking corners in both the first and second rounds makes sense again for the Eagles.
First of all, let’s look at all the corners the Eagles have under contract:
The Eagles didn’t sign a free agent cornerback — when guys like Ronald Darby are getting $30 million over three years it’s probably wise to stay out of that market — and that means they go into the draft with only Slay and Maddox with any sort of track record, and Maddox is oft-injured, was ineffective playing outside last year and isn’t signed beyond 2021.
Slay’s contract restructure makes it likely he’ll be here through 2022, but in the modern NFL, where nickel defense is the prevalent scheme, you need a minimum of three capable cornerbacks.
The Eagles have one.
The Eagles’ need at cornerback is dire, and although teams all say they don’t draft for need, the Eagles may not have a choice.
You can make a case that the Eagles need to address receiver, offensive line, edge rusher or linebacker in the first couple rounds, and they clearly need to get better at all those spots. But at least they have functional pieces.
Not at corner.
It’s time to replenish the position, and this is the year to do it.
At 12, the Eagles will be in position to snag at least one of the consensus top group – Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn or Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley.
The second round is always fuzzier, but the corner position is so deep this year that there should be good value at 37. Guys like Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr., Northwestern’s Greg Newsome, Georgia’s Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes, Central Florida’s Aaron Robinson and Syracuse’s Ifeatu Melifonwu are all interesting prospects and most of them should be available when the Eagles select at 37. And the Eagles do have the draft assets to move up if it makes sense.
The Eagles haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl defensive back since Sheppard and Lewis in 2002. Brown was picked to the Pro Bowl after the 2009 season but elected not to go and isn’t officially listed as a former Pro Bowler.
That draft – which also produced Brian Westbrook – was crucial in giving Jim Johnson the nucleus of the secondary that made the Eagles one of the NFL’s top defensive teams during the second half of Johnson’s tenure.
It seemed crazy when the Eagles picked cornerbacks in the 1st and 2nd rounds 19 years ago, but that wound up being part of perhaps the greatest draft in Eagles history.
You can make the case it’s time to do it again. This time, considering the current state of Eagles cornerbacks, it doesn’t seem crazy. It seems almost necessary.
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