The Philadelphia Eagles went into the draft with 10 picks and a lot of needs, they came away from the draft having filled many needs. The one main thing they did not address at all during free agency or the draft up to this point was the second cornerback spot. This offseason saw the defense add depth and talent on the interior defensive line, and dramatic upgrades at linebacker, and we watched as the Eagles brought back Anthony Harris at strong safety to pair with last year’s third safety Marcus Epps.
The big question heading into 2022 is was this enough? It seems the Eagles answered that question with a resounding no, and went and targeted a former division foe.
Philadelphia Eagles Sign Former New York Giants CB James Bradberry
Siding With the Rival
While the offseason unfolded it became apparent in New York that the Giants would have to address their salary cap at some point. That point came and passed on May 9 when they addressed this by releasing cornerback James Bradberry. Releasing Bradberry saved the Giants over $10 million in cap space. This led Bradberry to Philadelphia to play for his former rival.
Bradberry took just under a week to cement a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. Signing with the Eagles marks the third team in his career, all of which reside in the NFC. Having started his career in Carolina as a second-round pick, the 6’1 212 pound corner immediately started for the Panthers.
Heading into his seventh season Bradberry has been remarkably durable. He has missed just five games in his six years. On top of that, he has always been the guy you can rely on to play the vast majority of the snaps on defense. His lowest snap percentage came as a rookie at 94%. This is also a guy who has always added value on special teams as well. However, expect those days to come to an end in Philly.
Fit in Gannon’s Scheme
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is a product of two very prominent defensive minds in Mike Zimmer during his time in Minnesota and Matt Eburflus during his time in Indianapolis. Due to this fact he has not strayed too far from the systems he more or less grew up in as a coach at the NFL level.
Zimmer, and Eburflus both prefer taller, thicker cornerbacks. They want defensive backs that can press a guy at the line, guys who can match up with taller receivers, and if needed backs and tight ends. Last season Gannon tried to plug in Steven Nelson, who stands 5’11 190 pounds. This along with the lack of athleticism at the post safety spot resulted in a lack of defensive production early on.
Forced to play a combination of aging veterans not known for their athleticism, Gannon had to adjust his scheme to fit the players he had on the roster. We saw the defense dramatically improve about midseason when he made some line-up changes.
In 2022 he will now have a true press cornerback opposite of “Big Play” Darius Slay. Bradberry last season did not grade out much better than Nelson. However, when you break down the numbers you realize how deceiving this can be. If the Eagles hadn’t done their homework, it probably would not have led Bradberry to Philadelphia.
Diving Into the Analytics
Steven Nelson had an overall grade of 62.3 in 2021 with the Eagles, per Pro Football Focus. However, his coverage grade was just a 60.4, with his run support grade serving as a buoy for his lower coverage and pass rush grades. This makes it look as though Steven Nelson was about average as a cornerback in 2021.
Looking at Bradberry it is the opposite story. His overall grade was 62.8 which on paper looks like a fairly minimal improvement over Nelson. Until you dig a bit deeper. Bradberry had a 65.0 coverage grade, a 60 grade in the pass rush, but a 47.6 run defense grade. This makes it look as though Bradberry was only a minimal upgrade when in reality his strength is in coverage.
When comparing these two players as spoken about before, there is a clear size, and style of play difference. Nelson is a guy who would be better served as a slot defender in this system. His size, zone coverage ability, and ability to play the run lend themselves to this role.
Bradberry is the exact type of cornerback you put on an island. A guy who is more focused on coverage than he is on stopping the run. He is bigger and stronger than Nelson allowing him to jam receivers and throw-off timing on routes. He won’t result in the same kind of match-up issues we had with Nelson. We also won’t be asking Avonte Maddox to step out of his comfort zone on the outside.
Turnovers are another big-time deciding factor in adding Bradberry. Bradberry despite the similar grades had four ints to just one by Nelson. Bradberry also produced 17 passes defended to just seven by Nelson, as well as one fumble recovery.
This displays the kind of ballhawk that Bradberry truly is. He had a total of 22 plays that resulted in turnovers or forced incompletions to just eight by Nelson. All of that adds up to a lot more reliable second option at cornerback.
What Roseman Sees in Bradberry
General manager Howie Roseman has gone all-in this offseason. He used trades to perfection and moved up and down the draft board when he saw fit to get the most value out of his ammunition. Ultimately the Eagles went from ten picks to five by the end of draft day, acquiring help at multiple spots via trade that sent draft picks in return for players.
Bringing in Bradberry gives him a low-risk, high-reward player to plug in at cornerback two. Last season they were able to tread water with Nelson who, as stated above, isn’t the coverage maven that Bradberry is in this system. Now they plug in a true scheme fit, on a one-year deal. Should this move go south, the Eagles could in theory cut bait and move on without much thought about the long-term ramifications.
However, the upside here is what Bradberry was able to do in 2018. In 2018 we watched Bradberry make the pro-bowl on the strength of a season in which he had an overall grade of 79.8. He flashed in coverage with a grade of 79.9.
Bradberry also added value in run defense, with a 71.9 grade, again showing he is no pass rusher with a 50.2 grade. Managing to rack up 18 deflections, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Having two guys like Slay, and Bradberry in the secondary certainly has improved the outlook of the Eagles going forward.
Last Word On James Bradberry
If not for the Giants releasing him, and allowing the move of Bradberry to Philadelphia, the Eagles might have turned to Maddox. This could have caused other issues with their nickel back position. Adding Bradberry solidifies three different positions in the secondary. Safety, cornerback, and nickelback. Maddox is a guy who can be your primary nickel back or add value as a third safety as well. We could even see him start at free safety, and shift into the slot at times.
Adding Bradberry was a necessary move for a team trying to surround Jalen Hurts with a playoff-caliber roster. At times the defense showed what it could be with the proper talent inserted, and now in 2022, the talent has improved at every level. If this defense can live up to the hype and produce more turnover-worthy plays in 2022, that could benefit Hurts in more ways than one.
The Eagles now have built a roster ready to contend, and still manage to stave off the onset of father time at certain positions by bringing in players like Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Cam Jergens, and Aj Brown. Now it remains to be seen if these moves add up to a roster built to contend with the defending champions.