Niche Abilities Provide Douglas an Edge
While Eagles training camp will feature very few open competitions for starting jobs, the same can't be said for the cornerback position.
Depending on how open the coaching staff (or the front office) makes it, five or six corners could battle it out for two/three spots.
In the experience department, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are the veterans of the group. When it comes to potential, the organization may see the highest ceilings in Avonte Maddox and Sidney Jones.
What about Rasul Douglas? Does the third-year corner have any advantage over the other five corners competing for playing time? Three niche strengths should provide an edge.
Douglas was a tackling machine when he took over starting outside duties in the final seven games of the season. From Week 13-16, the 2017 third round pick led the defense in tackles.
The ability to come down hill and make plays in the screen game, and against the run made him Pro Football Focus's #1 ranked tackling and run stopping CB from Week 12-on.
Douglas had five tackles for a loss in the last five weeks of the season.
In a defensive scheme that features corners playing off the ball, the ability to finish tackles is crucial. Douglas was better at that than anyone last year.
At 6'2, Douglas has at least two inches on the rest of the CB group. His near-77 inch wingspan makes him a perfect match-up against bigger, more physical receivers.
This size and length can significantly help with tackling, press coverage at the line, coverage in the red-zone, leverage, and making plays on the ball.
The play below against Kelvin Benjamin is a perfect display of how Douglas uses his size to go toe to toe with a 6'5 receiver.
Despite starting just 12 games in his first two seasons, Douglas leads the Eagles in interceptions the last two seasons with five. That includes a team-high three in 2018.
Five interceptions could nearly be seven if these two plays were finished in 2017.
This nose for the football isn't new. In his final season with West Virginia, Douglas led the NCAA in interceptions with eight.
Consistently putting himself in the right position in zone defense and the ability to track the ball are two unique strengths in the Eagles secondary that have showed up on big stages (see interceptions against Dallas and Washington last year.)
Will he get a fair chance?
These niche strengths, on top of a strong finish in 2018 (PFF's 7th highest graded CB from Week 12 and on) would normally make the 23-year old a favorite to win one of the starting outside CB spots.
However, Jim Schwartz elected to hand Darby his job back in 2017 despite Douglas performing very well in the first half off the season. The Eagles brought Darby back with a contract up to $8 million.
Schwartz also seemingly refused to put Douglas in last season until injuries gave him no choice. Even Dexter McDougle saw more snaps in the beginning of the season.
There are five other corners that have also flashed so Douglas is in a tough spot. Starting or not, he has a clear advantage in tackling, turnover ability, and size over the others.
Time will tell if the Eagles take advantage of that.