A new theme is emerging from the Eagles’ front office decisions. In the middle rounds, it’s clear the personnel department look at three specific criteria; athleticism, special teams performance and recruit-status (more on that when I’ve done the Josh Sweat scouting report). Just like Mack Hollins, Avonte Maddox ticks the first two boxes. Personally, I’d prefer a more productive corner in the fourth-round, but you have to know Dave Fipp gave Roseman that look that terrifies even the hardiest of men, and he just couldn’t say no. Let’s take a look at Maddox’s strengths and weaknesses.

Where he thrives
Throughout Jalen Mills’s tumultuous rookie season, the Eagles’ coaching staff emphasised his competitive streak and resiliency. Patience ultimately paid off, as the Green Goblin’s improvement helped the Eagles win Super Bowl VII. Jim Schwartz, toward the end of 2016, mentioned that, “the no.1 criteria to play cornerback is that you have to be a competitor”. During the same season, just down the road at Pitt, Avonte Maddox was being torn to shreds in Pat Narduzzi’s scheme. Playing cover four and cover 0 predominantly, leaving him without safety help, Maddox was exposed consistently. Despite giving up big plays, he never quit. Frequently he’d respond to allowing a big play with a pass deflection, showing a goldfish-like memory for previous plays. That mentality, combined with his work ethic, made him an attractive proposition to Jim Schwartz.

As well as competing down after down, Maddox is also highly competitive at the catch point. Although he stands at only about 5-foot-9, he’s got great hops. When he’s at least even with a receiver down the field, the former Pitt Panther has a strong chance of making the play. Maddox shows good timing, targeting a receiver’s hands at the right moment. A combination of his leaping ability and timing make him an effective redzone corner, capable of challenging bigger receivers in scoring territory. Maddox did not align in the slot very often at all in college, but he has some of the tools to suggest he’s capable of making the transition.

Ultimately, however, the Eagles emphasised special teams with this mid-round selection. Dave Fipp cannot have been pleased with the regression of the unit in 2017, after a spectacular first season. Maddox excels as a vice (the corner covering gunners on special teams returns), using his athleticism in the open-field to seal opponents in space. If he is active on gamedays, expect him out on the field when the ferocious front four force another punt. Maddox should also make an effective gunner himself. He shows good form as a tackler, and possesses the long speed to get down the field in a hurry.

Watch how Maddox sustains this block from the vice position …

Where he struggles
While Maddox possesses the requisite athletic ability, his technique is incredibly raw. He also lacks any sustained experience manning the slot. Three characteristics are essential for the position in the NFL; foot quickness, hand usage and physicality. Let’s go through each and see how he fares.

Foot quickness and transition
With the proliferation of shifty slot receivers, nickel corners have to possess incredible change of direction ability to stand a chance in the pros. Although his athletic testing suggests he’s capable, Maddox struggled consistently to maintain his balance at the top of routes. He really struggled defending curls and comebacks, as well as deeper in-break routes. Part of the problem is poor technique, he gets way too high in his backpedal at times and struggles to stay under control. The other issue is poor anticipation, Maddox frequently overcommits to subtle fakes at the top of routes and off the line.

Hand usage
Maddox is also incredibly raw with his hand usage, despite spending much of his time aligning in press at Pitt. Perhaps he was coached against making contact with receivers, but that would be odd with the college rules the way they are. As well as struggling with routes breaking in the 10-15 yard range, Maddox also had issues in the short game over the middle of the field. Combined with the aforementioned lack of anticipation, an inability to use his inside arm to disrupt timing left him vulnerable to crossing routes and slants. Generally, he made the tackle after the catch, but his straight-line speed won’t be enough to bail him out in the pros. As I mentioned, Maddox did not line up in the slot particularly frequently, but the results when he did were not especially pretty.

Physicality
Perhaps my biggest concern with Maddox’s game is a lack of evident physicality and instincts. Robinson made an underrated contribution in the box last season, and his departure is concerning for the Eagles’ physicality against the run. Maddox appears tentative at times against blockers, when he even reads the play adequately. A player of his athletic ability should be more effective against screens, but an inability to diagnose efficiently prohibits Maddox in that regard. That was on the perimeter at Pittsburgh too, he should expect a bigger challenge in the NFL.

Overall
Maddox is a project. It seems we should come to expect underachieving athletes who can contribute on special teams with the Eagles’ fourth round picks. It might not be a strategy I agree with, but at least there is joined up thinking in the front office. Maddox’s tape is underwhelming. As well as the issues already mentioned, he doesn’t locate the ball expertly, which might see him penalised regularly in the NFL. I’m also not sure Maddox is a perfect fit in the Eagles’ diverse coverage scheme. He’s going to need a ton of time to develop the requisite zone awareness to be trusted on the field. At least Maddox can contribute on special teams right away.

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