Could Joselio Hanson be the odd man out?
The roster cuts at cornerback are particularly interesting because there's such a mish-mash of styles, experience levels and upside among the group. Unlike at linebacker, for example, where most of the decision comes down to the last spot, there are three or four different potential combinations of players the Eagles could end up with in Week 1.
Predicting cornerback this year is tough because there are so many unknown factors. Most importantly, we don't know how much Todd Bowles and the rest of the defensive coaches view the position.
Let's start, where else, with the starters. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie make a formidable pair of corners. I'm optimistic, especially about DRC, now that he's in his normal spot on the outside. Hopefully Juan Castillo will use Asomugha better this year, and he'll show a return to his Pro Bowl form of 2009.
The only question with Nnamdi is his age. I ran a screen for cornerbacks who, since 1990, started at least 14 games in their age 30 season. That's a set that roughly represents Asomugha's health and skill set as of last year. After that season, the 59 cornerbacks I tracked (excluding active players) started an average of 35 more games in the rest of their career -- 11 at age 31, eight and a half at 32, six at 33, and declining further beyond that. Note that such numbers include games started at safety, where many older corners finish their careers.
While we don't yet know how Asomugha will hold up going forward, both in skill and health, this may be a good guide for estimating his longevity: don't count on him being a starting-caliber corner beyond another year or two. That affects how you decide who to cut around him.
After the starters, there are two young players who will definitely make the team: Curtis Marsh and Brandon Boykin. But how far along they have come will greatly impact the final open spots. Ideally, Marsh and Boykin would be the third and fourth cornerbacks, with the former outside and the latter taking over the slot. However, it's not at all clear that they are ready for such responsibility.
That leaves a big question mark next to the name of Joselio Hanson. Going into training camp, Hanson was on the outside looking in. He was cut last year (before being re-signed at a discount) and then the team drafted his replacement in Boykin. Plus, last year the Eagles performed rather miserably in the dime defense -- the formation Hanson was most often involved in.
All that said, it doesn't seem that Boykin has taken hold of the position just yet. Hanson is the only remaining veteran on the depth chart. Can the Eagle afford to ditch him just yet?
If the team stays with only five cornerbacks, Brandon Hughes is the player who could make it instead of Hanson. Hughes is a solid special teams player and has more experience than either Marsh or Boykin, making him a potentially worthwhile addition. On the other hand, his upside isn't as high as either of the other two players, so if he isn't an upgrade on them now, there may not be a spot for him.
Finally, there's Cliff Harris. Before getting injured, the undrafted free agent made headlines in training camp grabbing interceptions left and right. Depending on his return to the field, Harris might be someone you stash on the PUP list as a sixth cornerback instead of risking that he wouldn't make it to the practice squad.
Reading the tea leaves on how Bowles might feel about Hanson, it doesn't seem like the Eagles want to keep the veteran corner around. But I personally haven't seen anything that yet that would make me comfortable with the younger guys getting significant playing time.
The easiest way to project cuts is to be safe, and assume that the team goes heavy on cornerbacks with six players, keeping Hanson and Hughes. Harris will probably make it to the practice squad. That's what I'm leaning toward right now, although tomorrow I may be back on the bandwagon for ditching Hanson. Note that the youngsters could make the decision a lot easier by playing well in the next two preseason games.