Boykin deserves a shot at starting

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(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images file photo)

Among the many "isms" that can stir emotions in this country, heightism is low on the totem pole and, yes, the pun was intended. Nobody is going to lie down in the street or march in Center City because some short guy did not measure up in the eyes of the boss.

There is, however, a growing sentiment among Eagles fans that the smallest of their favorite team's five cornerbacks is getting a raw deal and that it needs to stop now. Brandon Boykin, listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, is the most popular Eagles cornerback, which after this season is kind of like being the valedictorian in a class of one.

What's puzzling is the reason that Boykin has not been given the opportunity to cover wide receivers on a full-time basis. The Eagles coaches, particularly head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis, will tell you that they consider Boykin, the team's nickel cornerback, a starter. The participation chart will tell you otherwise.

According to league statistics, Boykin took part in 42.7 percent of the team's defensive snaps this season. By contrast, the oft-maligned Bradley Fletcher played 90.4 percent and Cary Williams played 99.2 percent. Neither Davis nor Kelly ever gave a detailed description of why they stuck with Fletcher and Williams instead of turning to Boykin.

Davis did say this earlier in the year: "If you want to start [Boykin] at corner, then you say he's better than Fletch and Cary out there. Obviously we start who we think are the best players at those positions."

The depth chart became even more mystifying Sunday when Nolan Carroll started in place of an injured Fletcher. When Carroll briefly had to leave the game with a minor injury, the Eagles placed rookie Jaylen Watkins at outside cornerback.

If this is a size issue, Boykin believes it is wrong, which makes him right.

"That's nonsense," he said. "There are Pro Bowlers that are smaller than me, so that stigma is stupid, in my opinion. Some of the greatest corners weren't 6-4. Now people want that body type and that doesn't necessarily translate to success. You look at a guy who is 6-4, he probably can't run, he can't change positioning, or he can't jump as high. I don't pay attention to that type of stuff."

His point is legitimate. Miami's Cortland Finnegan is 5-9, Denver's Chris Harris Jr. is 5-10, and Cleveland's Joe Haden is 5-11. They've all been to recent Pro Bowls. The last two Eagles cornerbacks to go to the Pro Bowl were Asante Samuel and Lito Sheppard, both of whom were 5-10.

As Boykin and the rest of the Eagles gathered in the locker room one final time Monday after the late-season collapse that left them out of the playoffs, the third-year cornerback tried to be diplomatic about his typecast role as a slot cornerback even though it is obvious that he does not like it.

His brother Al stirred the pot after the Eagles' loss in Washington when he tweeted that he "highly doubts" Boykin would want to re-sign with the team after being "disrespected." That was in reference to Carroll's being inserted at outside cornerback instead of Boykin after Fletcher was benched following two long completions to Washington wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Boykin has one year left on his rookie contract, so he will not be leaving this offseason.

"Like I said, whatever is meant to be is going to be, no matter when it is," Boykin said. "I'm a firm believer in waiting, working hard, and just being consistent and things will happen like you feel that they should."

Unless they have lost the video of every snap Fletcher played this season, the Eagles will be looking for a starting outside cornerback this offseason. It's possible they'll want to replace Williams, too. Before they start considering outside options, they should take a long look at Boykin because he has already proved he can do the job as a slot cornerback.

In fact, he was the guy who did the best job Sunday of covering Odell Beckham Jr., although it was only when the Giants' star rookie receiver lined up in the slot. Apparently that's where the Eagles think Boykin belongs, and so far they have not been willing to see if he can expand beyond that reduced role.

"I think the perception outside of this locker room is different from what is really going on," Boykin said. "At the same time, there is some truth to some things that are being said and that are happening. In order for us to improve, we all have to evaluate ourselves - me, the coaches, and every player."

After a season in which the Eagles' tallest cornerbacks came up short, it's time for the coaches to have a different evaluation of their shortest one.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob