Malcolm Jenkins may have selfish reasons for wanting the Eagles to draft a cornerback in the first round, but the veteran safety sees what most NFL observers see, and not just because he has an distinctive vantage point.
"That's been kind of one of the hot topics over the last couple of seasons is consistency at the corner position," Jenkins said Monday, stating the obvious. "We're asking them to do a lot. It's a tough place to be at in this defense. And I know we're searching for a true No. 1 corner to really hold up."
The Eagles haven't had a legitimate No. 1 corner since Asante Samuel, but even he wouldn't have been an ideal fit in Jim Schwartz's scheme. Poor drafts and even worse free-agent signings - both expensive and from the bargain bin - have been the primary causes for this five-year-long dilemma.
But the Eagles also haven't expended a first round pick on the position since they took Lito Sheppard with the 26th overall selection 15 years ago. This year, the Eagles have the No. 14 pick in a draft that is being billed as one of the deepest at cornerback in many years.
It's unclear if that depth will push Howie Roseman to pull the lever on one of the top corners, or whether it will incline the vice president of football operations to wait later to address the position. But Jenkins, who typically isn't shy about speaking his mind, clearly wants the Eagles to take the former route.
"I'd love to get a [defensive back]," Jenkins said.
Aside from the obvious hole at cornerback, he has his reasons.
1. Jenkins and fellow safety Rodney McLeod need help in the secondary.
2. And the top two corner prospects, according to most analysts, are Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley - both products of Jenkins' alma mater, Ohio State.
"I'd love to get Conley because I don't think Lattimore will be there," Jenkins said. "We need corners and I need another Buckeye on the team."
Jenkins is certainly biased. He said he hasn't studied any other corners in the draft, like Kevin King, Marlon Humphrey, Tre'Davious White, Adoree' Jackson, or Quincy Wilson. And as much as the Eagles respect the 29-year-old safety, they're not basing their draft on his evaluations and preferences.
But Jenkins watches every Ohio State game. He knows what it takes to play cornerback in the NFL. He was drafted as one and spent his first few seasons there. And he knows what a No. 14 overall pick looks like, having once been one.
Lattimore, though, should be gone by the time the Eagles choose. The 6-foot, 193-pound corner is a "true press man-to-man corner," as Jenkins pointed out, who has elite athleticism to go with his length.
That leaves Conley - perhaps. He could go in the first 13 picks, as well. But the 6-0, 195-pound corner played in the shadow of Lattimore, not to mention potential top-10 safety Malik Hooker, and could be devalued because of their proficiency last season.
Jenkins admitted that he thought Hooker would become the best professional of the three. "He was the one guy within three games of watching him, I'm like, 'OK, he's going to be a high commodity,' " the safety said. But with Conley, Jenkins said he saw a prospect who impressed upon each viewing.
"He can press, but I think he's more of a technician," Jenkins said. "He probably plays zone a little bit better. He reminds me kind of a Richard Sherman-type of style player, where when the ball's down the field, he's always in good position."
Last week, Joe Douglas, the Eagles' vice president of player personnel, gushed over Conley's speed and length, but he also noted that he was "one of the best leaders" on Ohio State's team. In the modern NFL, cornerback has increasingly become a position in which a prospect's mental makeup is almost as important as his physical skills.
"It is probably the toughest position next to quarterback to play," Douglas said. "You have to be an outstanding athlete and you have to be resilient. You have to be mentally tough. These wide receivers are going to break you down and you have to be able to bounce back."
As a result, it has been one of the tougher positions to project, as Roseman can certainly attest. In the last 10 drafts, 14 corners were taken among the first 14 picks. Only three - Darrelle Revis, Joe Haden and Patrick Peterson - developed into perennial Pro Bowlers. And there have been major disappointments like Trae Waynes, Justin Gilbert, and Dee Milliner.
"In college, you play four or five legitimate receivers in the whole season," Jenkins said, "where this year I feel like every team that we play has a No. 1, big-time name."
That is why Schwartz places a premium upon a corner's psychological toughness. The Eagles defensive coordinator asks a lot of his corners. They have to press at the line the majority of the time and they often have to be able to make plays on the ball down the field in single coverage because Schwartz's safeties may have other responsibilities.
It's no surprise, then, that starters Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll, who both left this offseason, struggled last season. Jalen Mills is the only returning corner with extensive experience in the defense, but the rookie was inconsistent. Jenkins said he likes Mills' confidence, but that didn't stop him from still pointing out the need for a bona fide No. 1 corner.
Asked if he could describe Schwartz's ideal corner, Jenkins drew a blank.
"I haven't played with one yet," Jenkins said. "The demand is high."