The Eagles have signed cornerback Steven Nelson to a one-year deal, the team announced on Sunday, answering their question at the No. 2 cornerback spot in a big way.
Nelson, 28-years old, was the best free-agent cornerback on the market, and in many ways the Eagles last real chance at solving the position without making a trade.
The 5-foot-11, 194-pound cornerback has played in 82 games in his career, starting 68, totaling 253 tackles, 53 pass deflections, and seven interceptions. Although he has spent some time lined up as the nickel cornerback, Nelson has spent the majority of his time on the outside, which is exactly where he will line up for the Eagles.
Why Nelson remained unsigned this late isn’t clear. He did have a bit of a down year in 2020, but Pro Football Focus still had Nelson as the 27th best coverage cornerback in the NFL, which was actually 13 spots higher than they had Darius Slay (40th).
In 2019, however, Nelson showed the kind of lockdown corner he can be. Nelson allowed only 37 catches for 491 yards and zero touchdowns in 2019, giving up a passer rating of just 65.8 when targeted. He finished the 2019 season as the 11th best coverage corner in the NFL, per PFF, and is the 11th best cornerback overall since 2019 (including 2020).
One of Nelson’s best qualities, in addition to his durability, his is ability to stay close to his receiver. At one point in 2019 Nelson had a “burn rate” of 0%, meaning at no point in the first 12 weeks of that season did a receiver have more than five yards of separation on him. He was considered the best cornerback in the NFL in 2018 at sticking with the receiver he was covering. His ability to maintain tight coverage is why he has never allowed a 60% or higher completion percentage when being targeted in season throughout his entire career.
Now with the Eagles, he will start opposite Darius Slay, filling the last real need on their defense.
You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org!