Why the Eagles must find a role for Rasul Douglas

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Sidney Jones got the nod over Rasul Douglas as the Eagles’ opening day cornerback opposite Ronald Darby, and Jones has definitely come a long way since missing virtually all of his rookie year and then missing a good chunk of last year.

He had a terrific training camp and finally looked like the guy the Eagles had in mind when they made him the 43rd pick in the 2017 draft.

This isn’t about Jones. He can play. He’s earned this.

It’s about another product of that 2017 Eagles draft, Douglas.

In limited playing time so far, Douglas has proven to be quite a ball hawk.

When Doug Pederson announced Monday that Jones and Darby will start at corner and Avonte Maddox will be the nickel, he did say there will be a role for Douglas.

The numbers say there should be.

In his two NFL seasons, Douglas has produced one of the highest interception rates in the league in terms of defensive snaps played.

Despite limited playing time, Douglas has five interceptions the last two years. All the other Eagles cornerbacks combined have eight — four each for Darby and Patrick Robinson, three for Jalen Mills, two for Maddox.

But here’s the really impressive thing about Douglas: He’s played only 966 snaps during that span, or an average of about 32 per game.

There are 47 players in the NFL with at least five interceptions over the last two years, and of those 47 Douglas has the seventh-best ratio of interceptions per defensive snap played.

Four of the six players ahead of Douglas have made at least one Pro Bowl, and all of them have been regular starters, unlike Douglas, who has started just 12 games in his career.

Here’s a look at the 10 NFL leaders in interceptions per defensive snap played since opening day 2017.

(For instance, Xavien Howard and Damontae Kazee averaged an interception every 165 plays.)

165 (1,280 snaps, 11 INTs), Xavien Howard, Dolphins
165 (1,154 snaps, 7 INTs), Damontae Kazee, Falcons
167 (1,338 snaps, 8 INTs), Duron Harmon, Patriots
171 (1,025 snaps, 6 INTs), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Packers/Redskins
176 (1,939 snaps, 11 INTs), Darius Slay, Lions                  
177 (2,128 snaps, 12 INTs), Kevin Byard, Titans
193 (966 snaps, 5 INTs), Rasul Douglas, Eagles
225 (1,800 snaps, 8 INTs), Damarious Randall, Packers/Browns
226 (2,030 snaps, 9 INTs), Kyle Fuller, Bears            
227 (2,047 snaps, 9 INTs), Jordan Poyer, Bills         

(Poyer was the Eagles’ seventh-round pick in 2013 but played only three games here before getting released late in his rookie year to make room for running back Matthew Tucker.)

This isn’t to say Douglas would have twice as many interceptions if he played twice as many snaps. But it’s clear that the 24-year-old former West Virginia Mountaineer has a knack for playmaking.

Who will forget the Falcons game on opening day last year, when Darby left the field for one play early in the fourth quarter with a minor injury, Douglas replaced him for one play, Matt Ryan went right after him trying to hit Julio Jones near the end zone and Douglas picked him off at the 4-yard line?

On his only snap of the game?

It's interesting to note that Douglas so far has picked off both Dak Prescott and Ryan, who are among the stingiest QBs throwing interceptions in NFL history.

Douglas isn’t the fastest cornerback in the world, but he’s always around the ball, he’s the best tackling corner the Eagles have had since Sheldon Brown, and he’s in better shape now than he’s ever been.

Darby didn’t play at all in the preseason and hasn’t played since tearing his ACL last November, so you would think his playing time might be limited, at least early in the season. That should give Douglas some opportunities.

But the one thing that’s clear is that when Douglas is on the field, good things happen.

The Eagles are 15-6 over the last two years when Douglas gets at least 10 snaps, and they’re 4-1 when he has an interception, with the only loss coming last December in Dallas in overtime.

Douglas is the No. 1 playmaker in the Eagles’ secondary. In fact, over the last decade the only Eagles corners with more interceptions than Douglas are Asante Samuel and Brandon Boykin.

Only eight corners in Eagles history have had more interceptions in their first two seasons — only three the last 40 years (Roynell Young, Eric Allen and Boykin).

Only two corners who entered the league in 2017 — first-round picks Marshawn Lattimore of the Saints and TreDavious White of the Bills — have more interceptions than Douglas.

I don’t know what role Jim Schwartz and Cory Undlin have in mind for Douglas. 

I do know he has to have one.

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