When the Eagles drafted Avonte Maddox in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, the goal was to develop a top-tier slot cornerback.
In Mike Tyson's parlance, the Philadelphia defense got punched in the mouth a little too often in Maddox's first three seasons, however, forcing the Detroit native to show off his versatility at times as circumstance made sure the original plan kept getting pushed back.
It wasn’t until 2021 and a new defensive regime that Maddox was finally able to settle into his projected position and excel to the point he was rewarded with a second contract in-season, a three-year, $22.5 million extension which is not exactly chump change for the often devalued inside CB position.
Maddox ended up the 2021 season graded as the 23rd best CB in the NFL and one of the best nickel CBs in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
Entering the 2022 campaign, PFF tabbed Maddox as a top-ten slot CB at No. 9 overall in a landscape where Indianapolis’ Kenny Moore is thought to be the standard by most, and here on the Eagles Today list of 25 best players in Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh product finished at No. 14 overall.
The process behind the list started with Eagles Today site publisher Ed Kracz and staff writer John McMullen putting together their top 25 lists independent of each other’s and then assigning point values, with 25 points awarded to the player ranked first on each list, 24 to the player ranked second, and so on, with one point going to the player that was put 25th.
The highest ranking from either reporter broke any ties in the balloting.
Maddox finished with 23 votes, the same number as Nos. 15 and 16, Landon Dickerson and Miles Sanders, respectively, but took the highest spot in the tiebreaking procedure.
Kracz had Maddox as the 12th best player on Nick Sirianni’s team after his productive 2021 campaign. According to McMullen, he was No. 17 overall.
Maddox arrived in Philadelphia after a stellar career at outside CB in college with Pitt but his size – 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds – comes with some limitations at the pro level and the Eagles drafted him with the intent of moving him inside.
It just took a while to make that permanent.
Maddox bounced around the secondary over his first three seasons. He went from free safety and outside corner out of necessity as a rookie in 2018 to the slot in 2019, where he showed tremendous progression, and then back outside for 2020 which was a major step back.
The versatility was much-ballyhooed as a rookie.
To be honest, though, Maddox struggled more often than not at safety but persevered and the splashes were good enough that some outside the organization were still talking about moving him to there before veteran Jaquiski Tartt was brought in by the Eagles in mid-June.
That was never even a consideration by the team, however, after how well Maddox played in the slot in 2021, where he spent 659 of his 780 defensive snaps, a career-high 65% of the team's defensive total.
Maddox has got an instinctive understanding when it comes to run fits, something very important to inside CBs, and led the NFL in passing stops from the slot with 17 last season per PFF.
Maddox credits veteran Eagles receiver and former college quarterback Greg Ward for helping him understand the slot from an offense's perspective.
“G-Ward has definitely been someone that I talk to in the slot for a while and he’s definitely helped me out," said Maddox."... I talk to G-Ward every day and he’s been in the NFL for a while too and every day we go out and work on one-on-one releases. What do you see here? Or what do you see there? Or how are you gonna release here?
"You just pick little parts off and of course, watching film always helps you.”
That success didn’t come before a failed experiment where the Eagles moved Maddox to outside CB in 2020 with the thought being he excelled there at Pitt so why not see if it worked at the pro level.
GM Howie Roseman would bring up players like Aaron Glenn, the former three-time Pro Bowl CB with the New York Jets and Houston, who excelled outside the numbers despite being similarly sized to Maddox.
The results were a disaster with Maddox graded dead last – No. 121 of 121 – mong eligible CBs by PFF that season.
When the new coaching staff arrived they smartly stuck Maddox inside and left him there.
Moving forward, the Eagles' defense projects to have one of the best CB trios in the NFL come September with veterans Darius Slay and James Bradberry on the outside and Maddox holding down the slot.
“The main two things [on defense], the main two goals are takeaways, that's the biggest one, and then stopping explosive plays,” Maddox said. “We can go ahead and we're gonna focus on our goals and everyone has their individual goals it's coming in as a defense."
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR
No. 25 – Jack Driscoll
No. 24 – Derek Barnett
No. 23 – Kyzir White
No. 22 - Quez Watkins
No. 21 – Jake Elliott
No. 20 – Isaac Seumalo
No. 19 – James Bradberry
No. 18 - Jordan Davis
No. 17 - T.J. Edwards
No. 16 - Miles Sanders
No. 15 - Landon Dickerson
No. 14 - Avonte Maddox
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen