The Philadelphia Eagles pickup of C.J. Gardner-Johnson is getting a lot of attention around the league, and one NFC Scouting Director believes the versatile defensive back is a perfect fit for defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s defense.
“It really comes down to the philosophy of the defensive coordinator,” the scouting director told Heavy NFL Insider Matt Lombardo. “If you’re going to be playing a little more man-coverage, and your pressure is going to come from your front-four, then your slot corner has to mirror what the defense is; he has to be smart, he has to be fast, he has to be physical, and above all else, instinctive. That’s what Gardner-Johnson is.”
After speaking with a the scouting director and a former NFL general manager, Lombardo believed the trade could go down as one of the most impactful moves in the league made in the preseason. It was all made possible by the gap in value in the NFL between safeties and slot cornerbacks. The Eagles view Gardner-Johnson as a safety and a versatile weapon, whereas the Saints would only have been able to use him as a slot corner.
It also helps that the former Florida Gator seems to fit perfectly into the personnel group the Eagles already have, and could round things out and make it an elite unit.
Gardner-Johnson Upgrades Eagles Secondary
“The Eagles were probably trying to find a way to be a shut down on the back-end defense,” the scouting director suggested. “They have James Bradberry, they have Darius Slay on the outside, it’s about them playing their best five defensive backs. They found their best five.”
Along with Slay and Bradberry locking down the outside cornerback spots, Avonte Maddox is expected to be the slot corner with Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps at the safety positions. Both Maddox and Gardner-Johnson have enough flexibility to be somewhat interchangeable, though.
Eagles Defensive Scheme Benefits From Versatility
That plays into the Eagles plans perfectly, as head coach Nick Sirianni explained that both slot corners and safeties play deep zone coverage when the field is split into halves and thirds, as well as playing in the box.
“So, there are some interchangeable parts and some looks that we show that for us as a defense that make us multiple,” Sirianni said in his August 30 press conference. “When you give the offense an answer now, like if the offense knows what you’re in and what you’re doing, it’s easier for them to pick you apart.”
So the Eagles place a premium on using versatility to disguise coverages and keep opponents guessing. According to the NFC scouting director, Gardner-Johnson’s skillset is a perfect match.
“The Eagles are going to be playing a little more zone,” the scouting director said. “You can take Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and play him in the box, if he has to cover a tight end in man-coverage, or you can have him play the field because of his range to get over the top of a route if they’re playing cover-two, or if you’re in cover-three, he can be a curl-flat defender and go make a play because he’s a solid tackler.”
It remains to be seen whether the Eagles will be able to get their first look at Gardner-Johnson’s versatility in game action week one, given the limited time to get him ready in his new scheme. But head coach Nick Sirianni seems optimistic the newcomer will be able to make the start on September 11.