This past March, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Cary Williams to a three-year $17 million contract. Williams was brought to Philadelphia to replace Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the worst free agent signings in franchise history, and to help rebuild a beleaguered secondary.
While defensive back remains one of the team’s greatest weaknesses, the rebuilding plan is working. Per footballoutsiders.com, the Eagles ranked last in the NFL against the pass in 2012 and have risen to 24th in the league in 2013. The pass defense has shown nominal improvement, but the credit should not go to Williams, one of the worst cover corners in the league. Rather, the unheralded play of Brandon Boykin is most responsible for the improvement, and his performance against the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday may decide the game.
Quietly, Boykin has emerged as the NFL’s best slot corner grading out in the top-5 amongst all corners in pass coverage on profootballfocus.com. This grade would likely fall if he played a full complement of snaps, and his -3.2 grade against the run is a liability. Regardless, he is clearly playing at a higher level than the Eagles’ other corners. Bradley Fletcher has been functional, not special, posting a 0.5 overall grade, and Cary Williams’ -5.6 overall grade indicates that he is not much better than Asomugha.
Boykin will likely play a critical role logging heavy snaps against the Cowboys this Sunday. Dallas utilizes more three-receiver sets than most NFL teams, and despite an avalanche of criticism for not running the ball frequently during the season, the Cowboys’ play-calling has been heavily weighted toward pass plays. In these situations, Boykin will be asked to cover either Cole Beasley or Miles Austin, who most often line up in the slot. While the two combined for three catches for 38 yards last week against the Washington Redskins, the duo saw eight targets against the Green Bay Packers in Week 14 and 10 targets in the Eagles-Cowboys first matchup in Week 7.
In all likelihood, Brandon Boykin will be asked to defend a heavy number of passes on critical downs on Sunday. His quality performances this season suggest that he will be up for the challenge.