The Philadelphia Eagles‘ Brandon Boykin may be the best slot corner in the NFL, but there is no escaping the fact that he is 5-foot-10 (in dress shoes). Boykin is, at best, nine inches shorter than Jimmy Graham, which presents a problem for the Eagles as they prepare to face the New Orleans Saints this Saturday night at 8:10 PM EST.
Before suffering a foot sprain in Week 6, Graham was averaging 7.4 receptions, 118.6 yards, and more than a touchdown per game. After that injury, his snaps were reduced and his production suffered. But recently, his snaps have risen and his foot is reported to be fully healed.
The Eagles’ defense simply has no answer for an upper echelon tight end at full health. Last week, Jason Witten posted a 12 catch, 135 yard stat line against them. Other than Witten, Philadelphia has faced few elite tight ends in 2013. Alas, Mychal Rivera, Andrew Quarrles and Chase Ford do not elicit fear in their competition. But back in Week 2, they faced Antonio Gates, who shredded the Eagles’ secondary for eight catches and 124 yards. Indeed, the Eagles’ recent track record against all pro-caliber tight ends is atrocious.
To slow down Graham, opposing teams need to be creative. The more successful defenses often assign both a linebacker and safety to bracket the him over the middle. Other teams, like the New England Patriots, assign their top cornerback to shadow Graham on every snap. Because Philadelphia lacks an established shutdown corner, expect outside linebacker Connor Barwin to jam Graham at the line of scrimmage before passing him to Boykin.
Boykin has been one of the best cover corners in the NFL, ranking second in league with six interceptions despite playing less snaps than most of his peers. He has the necessary speed to run with any receiver and is known for flashing an effortless “hip flip” in order to stay with receivers through double-moves. Although he is one of the league’s shorter corners, he is a former slam dunk contest champion who can out-jump most wide receivers with his 42.5 inch vertical leap. In fact, Boykin has more explosive leaping ability than Graham. Boykin’s altitude (height + vertical leap) is 112.5 inches compared to Graham’s 117.5 inch altitude.
Despite Boykin’s extreme athleticism, the Eagles cannot avoid their vulnerability over the middle and up the seam. Expect the Saints to target Graham 10-plus times on Saturday. If he produces like Witten and Gates, then the Eagles must limit the production of the Saints’ other receivers or risk being dominated on their home field.