The Philadelphia Eagles made another shocking transaction on Saturday when they traded away cornerback Brandon Boykin. On the smaller side, Boykin didn't fit Chip Kelly's outside cornerback dimensions. One man's loss is another man's gain, as sixth-round rookie cornerback JaCorey Shepherd found himself operating as the team's starting nickel cornerback.
All signs point to Shepherd being given every opportunity to stick inside at the nickel. Teammate Malcolm Jenkins explained how Shepherd got the news that he would be with the first defense defense. It's an excellent example of how volatile the NFL lifestyle can be.
"He got news last night he was going to be with the ones," Jenkins said after practice, per True Jersey. "The biggest thing with him is, he's been hungry. He's pulled me aside. He's pulled the coaches aside to do extra stuff. He spends extra time in the film room, to learn stuff.
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"He's very, very confident. He has all of the physical attributes to really be successful in the slot. He's smart enough to learn it. We're looking forward to seeing that development over the next few weeks. If it's not him, we have veterans behind him that can play."
It's safe to say the Shepherd's coaching staff in college didn't have the same height requirements at cornerback. Shepherd played on the outside while at Kansas and never moved inside throughout his collegiate career. He will be playing nickel cornerback for the first time with the Eagles, and there is a big adjustment period.
"I didn't play any nickel in college," Shepherd explained after practice to reports, per True Jersey. "It's new for me. It's just the run fills, though. You have to know the play calls that you have run fills for and ones you don't.
"I have to be a lot more courteous of who I'm working with on each play. Whether I'm working with the linebacker or the outside corner. Corner it's usually the corner and the safety working together whereas at nickel I can be working with one, two or all three."
Shepherd had become friends with Boykin in their short time together. According to Shepherd, there is a silver lining in the news. Both players get an opportunity to expand their roles, and Boykin gets the opportunity to compete for an outside cornerback spot. The Steelers don't have the same kind of requirements that Kelly has.
"I look at it as both a blessing for both him and me," Shepherd said of Boykin being dealt. "He gets to go somewhere and do what he wanted to do ... Get an opportunity to play outside corner. For me, it's an opportunity to get early playing time. It does kind of stink not to have someone there as far as someone I could go to for questions, but we do have older guys that have played nickel, too. I can still go to them for help."
Shepherd fell to the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft after running an extremely slow 40-yard dash. Straight-line speed can be masked at the slot cornerback position. The Eagles are hoping that Shepherd proves to be an excellent example of this.
Either way, he has big shoes to fill. During the last two seasons, despite playing fewer than 50 percent of the snaps of a starting outside cornerback in the NFL, Boykin has graded out as one of the top cornerbacks in the league--according to Pro Football Focus. In consecutive seasons, Boykin has allowed just three touchdowns in pass coverage and opposing quarterbacks have never had a higher passer rating than 77.2.
(h/t True Jersey)