It’s not very often that a talented early-to-mid-round prospect falls to the tail end of the 7th round. In fact, there are really only a few circumstances that would justify such a slip: either (A) the prospect suffered an injury that has teams weary of banking a more valuable pick on someone that might not see the field for the foreseeable future, or (B) said prospect has had an off-the-field incident (or incidents) that has caused his stock to drop, as most franchises are understandably skeptical of investing in a player with character concerns.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s 7th round selection, Jalen Mills, is associated with both the former and the latter. He missed a handful of games in 2015 after fracturing his fibula and tearing ligaments in his ankle during a preseason practice. Although Mills did return to finish the season, starting the final 5 games, the fairly significant injury did occur less than a year ago. Still, the promising four-year starter’s production on the field was largely overshadowed by an accusation of battery against a woman in 2014. Despite the charge being dropped as a result of his completing a pretrial diversion program (a program that required Mills to pay the victim’s medical bills, among other things), that type of baggage sticks around, especially when considering the number of domestic violence-related issues the league has encountered over the past few years.
Given these glaring red flags, drafting Mills seems like an unlikely gamble for an Eagles team that has managed to avoid off-the-field drama, right? Well, not exactly. You see, ‘Captain Culture’ himself (aka ex-Eagles coach/GM Charles Kelly) is no longer around to dictate the personality of the team. Kelly, to a fault, seemed to value a player’s propensity to follow rules and never question authority almost more than he valued a player’s talent. The selection of Jalen Mills, along with Alex McCalister and Wendell Smallwood, however, are indicative of a clear shift in the front office’s philosophy on building a winning team. Guys with warning labels plastered all over their resumes are not entirely off limits, provided both executive VP of football operations, Howie Roseman, and first-year head coach, Doug Pederson, believe they can handle themselves in a professional manner going forward.
Adding Mills, purely based on potential, is a no-brainer. What the Eagles have acquired is a versatile defensive back that has experience outside, in the slot and at safety. The 6’0”, 191 lb. former LSU Tiger is a consistent and sound tackler that finished his college career with 216 total tackles, 6 interceptions and 11 pass breakups. He should add immediate depth to an Eagles secondary that is currently comprised of two sure-starters at safety, a promising second-year outside CB and a whole lot of uncertainty. Mills will have the opportunity to compete for the primary nickel spot, along with a host of others, and as a backup to Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Ironically enough, his build reminds me of former Eagle Walter Thurmond (who, as a career slot corner showed he was more than capable of playing safety last season).
While the 2014 accusation against him is as unfortunate as it is uncomfortable, it is important to remember that there was no definitive proof of guilt. Assuming Mills is not the monster various members of the media have made him out to be, the Eagles might have just unearthed a diamond in the rough that can contribute to this team for years to come.