Eagles Giving Corey Nelson the Opportunity to Shed Labels
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Corey Nelson had an opportunity to stay with the Denver Broncos, the team that drafted him and gave him the chance at something the Dallas native believed died during his senior season at Oklahoma, an NFL career.
Nelson, 25, suffered a serious pec injury during his senior season with the Sooners and when agents weren't exactly trying to get his attention as a client, Nelson started thinking about other career paths.
“I didn’t even have an agent when we went to the Sugar Bowl in 2014,” Nelson explained at the NovaCare Complex Thursday after signing a one-year deal in free agency. “... I remember I was supposed to have an agent in like a week, but I didn’t have one. I was focused on regular job, broadcast media. I was very serious about turning away football, but God had other plans for me and here I am.”
The Broncos took a stab at Nelson in the seventh round of the 2014 draft at No. 242 overall and he slowly turned into one of Denver's most important special teams weapons with the versatility to wear many hats on its coverage teams.
Denver wanted Nelson back and offered to match the $2.25 million the Eagles anted up to get him but Nelson chose a different path because of an added opportunity.
While Philadelphia certainly wants Nelson to keep tearing it up on special teams, it also wants him to compete at weakside linebacker.
Right now that position is penciled in as the third LB in Jim Schwartz's defense with Jordan Hicks and the recently re-upped Nigel Bradham as the Eagles' two three-down linebackers.
In today's NFL with the proliferation of spread offenses and 11 personnel dotting the landscape, that third LB position will only play 25 to 35 percent of the defensive snaps.
The current "starter," Mychal Kendricks, makes too much money to be a sub-package player and really doesn't help on special teams, something backup LBs need to do.
An NFL source confirmed to 973espn.com that the Eagles are trying to move Kendricks with the intent of Nelson taking over the WILL role in the base defense.
The Eagles specifically targeted Nelson on the first day of free agency as a bargain who could fill the role and that's what lured him to Philadelphia.
“The Broncos are a great organization,” he said. “Nothing against them whatsoever, I just wanted to break the mold of me being a second-string linebacker. I didn’t want to have that title. I kind of wanted to go out on a limb and show people I can be a starter in this league. The Eagles gave me the opportunity to compete and try to earn that right."
Eschewing the label as just a backup or a special teams maven was also important to Nelson.
"I Know a lot of guys get labeled certain things, like practice squad guys get labeled practice squad guys," he explained. "I have to be able to showcase my talent and show I’m better than what they think you are and be able to handle it.”
Nelson is still rehabbing from a torn biceps that ended his 2017 season after just five games but the 6-footer said his up to about 235 pounds and ballparked himself as 90 percent back from the injury right now, which means he should be close to a full go when the Eagles start OTAs.
“I’m excited, I’m ready to get to work and I’m ready to grind,” said Nelson.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen