The Green Goblin There’s real substance behind cornerback Jalen Mills’ style

“I’m going to put it on the line for you each and every play.”

That was what Jalen Mills told Howie Roseman on April 30, 2016 when the Eagles called to tell the cornerback that he was going to be drafted by the team. Mills was a seventh-round pick, the 233rd overall selection to be exact. Another defensive back was selected by the Eagles one round earlier. It didn’t matter. Mills knew that once he had the stage to showcase his skills he was going to find his way onto a team. He relished the challenge and took it head on.

“That kid,” says defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, “is such a competitor. He’s always fighting. I love him.”

That mindset was cultivated in Dallas, Texas where Mills was raised by a single mother, Kisa, who was such a big basketball fan that she named her youngest of two sons after former NBA player Jalen Rose. Aaron Fletcher first met Jalen while coaching his older brother, Jaquan, at Lancaster (Texas) High School. It didn’t take Fletcher long to realize there was a need for a male role model in Jalen’s life.

“He was looking for attention,” says Fletcher, who is now the cornerbacks coach at the University of Tulsa. “He wanted a male who he respected to be there to cheer for him.”

Initially, Jalen Mills played on offense simply because his brother was a defensive back. Fletcher presented the idea of playing defensive back as a test since you’re essentially doing everything the receiver is doing, only backward.

Again, Mills is not one to shy away from a challenge.

"Tough and competitive,” says Fletcher of Mills. “If you tell him he can’t do something, he’ll do everything he can to prove you wrong.”

Mills made the switch to defense in his junior year of high school and decided to transfer to DeSoto (Texas) High School for his senior year to gain more exposure. He thrived under the bright lights of Friday night football in the state of Texas helping lead his new team to a 10-2 record as a senior. Despite being close to his family, he decided to head to LSU, a school known for producing top-quality defensive backs.

“I just always loved LSU. I wanted to be a part of the passion and energy,” Mills says.

The dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu for a violation of team rules opened the door for Mills to play as a freshman. He was named a first-team freshman All-America after starting all 13 games and finishing fourth on the team with 57 total tackles, while adding two interceptions and five pass breakups. Mills debated entering the NFL Draft after his junior season, but decided to return for one more year. He was a favorite to earn All-America honors, but he broke his ankle in the preseason.

“You want your body to move fast, heal fast, but time is everything,” says Mills, who fought back to return for the final seven games of the year.

The NFL Draft following his final year at LSU served as just another hurdle for Mills to overcome. Analysts rated Mills as a potential second-round pick. He was almost not selected at all.

Mills watched all 253 picks of the draft and took note of the defensive backs who were selected ahead of him. He came to Philadelphia and quickly caught the eyes of the coaching staff in the spring practices.

However, he really turned heads when he reported for Training Camp with what is now his trademark green hair. It started as a joke with a friend. Mills is a big Dragon Ball Z fan and green is his favorite color, so he laughed at the idea until he decided to go for it. It was a hit with the fans, but it also put a bullseye on him.

“Coach (Jim) Schwartz said, ‘If you’re going to wear that green on your hair you better be covering everybody out here.’ There was for sure a target on my back with him,” Mills recalls.

It was Schwartz who nicknamed Mills the Green Goblin.

Mills not only earned a spot on the active roster as a rookie, but tied for fourth on the Eagles’ defense with 10 passes defensed. He finished fifth on the team in total tackles (67). He started two games and played 65 percent of the snaps on defense.

“I know I got a lot better as the season went along. I played with a lot more confidence. I wasn’t second-guessing myself, playing with a lot more energy,” Mills says. “I was being more of myself on the field instead of being timid and being that rookie in the league.”

It was a good start, but he was far from satisfied.

“I do not feel like I’ve arrived. No way. Never. Ever. Not gonna happen,” he says.

The Eagles overhauled the cornerback group in the offseason by drafting two players (Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas), signing a free agent (Patrick Robinson), and trading for another (Ronald Darby).

Mills remains the constant in the group. He leads the team in interceptions (3) and ranks second on the defense in tackles (53) and passes defensed (11). He sparked the Eagles' win over the 49ers with his first career interception return for a touchdown, which earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

“I killed it in the film room in the offseason,” Mills says. “I just watched film, literally almost every day, from last year. I watched myself, the things I did good and the things I did bad and things I can get better on. I watched some of the veterans in the league and studied what they did to play at such a high level.”

He’s risen to every challenge that’s been put in front of him. That toughness has endeared him to Eagles fans. The green hair hasn’t hurt either.

Art Direction by Loraine Griffiths. Photographs by Kiel Leggere. Story by Chris McPherson.

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Philadelphia Eagles

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