Looking back on the Chip Kelly era will always be a painful experience for the Philadelphia Eagles fanbase. The negatives ultimately outweigh the positives, but his parting gift in Jordan Hicks will always be something we’ll thank him for.
Hicks was the Eagles third round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. That was Kelly’s first and last draft where he was in complete control of the outcome. Hicks was clearly the best choice of that draft and a franchise cornerstone caliber of player.
To many who were aware of Hicks’ collegiate career at Texas, they were aware of the talent he possessed. The issue wasn’t production for Hicks at Texas, but rather his glaring durability concerns.
Hicks finally earned a starting spot as weakside linebacker for Mack Brown’s Longhorns his junior season. Unfortunately the injury bug had to rain on his parade. After starting the first three games of the 2012 season, Hicks missed the rest of the team’s season due to a hip flexor injury.
After being granted a medical redshirt season, Hicks again was lost to a season ending injury during the 2013 season after rupturing his left Achilles’ tendon four games into the season.
The offseasons heading into the 2013 and 2014 seasons for Hicks was filled with rehabbing the injuries he suffered in the season prior, yet he was still able to provide the Longhorns with a senior season to remember.
Hicks started every game of his senior season in 2014. He ended the season with 116 tackles, three and a half sacks and two interceptions. The potential he showed in that season alone, especially given the fact he was the prize of Brown’s 2010 recruiting class, showed an athlete tapping into his potential after devastating unfortunate events that derailed what looked to be a very promising collegiate career in it’s entirety.
Kelly bet on Hick continuing to reach that potential at the pro-level and wasn’t afraid to use his third pick of the draft on the oft-injured linebacker.
Hicks may of not have been rehabbing entering the 2015 offseason, but he was the rookie learning the ropes of a defensive system that demands a lot of their players given the pace of Kelly’s offense, so the whirlwind he most likely was in shouldn’t be overlooked. Still Hicks stepped up unexpectedly, but his motor and talent capabilities is what got him into live game action his rookie year.
Injuries to ex-Eagle Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks is what gave Hicks the opportunity to shine with the spotlight on him, and that’s exactly what he did. In five starts, Hicks posted 50 tackles (averaging ten a game, if you can comprehend basic math skills), one sack and two interceptions after being lost for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral.
Those five starts gave the Eagles fans and organization enough of a glimpse of how special a player like Hicks will be.
Hicks entered the 2016 offseason in familiar territory – rehabbing a season-ending injury. This alone put Hicks at a disadvantage, but then take into account the fact he was named a starter at MIKE linebacker, but also had to learn a new system as well in Jim Schwartz’s scheme, which isn’t incredibly friendly to linebackers given the wide-nine stance.
Still Hicks exceeded expectations and was able to stay on the field for all 16 games. He finished the season with 85 tackles, one sack and led the team in interceptions having five of them.
Hicks happens to be the first linebacker since Jack Ham to record 11 or more takeaways in his first 24 games. He also is the fifth linebacker in NFL history to have seven interceptions in his first two seasons.
I’m aware not a lot of football fans prefer taking ProFootballFocus grades and systems as gospel, but according to their ratings in total coverage, Hicks forced the lowest quarterback rating in coverage of all the linebackers in the NFL (53.7).
Entering the 2017 offseason, Hicks will not be rehabbing from a season-ending injury, which he’ll be the first to tell you is huge for his development entering year three.
“It’s huge to get a full year of just really the playing time, fist and foremost,” Hicks explained. “Then going into the offseason and just being able to train, let your body heal from the season and really build off of everything, not having to start off at square one and primarily focus on that rehab.”
Hicks is also not learning the fundamentals and terminology of a new system and being the quarterback of a defense, nailing down those aspects of a new defense is huge, but Hicks proved his football IQ will prevail in those areas.
Hicks durability issues will always be a cause of concern for everyone moving forward because he’s beginning to show his importance to the team. This hasn’t happened from the linebacker position for the Eagles since the days of Jerimah Trotter roaming the middle of the field, which speaks volumes to what Hicks has brought to the team.
Put together the facts. Hicks is 100% healthy coming off a season for the ages where he still wasn’t able to train at the level he’s able to today. He understands and has proven to be a huge piece of Schwartz’s defense heading into year two of it.
Is it really out of the question to expect Hicks to be even better than he’s shown this season? The answer is absolutely not, in fact, we should expect it.
Hicks is a franchise player for the Eagles and that will only continue to show during his tenure. He’s 100% undoubtedly healthy, and to be quite frank with you, the Eagles 2017 opponents should be quite nervous about that.
Mandatory Photo Credits: (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)