With the offseason focus locked on the importance of Carson Wentz’ health continuing to make headlines in almost every sports media outlet, one name is truly being buried among all others. Yes, Carson’s health is a bit concerning and it is VERY important to the offense but what about on the other side of the ball?
The Eagles ended last season in heartbreaking fashion with a close playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. During the second quarter of the game, the Saints ran a fake punt while down 14-0. Sean Payton knew they would be successful due to Fletcher Cox’s passive play against fake punts, revealed by their own film study. Now what the end game results ended up being doesn’t matter at this point, the only thing that matters is the injury Fletcher Cox sustained on that exact play.
Training camp is right around the corner for the Philadelphia Eagles and Fletcher Cox looks to be on track to be a part of it. Not only is Cox coming off a recent foot surgery but he’s also coming off his best season yet. Last season the Eagles defensive tackle finished with a career-high of 10.5 sacks and 95 total pressures. Unfortunately, no matter the production that Cox delivers, he continuously lives in the shadows of current Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Donald had a monster season last year as he doubled his counterpart in total sacks with 20. He also beat out Fletcher Cox in total pressures with 100-plus total pressures. In all honesty, we may be witnessing two of the best defensive tackles to ever do it when its all said and done. There’s one advantage that Donald had over Cox last season though, this is where the numbers tend to lose their value.
See, last season Fletcher Cox played 80% of the defensive snaps for the entire season, now as for the year before? He played just below 60% of the snaps. So, what am I trying to say? Where could I possibly be going with all of this information?
Did you know that Haloti Ngata was the next DT on that list? No, you most likely didn’t and it’s not a knock on you at all! Don’t be offended because even I didn’t realize this. Ngata played 35% of the defensive snaps last season which means one thing. Cox was lined up with mostly Bennett and Graham by his side, both who are more effective coming off the edge. He shouldered the defensive line due to all the injuries.
This year is gearing up for something different. You see while we all were focused on the offensive additions, many have overlooked the depth that the team has added on to their line. Cox will be lining up with very effective tackles. Not only were the Eagles able to re-sign Timmy Jernigan for a price below his worth but they also signed Malik Jackson, who if you ask the smart football guys, is a pretty good pass rusher. Don’t forget another move that flew under the radar on draft night, the acquisition of former Colts DT Hassan Ridgeway.
Now follow me down this road as I explain what all this means. Fletcher Cox is undervalued because what he provides can’t be valued. Confusing isn’t it?
You can’t calculate presence into statistics. Cox drew double teams on almost every snap last season.
Let’s draw back to Donald for a second, have you had a chance to see where I’m going with this argument yet? OK, let me clarify if you haven’t yet. Did anyone notice who lined up next to Donald last year? He goes by the name Ndamukong Suh and he played 87% of the defensive snaps next to Darnold last season. Now, this isn’t a knock on Donald at all, he’s a generational talent, but here’s what I’m trying to say….
So is Fletcher Cox.
The 2019 season will prove that. With Malik Jackson by his side and Timmy Jernigan waiting in the wings. The rotation of the Eagles DT’s is going to be a scary sight for offensive linemen. Not only can you not double team Cox anymore but now you’re disturbed by the idea that Cox can almost bullrush through any one lineman that stands in his way.
Jackson recorded 51 total pressures last season for the Jaguars during a “down year”. That alone ranked him ninth among interior players. As for Jernigan, the league has seen how much of a force he can be. After dealing with an offseason injury last year, Jernigan is highly motivated this season and is on a mission.
Those two players will play key roles in how the season goes for Fletcher Cox. The time has finally come for Eagles interior monster to put the league on notice. As hyped as fans are for the Eagles offense, the Eagles D-line deserves the same excitement. With a healthy rotation being developed, expect Cox to build on his career season from last year.