Could Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox be poised for his best statistical season ever?
Fletcher Cox has been a crucial part to the Philadelphia Eagles defense for what feels like forever now, closing in on nine seasons as an Eagle. Just think, Cox has been through the end of the Andy Reid era, the dreadful Chip Kelly seasons, and now the Super Bowl winning Doug Pederson era, and he’s still just 29 years old. With eight seasons playing at one of the most physical positions in the league, you’d think Cox would be wearing down. Instead, he’s missed only three games in his entire career, playing in all 16 games last season.
2019 certainly wasn’t one of Cox’s best statistical seasons (with only 3.5 sacks recorded). Despite not having the eye popping numbers that a casual fan would recognize, Cox still finished with a Pro Football Focus rating of 84.5 which placed him first amongst all NFC East defensive players. Fletcher was also voted as the 73rd best overall player in the NFL by his peers (which I personally think is ridiculous), but still an honorable achievement. Numbers and grades aside, I’m really here to tell you why this upcoming season is the year Cox proves to everyone that he’s the most dominant defensive presence in the National Football League.
To put it bluntly, Cox is poised to have his best statistical season ever this year, despite slowing down a bit in 2019, recording just 3.5 sacks (second lowest total in his career).
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Keep in mind however that Cox lost his partner in crime, Malik Jackson, during the first game of the season. Jackson was poised to be the overall best DT Cox had lined up next to in his career, before the former Jaguar suffered a brutal Lisfranc injury. Instead, Cox was forced to play alongside the likes of Hassan Ridgeway and Albert Huggins, which (with all due respect) do not take the pressure off of Cox in the slightest.
Throughout Cox’s career he’s had to face double teams and sometimes triple teams due to the lack of talent surrounding him. To that point, I have a very unorthodox comparison to Cox’s presence on defense: compare it to that of Tyreek Hill in the Kansas City offense.
Bear with me, just like Hill’s speed that puts fear into the hearts of defenders, no offensive linemen nor quarterback wants to line up across from Cox. What this type of ability can sometimes turn into is a decoy to draw attention, so other guys can put in work. The addition of Javon Hargrave and getting Jackson back from injury means that Fletcher won’t face nearly as many double and triple teams from opposing offenses, which means more one on one opportunities to disrupt the backfield. Hargrave and Jackson have the talent to give Cox a break early in games, so that he can continue to produce deep into the fourth quarter.
To put in perspective what the Hargrave signing means for the defense (and especially Cox), he’s had more total tackles in four seasons than former Eagles DT Timmy Jernigan had in six total seasons. Hargrave also has more total sacks than Bennie Logan had in his six seasons. The reason bringing Logan and Jernigan up is important is because Cox spent a healthy amount of time playing alongside them earlier in his career.
Former Eagles DE Michael Bennett is probably the best overall defensive lineman Cox has played next to recently, and you saw how important that was for him. Cox’s most impressive statistical season was in 2018, and you’ll likely see something similar in 2020 considering the added combination of Hargrave and Jackson.
One final factor that points in Cox’s favor is the major secondary improvements the Eagles made this off-season. They were able to bring in Darius Slay Jr. and Nickell Robey-Coleman at the cornerback position, both of whom are considered elite at their roles. Slay will eliminate one side of the field while Robey-Coleman shuts down the slot. The Eagles did lose Malcolm Jenkins, a huge leader on defense, but filled that hole with multiple guys including Philadelphia native Will Parks, 4th round draft pick K’Von Wallace, and newly transitioned safety Jalen Mills. The last two years the secondary has been so bad that quarterbacks could get rid of the ball quickly in order to avoid Cox and the rest of the defensive line. With the secondary now fully revamped, Cox should have plenty of time to attack opposing QBs.
According to an article in 2018 by Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Cox told his defensive line coach Chris Wilson that he wants to become the “AP’s Defensive Player of the Year”. To this day, that dream hasn’t yet become a reality. However, with the chips now falling in place and motivation at an all-time high, Cox could finally achieve that goal here in year nine.