Fletcher Cox, the Eagles' first round pick, has flown under the radar since arriving in August. He did little of note in the preseason, and was outshined early on by rookie teammates Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin. The trouble is, it's difficult to examine defensive tackle play, especially in real time. Unless they're getting sacks or tackles for a loss, trench players just don't stand out.
At least, until you turn on the All-22 coaches film. When I watched Cox against the Ravens, I saw a player who is already the Eagles best run stuffer and an emerging force in pass rushing. He routinely beat Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda, a sixth-year player who was re-signed last year to a $32 million contract and then earned All-Pro honors. By the end of the day, Cox was drawing double teams left and right, which allowed DeMeco Ryans to make some of his biggest plays.
Let's roll the film. Here's Cox, one on one with Yanda in the second quarter. Check out these three successive freeze-frames:
Looks like Yanda has him well-blocked one-on-one.
But Cox is kind of strong.
And he tosses the All-Pro to the ground in one move. Hello, Joe Flacco.
Here are two frames from a run play to the left, away from Cox. Yanda tries to cut-block him. Hilarity ensues.
The block worked. Oh no, our hero is on the ground!
Wait, not anymore. Now he's at the other hash, making the tackle on Ray Rice.
This is when the Ravens realize they have to start double-teaming Cox.
Or triple-teaming him, as the case may be.
Through his first two games, DeMeco Ryans is blowing away expectations for linebackers in this city. But one of the major reasons he's able to burst through the line on run plays is that he has Cox absorbing two blockers in front of him. Here are two Ravens run plays in the fourth quarter:
Cox double team = Ryans TFL.
Take two: Cox double team = Ryans TFL.
It's tough for me to not overhype Cox. This was only his second game in the NFL and he's already tossing All-Pro linemen around like rag dolls and soaking up double teams like he doesn't care. Plus, he's got a Trent Cole-esque motor. How many 300 lb. defensive tackles have the drive (and speed) to get up off the ground after a successful cut-block and still make the play? And he's still learning!
As the year goes on, surely Fletch will have his ups and downs. But there's already so much to love about the Eagles first round pick. Keep your eye on him.