Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State is Philly-bound

Fletcher Cox (right) a defensive lineman from Mississippi State has been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.

From Media Reports

STARKVILLE – After trading with the Seattle Seahawks, the Philadelphia Eagles took Fletcher Cox, a versatile defensive lineman out of Mississippi State.

There were people who said Cox was the best defensive player available in the draft, and some of those people were Eagles’ fans, so there was little complaining, for once, when the Birds burned fourth and sixth-round selections to move up three spots, taking Cox 12th overall with the Seahawks’ pick.

Eagles coach Andy Reid said the Birds looked into moving up farther but didn’t want to part with any second- or third-round picks. As other teams moved up to target players, they began to think they might really have a shot at Cox. The first five selections were offensive players. The Chiefs picked 11th, just before the Seahawks, but Reid said he figured they needed a nose tackle, which was what they got in 345-pound Dontari Poe.

When that pick was made, the Eagles pulled the trigger on the deal.

Reid called Cox “one of those rare kids that size who can run,” and said he would mostly play tackle but could move around.

Cox would seem to be the difference-making defensive tackle the Birds so badly need in the middle of Jim Washburn’s wide nine d-line. He is 6-4, 298 and has startling power and speed.

Pros: Cox is the most active interior defender in the draft class. His playing speed leaps off the tape. His legs are moving fast at the snap, and he engages his blocker with a jarring hit. There are linemen who are quicker out of the stance, like Jerel Worthy, but Cox gets upfield faster than any other lineman because he is still moving forward after initial contact.

Cox disengages from many blocks because he attacks his blocker suddenly, before that blocker is properly set. He moves laterally very well and can disrupt stretch blocks by getting to his opponent’s shoulder and driving him back. He is not a technically-proficient pass rusher, but he generates some sacks by winning with quickness and strength, and he is relentless when blocked: If he cannot get to the quarterback, he will collapse the pocket.

Play recognition is rarely a strength for an interior lineman, but Cox is exceptional at reading screens. Again and again, he bails out on his pass rush and turns to find the running back, sometimes making a tackle for a loss, other times forcing an incomplete pass. Cox also stays alert for quarterback rollouts and reverses, and can often be seen “staying at home” so faster defenders have a chance to clean up those plays. He dropped into coverage at times, and can be a useful zone blitz lineman.

Cox has blocked four career kicks. He often overwhelms special teams blockers, and he has the athleticism to extend his body to get a piece of the ball.

Cons: Like most college linemen, Cox has not yet mastered his technique. He comes off the line a little high at times, making life easier for his blockers, and he does not have precise hand-fighting moves. He played end occasionally at Mississippi State, and while he was adequate in that role, he was much less instinctive, and much easier to block, when rushing from the outside.

There are a few examples of Cox launching at the quarterback a step or two after the ball is clearly gone. (See the Wake Forest tape). That is a no-no, of course.

Cox told reporters on a conference call that he thought the Eagles were the best fit for him, that he prayed on it, and that his agents agreed with him about the fit. Washburn, the team’s defensive line coach, came down to Yazoo City, Miss., and spent time with Cox before the draft. Cox said they watched tapes together and he felt he could play Washburn’s style with little adjustment needed.

“I’ll bring excitement and a great attitude to Philadelphia,” said Cox, who was a Mississippi State teammate of Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney. Chaney texted that Cox “will kill it in the wide nine.”

Conclusion: Cox is a tremendous prospect. He is talented, has a high energy level, and is very alert. He fits best on a 4-3 team as a three-technique tackle. The Giants would love him, but he will not be around when they pick. Steve Spagnuolo and the Saints would love him, but Cox will be at home enjoying a Saturday afternoon snack by the time the Saints pick. The Rams make sense as a landing place, though they have needs elsewhere.

Cox may never be a double-digit sack producer, but he is the kind of lineman who can disrupt a running play in the backfield on one snap and break up a screen in the flat on the next. He can make the players around him better, and he can start doing it right away.

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