Cox Takes His Place Among NFL’s Elite
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When you start getting mentioned in the same conversations as Jerome Brown and J.J. Watt, it's a pretty good indication that you've arrived in the NFL.
Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox had one of his most dominating games as a professional on his 25th birthday last Sunday notching eight tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry against Buffalo and Bills coach Rex Ryan took notice.
“That (No.) 91 is a good player," Ryan said. "I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown, but I’m not laughing now. The kid is a pretty good player.”
The late, great Brown, of course, was a first-round draft choice of the Eagles when Ryan's father Buddy was piloting Philadelphia's football team and the big three-technique was named an All-Pro two times in just five NFL seasons before dying tragically in a car accident at the age of 27 in 1992.
Brown's skill set of off-the-charts, short-area quickness, coupled with amazing strength and athleticism has grown to legendary proportions in the ensuing years and the Eagles, have never had another player like him .... until now.
"He's a real versatile guy," an NFL scout told 973espn.com when discussing Cox. "As good as Brown was, he was an under tackle. This guy can move up and down the line and that versatility can give (defensive coordinator Bill) Davis a real advantage if he sees a weakness on the opposing O-Line."
Cox already has a career-high 6 1/2 sacks in 2015 and his yeoman work at the five-technique, a position designed to tie up blockers in Davis' 3-4 scheme so outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham excel often goes unrecognized.
“(Cox) is a great player,” Bills guard Richie Incognito, who is playing at a Pro Bowl level himself this season, admitted. “I did not play my best and he beat me early and often. You have to take your hat off to him. You have to be impressed by him.”
Cox has been so good this season, he's moved around, playing the three-technique at times and rushing inside or outside in certain passing situations, similar to the way Houston uses Watt, the most dominating defensive player on all of football right now.
"Fletcher has been good since we've been here," Davis said. "I think his pass rush has really gotten better, if I had to pick one area. He's always strong and hard to move at the line of scrimmage.
"But I would say -- I've said this many weeks, we're running our stunts and games better, which helps when we're attacking protections through the games and stunts. Then his one-on-one, I think he's honed down to just a couple really good moves that he works on. A lot of times guys try to do all these different moves instead of just having a couple really good ones. I think he's narrowed it down and is just going with what works."
So is Cox better than Brown was?
"They're different players, the scout said. "I'll just put it like this, having a player like Fletcher gives you more options and that's a good thing.
The highly-regarded playing-rating website Pro Football Focus currently has Cox rated as the second-best five-technique in all of football behind Watt, and among the top interior defenders with three-techniques like Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins and Ndamukong Suh, as well as nose tackle Linval Joseph.
And of that bunch only Watt is as scheme-versatile as Cox.
"Fletcher's a very well-rounded defensive lineman," Davis said. "He can give you a good two-gap and hold the point on a double team. He can convert the run into a pass-rush really easy. Then when it's just the flat-out pass rush, he's got a couple of nice inside moves.
"He's giving people fits and hopefully he'll get the Pro Bowl recognition he deserves."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com and on Twitter @JFMcMullen.