Nobody knows whether Fletcher Cox will be a bonanza or a bust. But even if you’ve been critical of some of the Eagles draft-day decisions in the past (and who hasn’t been?), you have to give them credit for this one – they got the best player available at the position where they need the most help.
And by most help, we mean immediate help. That’s why the Eagles weren’t going to draft a safety or a cornerback or a linebacker or even a quarterback with their first-round pick in Thursday night’s NFL draft. That’s why they went after a defensive tackle and were lucky enough and plucky enough to come away with the best one on the board.
Coach Andy Reid needs to win now. In the past, he had the luxury of taking a player he could develop slowly. Reid could afford to look down the road, because he knew he’d still be driving the Eagles’ bus. No coach in the NFL had greater job security than he did and that allowed him to take chances.
That all changed last year, when the Eagles went out and spent millions of dollars on big-name free agents and went into the season as prohibitive favorites to win NFC East and strong favorites to win the NFC. Then they went 8-8 and missed the playoffs and the fans chanted “Fire Andy!” during the final home game.
After the season ended, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie didn’t exactly give Reid a ringing endorsement. Lurie held a press conference that lasted a half-hour and 20-plus minutes of it was spent outlining the Eagles problems and shortcomings and his disappointment with the way things worked out.
If you listened to those first 20 minutes, you were semi-convinced that Reid was gone – and then Lurie said he still believes Reid is the best coach to lead the Eagles to the Promised Land, or at least the NFC championship game. Still, the message was clear – the owner will not put up with another season like that one. He wants results – and we’re not talking about a wild-card berth and one-and-done playoff appearance – and he wants them now.
And Fletcher Cox can contribute right now, maybe even have an impact, and that’s why Reid was eager to move from the No. 15 overall selection to No. 12 so he could draft him. Cox will have some rookie growing pains, of course, but he won’t be asked to carry too much of a load as part of a four- or five-man rotation.
“He’s going to be asked to play four or five plays in a row,” said Reid, who smiled and added “Hopefully, just three right? But then he’ll come out and the next group comes in. We did that last year and had success with it. We will continue to do that this year.”
And even though Cox will be going against bigger and better players, the game will be pretty much the same as it was in college – stuff the run and sack the quarterback. Unlike a defensive back or even a linebacker, he won’t have to learn complicated coverage schemes. And a rookie mistake by him will give up yards, not touchdowns.
Those positions are much more difficult to play as a rookie, or at least to play well. And even if you don’t trust Reid’s judgment on defensive linemen, Cox was also the top choice of d-lineman coach Jim Washburn, who has a reputation for developing players as well as coaching them.
Washburn made it clear on Thursday night that Cox is his kind of player.
“He’s an exploder and he’s tough,’’ Washburn said. “If he can’t explode, I don’t want him. If they don’t love football, I don’t have any use for him. He explodes, he can play, he’s passionate and he likes it. He loves football.”
And when asked if Cox can fit into the Wide-9 system Washburn brought to the Eagles last season, the coach smiled and said “When God made him, he made him to be in this system right here.”
It’s Washburn’s system, but it’s Reid’s team, and Fletcher Cox, more than any other player at any other position, can help Reid’s team win now. If they don’t, the man who drafted him probably won’t be coaching him anymore.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.