Feb 25, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Missisippi State defensive lineman Fletcher Cox speaks at a press conference during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
The Eagles are checking out first round defensive tackle prospects. Let's take a look at the players and see who makes sense for the Eagles.
The NFL Draft is about three weeks away. There is a lot of intrigue with the Eagles. The addition of Demetress Bell means the team no longer needs to worry about finding a starter there early in the draft. There is still talk of the Eagles taking Luke Kuechly with pick 15. The team has checked out offensive players like receiver Michael Floyd and quarterback Tannehill. The position the Eagles are most associated with is defensive tackle.
Mississippi State star Fletcher Cox is the defensive tackle that most mock drafts have going to the Eagles. The mock drafts aren't significant because it is writers and/or draftniks who are doing them, not NFL guys. The point of this is that Cox is such a good fit for Jim Washburn's system that it is obvious to everyone. He also makes sense from a value standpoint.
Cox would come to Philly to be the backup to Cullen Jenkins. That spot is the under tackle or 3-technique tackle. He lines up on the guard's outside shoulder (right or left guard). By lining up in this position the defensive tackle is guaranteed of being single blocked (since the offensive tackle must take the end). The center will help the other guard block the nose tackle. You want an athletic player for under tackle. He needs to be able to rush the passer. That requires speed and quickness, as well as strength and agility.
Cox is perfect for this role. He has good size at 6-4 and 298 pounds. He has exceptional speed. Cox ran 4.79 at the Scouting Combine. That would be an okay number for an inside linebacker. Heck, Anquan Boldin ran 4.72 at his Combine. Cox can flat out fly. That speed shows up on game tape. He's not just some workout warrior.
MSU used Cox in a variety of ways since he was their best player up front. They played him at tackle and end. They had him line up right and left. He was constantly moving around. This kept the offense from being able to focus their blocking efforts on him. You can't line a tight end up to his side to help if you don't know where he'll be. Cox had the speed and athleticism to be disruptive from the end spot. He could be deadly when he was at tackle and beat his blocker cleanly.
One reason I think the Eagles will have a very high grade on Cox is his combination of athleticism and versatility. Jim Washburn loves to move his guys around. Jenkins played end in some sets. Trevor Laws played a bit of end late in the season. Cox is talented enough that he could play end for the Eagles. You wouldn't want him starting there in the wide-nine every week, but he could start out there for a game or two. He certainly could be a role player at end during a game.
You would use Cox out there in some short yardage or goal line sets to give the team a bigger run defender. The other reason to put him at end is for stunts. You have Cox line up right over the offensive tackle. Jason Babin would be set to his inside shoulder. At the snap, Cox fires off the ball and engages the tackle. Babin then loops around and comes unblocked off the edge. In order to sell this look to offenses, there needs to be some plays where Cox stays wide and rushes from the outside. You don't want to line up in that look and run the same stunt every time. You want blockers confused. A moment of hesitation can be the difference in a pressure vs. a sack.
Cox would be an ideal fit for the Eagles. The only question with him is whether he lasts to pick 15. It seems almost certain that Cox is the number one rated defensive tackle on the Eagles board, but there are some other talented players in the mix. The Eagles have brought both Michael Brockers and Dontari Poe to the NovaCare complex for visits. The team is showing serious interest in both players.
Brockers just finished his redshirt sophomore season at LSU. He is young. He is also very raw. Brockers is a big dude at 6-5 and 322 pounds. That is an excellent frame. He was a terrific run defender at LSU. They finished fifth in the nation in run defense and one of the primary reasons is that Brockers controlled the middle of the line. He played the 2-gap style of defense, meaning his job was to engage blockers and control two gaps. Brockers wasn't firing off the ball and shooting up the field. That is 1-gap.
I have been hesitant to fully buy the Eagles interest in Brockers. He isn't a natural pass rusher. Washburn wants his linemen to be pass rushers. I decided to go back and re-watch some tape of him a couple of nights ago. I wanted to make sure I wasn't being too dismissive. I think I can see why Washburn might like Brockers. If I tried to describe him in a word it would be "manchild". Brockers is a big guy, but his youth shows through in his playing. He's still growing into his body and he's still learning how to play. Brockers played end in high school. He's new to the inside.
My favorite moment the other night came on a run play up the middle. LSU got to the runner quickly, but the guy wouldn't go down. Brockers came over and wanted to get in on the tackle, but the runner was covered. Brockers then just spread out his arms and tackled the whole pile. He has 35-inch arms and a big frame so it literally looked like he engulfed the whole group.
It really is hard to study Brockers as a pass rusher since LSU pulled him off the field in obvious passing situations. He did have one play in the game where he flashed ability. Brockers came off the ball quickly and used a rip move to get by his blocker. He didn't hit the quarterback, but did get pressure. That shows you that he's got some potential. He can be quick off the ball.
I'm sure Washburn sees hints of Albert Haynesworth when he watches Brockers. Both guys were big defensive tackles that played in the SEC. Both were naturally gifted, but inconsistent players. Haynesworth was a much better athlete. He fell to the middle of the first round because of character issues. Brockers is clean. The only issue he's got is inconsistent game tape. Teams will factor in that 2011 was his first year as a starting defensive tackle. Brockers will be drafted on what he can do down the road, not what he's accomplished so far. He did have 10 tackles-for-loss, an interception, and a forced fumble in 2011 so he has shown some playmaking ability. Brockers is just scratching the surface of how good he can be. With a coach like Washburn, Brockers could develop into a really good player.
Poe might be the biggest mystery man of the whole draft. He is 6-5 and 346 pounds. He had a sensational workout at the Combine. He is incredibly gifted. Unfortunately his game tape is pedestrian. He showed flashes of greatness, but also matched them with plenty of mediocrity. As I written about him all year, you love his potential, but worry about the fact he was single-blocked by C-USA linemen so much. Poe will be in the NFL next year while those guys will delivering pizzas, fixing cars, and sitting in cubicles.
I guarantee you Poe has led to a ton of arguments around the NFL this year. Scouts base their grades primarily on game tape. I'm sure scouts have Poe rated as a mid-round project. Coaches are the guys who tend to fall in love with potential. They think they can "coach a guy up". The mentality is that the player was mis-used, not properly coached, or just needs technique work. Coaches focus on raw talent. They see a piece of clay that they can mold into the next Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, or whoever. This mentality has doomed more than a few coaches over the years and is the reason that coaches have to be protected from themselves. Eagles fans need to only hear two words to remember a similar tale from the past: Jon Harris. Ray Rhodes saw Harris as his version of Too Tall Jones.
I'm sure Jim Washburn is fascinated with Poe. Any football person has to be. The guy has a rare combination of size, speed, and movement skills. His ceiling is really high. Poe can be a special player if he works hard and is developed right. That said, his floor is pretty low as well. There is no guarantee that he'll be even a solid starter in the NFL.
I don't think it is likely that the Eagles take him at 15, if he's even on the board. Poe has unique talent, but he's not a natural fit in the wide-nine so that wouldn't help his progression. I do think Poe can play in the scheme. He's got the size of a nose tackle, but is athletic enough to play under tackle. And you can't rule out the Eagles interest in him. You have to be very careful about passing on players that can be described as "rare". Some of those guys pan out, some don't. You would hate to pass on Poe and then have him pan out for someone else. This is far from a no-brainer decision.
I think Poe's most natural position right now might be 3-4 defensive end. As big as he is, Poe isn't a guy that excels at eating up blockers and clogging the middle. He's better in space. That allows him to use his speed and agility.
The Eagles are kicking the tires on these guys and plenty of other defensive tackles. The team needs to add a young guy to the mix and Washburn is probably begging Howie Roseman to give him another weapon up front. Cox would be the perfect match early on. If he's gone, the Eagles need to decide if they're willing to pull the trigger on Brockers and/or Poe. I'm sure Roseman and Andy Reid are hoping that other teams take Brockers and Poe prior to 15 so that Cox is right there for the Eagles to take.