The 25-year-old took well to the transition from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end in 2013, starting all 16 games and earning consistent praise from head coach Chip Kelly. Last week, we took a look at Thornton's rise from undrafted free agent to key cog in the Eagles defense ...
Experience: 3 Years
College: Southern Arkansas
Acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in 2011
After a stellar career at Division II Southern Arkansas, Cedric Thornton made a name for himself during the pre-draft process in 2011, putting forth an eye-opening performance at the Senior Bowl with his combination of size, strength and quickness. His showing at the NFL Scouting Combine was underwhelming, however, and he ended up going undrafted. The Eagles personnel department and then-defensive line coach Jim Washburn felt Thornton was a project worth the investment and that the youngster had the ability to play in the NFL. So general manager Howie Roseman pounced once the lockout ended at the end of July.
Thornton played well enough in Training Camp and preseason to earn a spot on the initial final 53-man roster, but he was ultimately waived right before the season started to make room for veteran offensive guard Kyle DeVan. The next day, the Eagles signed Thornton to the practice squad, where he spent the first 13 weeks of his rookie season. Thornton was promoted to the active roster in advance of the Week 14 game against the Miami Dolphins and has stayed there ever since.
A popular pick to break out during the 2012 season, Thornton’s development was stunted by a lack of opportunity and overall team turmoil. When Chip Kelly was brought in as the new head coach and hired Bill Davis to run the defense, the switch from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end was viewed as a boon for Thornton and the perfect match for his skillset. That turned out to be the case, as the 25-year old came into his own in 2013 as an extraordinary 3-4 defensive end. Thornton was immovable at the point of attack, threw would-be blockers aside with ease and routinely disrupted running plays in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. Kelly frequently referenced Thornton as the defense’s most consistent player throughout the season. Thornton is a crucial part of the three-man unit up front that has been cited as one of the roster’s major strengths. It is difficult for 3-4 defensive ends to get the recognition they deserve because it is not a so-called “sexy” position where pass rushing is the main focus and a plethora of sacks is the goal. Nevertheless, Thornton played at a high level and emerged as an elite player. He finished the season sixth on the team in total tackles, first among defensive linemen, with 78 (60 solo and five for loss), while also recording eight quarterback hurries, 1.0 sack, two pass deflections, one forced fumble and one safety.
Thornton is smack-dab in the middle of his prime and will continue to be critical piece of the Eagles defense moving forward. Look for him to build upon his stellar 2013 with an even better 2014 season.
The Eagles were already up 24-3 and in the midst of steamrolling the Chicago Bears in Week 16 on Sunday Night Football. Still, the game did not yet feel completely over, as the Bears had kicked a field goal as the first half expired, and the Eagles’ first drive of the second half stalled. Luckily,
Thornton exploded off the snap and jack-knifed by the offensive tackle, immediately bursting free into the backfield. As soon as Forte got the ball, Thornton was bearing down on him. Forte tried to cut to his right, but Thornton lunged forward and stuck out his arm, hitting Forte on the knee and causing him to stumble and lose his balance. The running back tried to get out of the end zone, but his knee touched down before his arm broke the goal line. Though he was originally ruled down at the one-inch yard line, Kelly threw his challenge flag and upon review it became clear Forte was down before getting the ball out. The ruling on the field was reversed and the Eagles were awarded a safety (the first of Thornton’s career). After receiving the free kick, the Eagles drove down the field and scored a touchdown to go up 33-3 and really put the game out of reach.
60. Solo tackles by Thornton, the highest total for an Eagles defensive end since
Thornton has one of the better nicknames on the Eagles – his teammates affectionately call him “Swamp.” He is also one of just six Southern Arkansas alumni to ever play in the NFL and already has had the second-longest career (behind safety Jordan Babineaux).