Last year, the Eagles used a first-round pick on defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Let's take a look and see what impact Cox had on the team in his rookie year and what the offseason holds for the Eagles at the defensive tackle position ...
End Of Season Depth Chart: Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was considered by many draftnicks to be the best defensive lineman in last April's draft. His 6-4, 298-pound frame belied incredible athleticism and pass rush skill. The Eagles clearly liked what they saw in him, ultimately moving up three spots in the draft to bring him to Philadelphia.
Cox rewarded the Eagles with a rookie year to remember. He led all Eagles linemen with 65 total tackles, and his 5.5 sacks were tied for the most on the team. For his efforts, Cox was named to the Pro Football Writers of America's All-Rookie team. Cox has been everything the Eagles had hoped for when they drafted him, and he has the look of a franchise defensive lineman.
After an impressive first season, Cox already headlines a group of defensive tackles that features plenty of youth and veteran experience. Starting alongside Cox is veteran Cullen Jenkins. Since joining the Eagles in 2011, Jenkins has provided a reliable presence up front. In 2012, Jenkins chipped in with 51 combined tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Behind Cox and Jenkins are a group of tackles with proven ability. Mike Patterson overcame a brain injury suffered during Training Camp in 2011 and returned midway through the 2012 season. In five games, Patterson contributed nine total tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry. Second-year man Cedric Thornton went undrafted, but has worked his way into the Eagles' rotation. Like Cox, Thornton is a mauler with surprising quickness and speed. A year after earning a spot on the 53-man roster, Thornton posted 47 combined tackles, including two for a loss, and a sack.
The group is rounded out by several key role players. Derek Landri started the first six games of the season (and seven games overall,) and ended his 2012 campaign with 39 total tackles. Antonio Dixon re-signed with the team late in the year and only played in one game for the Eagles, but could be a factor next season. And rookie Ronnie Coleman spent the end of the season on the practice squad and should get a shot to join the club during camp.
It appears that Cox and Jenkins will go into the 2013 season as starters, though don't count out players like Thornton and Patterson making a push. Patterson has extensive starting experience, and will fight for increased playing time after a fully healthy offseason. Thornton is a classic "upside" player, and could very well take the next step in his development going into the 2013 season.
Player To Watch In Offseason: Thornton has come a long way in his two seasons. After going undrafted, Thornton took the opportunity to come to an NFL camp and made the most of it. He went from a camp body to the practice squad, and ultimately became a solid contributor on defense. Could Thornton take the next step in that journey and win a starting job alongside Cox? So far, he has shown his willingness to work hard and make steady improvements. It's not a stretch to think that he could raise his stock over the course of the offseason.
Free Agents To Be: Landri signed a one-year deal with the Eagles last offseason, making him a free agent in the 2013 offseason. Landri is an excellent rotational defensive tackle with extensive starting experience. Bringing him back would certainly help bolster the Eagles' depth in the middle.
Best Performance: The end of the Eagles' 2012 season was a time to shine for many young Eagles players. And in the team's Week 15 bout against the Bengals, Cox made his presence felt on a national stage. That night Cox posted his first multi-sack performance, notching 1.5 sacks of quarterback Andy Dalton. He also tallied three tackles and a quarterback hurry.
Noteworthy Stat: Cox's 5.5 sacks were tied for the fifth-most among all defensive tackles during the 2012 season. Of the seven players who finished the season with at least that many sacks, Cox was the only rookie.
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