Fletcher Cox wants to be Defensive Player of Year — can he?

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Fletcher Cox wants to be Defensive Player of Year — can he?

After the Eagles finished their Super Bowl season, Fletcher Cox had a conversation with his defensive line coach, Chris Wilson. 

Cox told Wilson he wants to become the AP's Defensive Player of the Year. 

“I said, ‘Let’s do it. I’m all in,’” Wilson remembered this week. 

Cox is already the best defensive player on his own team. He’s already a perennial Pro Bowler, one of the best DTs in the NFL and has already signed his name on a $100 million contract. 

The 27-year-old wasn’t shy about sharing his new goal earlier this spring. His next goal is to win DPOY, an award an Eagles player hasn’t taken home since 1987, when Reggie White won it. 

But … can he actually do it? 

“I don’t see why not,” said Wilson, who probably knows Cox as well as any coach after coaching him in college and now in the pros. “It’s like anybody, he’s one of those difference makers in this league. He’s on a good football team and so I believe he has a chance to be whatever he wants to be, especially if we can keep him healthy and we can keep him playing at the level he’s playing at. 

“I’m excited to watch him. He’s had a great offseason. The way he’s competed this offseason, the few years we’ve had together, this is the best one I’ve seen him have up to this point.”

Wilson brought up the point that the award normally goes to one of the best defensive players on one of the best teams. That part seems to be true, historically. Of the last 20 DPOY winners, 18 were on winning teams. The only two who weren’t were Jason Taylor in 2006 and Michael Strahan in 2001. The teams of these players have averaged 10.7 wins per season, with plenty of 12-win seasons in the mix. So Cox has that going for him; the Eagles should be good. 

But the bigger issue is his sack total. 

Cox had a great season in 2017 but finished with just 5.5 sacks. His career high was 9.5 back in 2015. He’s never been a double-digit sack guy, which seems to be a prerequisite for any defensive lineman who wins the award. 

The good news: Of the last 20 players to win DPOY, 11 have been defensive linemen (including 3-4 OLBs). And six of the last seven. 

The bad news: Every single one of those 11 finished with double-digit sacks, a threshold Cox has never surpassed. In fact, the 11 defensive linemen to win DPOY in the last 20 years have averaged over 14.0 sacks in their award-winning seasons. 

“But I look at it, are you the most complete player?” Wilson said. “A guy who can play the run, a guy who limit his mistakes to the minimum, a guy who makes everybody in the building better because he’s in the building. I think Fletcher has that ability to be all those. If he can get to double digits (in sacks), great. That means we’re in the lead of a lot of games.”

That might be how Wilson sees the award, but it’s clearly not how voters see the award. Winning matters, but not as much as stats. If Cox doesn’t get into double digits, he can still be a great player, but he’s not winning this award. 

Here’s a look at the last 20 winners: 

2017: DT Aaron Donald — 11 sacks, team record (11-5)

2016: DE Khalil Mack — 11 sacks, (12-4)

2015: DE J.J. Watt — 17.5 sacks, (9-7)

2014: DE J.J. Watt — 20.5 sacks, (9-7)

2013: LB Luke Kuechly — team record (12-4)

2012: DE J.J. Watt — 20.5 sacks, (12-4)

2011: OLB Terrell Suggs — 14 sacks, (12-4)

2010: S Troy Polamalu — team record (12-4)

2009: DB Charles Woodson — team record (11-5)

2008: OLB James Harrison — 16 sacks, (12-4)

2007: S Bob Sanders — team record (13-3)

2006: DE Jason Taylor — 13.5 sacks, (6-10)

2005: LB Brian Urlacher — team record (11-5)

2004: S Ed Reed — team record (9-7)

2003: LB Ray Lewis — team record (10-6)

2002: LB Derrick Brooks — team record (12-4)

2001: DE Michael Strahan — 22.5 sacks, (7-9)

2000: LB Ray Lewis — team record (12-4) 

1999: DT Warren Sapp — 12.5 sacks, (11-5)

1998: DE Reggie White — 16 sacks, (11-5)

5 more Eagles who were impressive during spring practices

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5 more Eagles who were impressive during spring practices

As the Eagles wrapped up their spring practices last week, head coach Doug Pederson was asked for a list of young players who stood out over the last few weeks. 

It was a pretty good list (see story)

But with a limited amount of time, Pederson probably didn’t mention every young player who had a good spring. I’m gonna give him a hand and list five more players he failed to mention. 

De’Vante Bausby 
This guy was the revelation of the spring. He joined the Eagles’ practice squad last season but seemingly has a great shot to make the active roster this year. During many OTA practices and in minicamp, the 25-year-old took first-team reps at the nickel corner spot. I still have trouble believing that Bausby is going to be on the field ahead of Sidney Jones, but that doesn’t take away from how good he’s looked so far. Aside from just getting first-team reps, he made the most of them. It seemed like he was making a play every day. 

Nate Sudfeld
This was really our first extended look at Sudfeld, but it’s far from our last. In fact, prepare yourselves to see a ton of the third-stringer this summer. Because while Carson Wentz recovers, Sudfeld is Nick Foles’ backup. And the Eagles need to treat Foles like a starter, which means fewer reps. Sudfeld didn’t come to the Eagles until after last cuts a year ago. This spring, it was easy to see why the Eagles like Sudfeld so much. He’s pretty athletic, can move his legs, and spent the few weeks dropping dimes all over the field. Eventually, Foles is going to move on and Sudfeld should be able to take the backup role. 

Bryce Treggs
Remember when Treggs-mania took over Philadelphia in 2016? Fans were clamoring for more of Treggs after he made that one big catch. Since then, that mania has certainly died down, but Treggs is off to a good start in 2018. He’s a much better player than he was a few years ago. To me, he made the best play we saw all spring, when he stretched out to catch one of those dimes from Sudfeld. Treggs doesn't have a great shot of making the Eagles’ roster, but he can put together some more good tape and maybe find another team. 

Nate Gerry 
In his second season out of Nebraska, Gerry has a real chance to win the weakside linebacker job. He’s battling Kamu Grugier-Hill and Corey Nelson for the spot left by Mychal Kendricks’ release. And Gerry is off to a good start. Having a year in the defense under his belt should certainly help him gain an edge on Nelson, but he still needs to make plays. In the spring, he did. He had a couple interceptions and seemed to read everything well. His background as a safety is clearly something the Eagles like for this position; the other two guys have coverage skills too. 

Josh Sweat
It’s a little tough for defensive ends to stand out in non-padded practices, but the rookie from Florida State did. The first thing to notice about Sweat is just how big he is. He’s listed at 6-5, 251. For now, he’s really long and skinny, but is quick and athletic too. It helped him going against someone as raw as Jordan Mailata, but even when he was facing others, Sweat still looked explosive. We’ll know more once the pads go on, but it seems like the Eagles might have a steal and somehow added even more depth on the D-line. 

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Watching Carson Wentz attack his rehab is nothing short of incredible

Watching Carson Wentz attack his rehab is nothing short of incredible

Carson Wentz has done some of his best work behind closed doors, far from any TV cameras or adoring fans, with just a trainer or two and maybe a few teammates in the room.

While Nick Foles has enjoyed the banquet circuit these last few months and all that comes with being Super Bowl MVP — national TV appearances, a book deal, life as a celebrity — the guy he replaced has had a pretty good offseason himself.

It’s just that nobody has seen it.

For Wentz to do what he did at these spring minicamps — compete in a variety of individual and team drills and look comfortable, fluid and confident six months after hobbling off the field at LA Coliseum with a towel covering his head — speaks volumes about this kid.

We know he’s a competitor on the field. We’ve all seen it. But rehabbing a shredded knee is different.

Throw a touchdown pass, and you instantaneously hear 66,000 fans roaring their approval.

Extend your range of motion by one degree and you get a trainer telling you, “Good. Now do it again 50 times.”

We can talk all day and night about how Wentz has attacked his rehab, but now we’re seeing the fruits of his labor. And it’s impressive.

It takes a certain type of motivation and determination to keep grinding away when nobody is cheering you on and the moments of true progress are fleeting and measured in millimeters.

We saw Wentz out there at practice taking five-step drops, firing dimes to Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor in 7-on-7s and sprinting the length of the field under the midday sun.

What we never saw is what it took to get there.

It’s been about six months since Wentz tore his ACL and LCL.

That means probably about 150 days where Wentz has driven from his home in South Jersey to the NovaCare Complex at dawn and pushed himself through hour after hour of drills to regain his strength, his mobility, his speed, his endurance, his agility.

And then he’s back the next day to do it all over again.

We’re so used to athletes getting hurt and rehabbing it’s easy to forget just how grueling it is, and the fact that Wentz has made the progress he has since Dec. 10 is astonishing.

He’s taken that same ferocious competitive spirit we saw the first 29 games of his career and used it to fuel his rehab.

A month ago, there was no reason to think he’d be cleared to do anything at OTAs and there he was running, throwing, competing and looking every bit like the Carson Wentz we watched evolve into a legit MVP candidate the first 14 weeks of last season.

And if that doesn’t mean he’s ahead of schedule, I don’t know what does.

At this point, I’d be shocked if Wentz isn’t the Eagles’ opening day quarterback in 2018.

There’s always the possibility of a setback. Maybe he doesn’t get completely cleared quite in time to face the Falcons on Sept. 6. But the progress he’s made already has to make every Eagles fan feel confident and encouraged.  

Since he got hurt, Wentz has put the same remarkable level of energy and effort into rehabbing that he put into preparing to play football every Sunday.

Think about Wentz’s 2017 season.

Everything was going perfectly. The Eagles were on top of the football world. He was putting up numbers that were unprecedented for anybody other than Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Before Foles was on anybody’s mind, the Eagles were a Super Bowl contender.

And then disaster.

We’ve all seen Wentz when things are going well. He blossomed into a superstar in front of our eyes.

But you really learn the most about a person when things aren’t going well. When they face adversity. What are they really about? How will they respond?

Wentz has definitively answered those questions.

We didn’t see Wentz in those long, lonely, arduous rehab sessions, but we can see the results.

While Foles was out winning the Super Bowl and taking all the bows, Wentz was doing everything humanly possible to make sure he’s ready to lead the Eagles to another Super Bowl title this year.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m not betting against him.

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