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)