This spring, when Fletcher Cox revealed that his goal for the 2018 season was to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, there were skeptics.
Through three games, there are fewer skeptics.
Because while Cox was already playing at a Pro Bowl level in previous seasons, he has somehow raised his level of play to a new level. He has three sacks through three games, but more importantly, he’s been an absolute game-wrecker for opposing offenses.
It all starts with playing more snaps and a higher percentage of defensive snaps than he’s played in recent years.
“So far,” Cox said coyly, “I’ve played a few.”
It’s pretty simple: The more Cox plays, the more opportunity he has to change games. We’ll see if it’s sustainable. But if it is, the extra time on the field can only strengthen his Defensive Player of the Year bid.
Through three games, Cox has played 163 of 187 defensive snaps. That translates to around 52 per game but an incredible 87.2 percent.
Jim Schwartz noted that while Cox’s percentage is way up, his snap totals aren’t. He attributed the increased percentage to the minimal snaps the defense has gotten so far this season. That’s partly true.
But Cox is on pace to play 869 snaps this regular season. That would be significantly more than the previous two seasons in Schwartz’s defense. Last year, he was on the field for just 66.5 percent of snaps of games he played in the regular season. In the playoffs, he played 86 percent. That’s the type of workload he’s taking on right now — at least percentage-wise.
Here’s a look back at Cox’s career snap counts:
2012: 509 snaps (48.6 percent)
2013: 885 snaps (73.5 percent)
2014: 926 snaps (79.6 percent)
2015: 983 snaps (81.0 percent)
2016: 772 snaps (75.8 percent)
*2017: 608 snaps (59.0 percent)
*Missed two games
You clearly see the spike in the Chip Kelly years before Schwartz came in and implemented the rotation (and a better defense that’s on the field less). But it’s important to note that Cox can play more snaps than he did last year. Heck, he did it for the three seasons under Chip. The question becomes: Can he keep the same level of play while playing that many snaps?
We don’t have a ton to go on yet after three weeks, but the early returns are good. Cox thinks he’ll be able to sustain this all year if need be. He said he’s good with 50, 55 snaps, even up to 60 per game:
“I’m pretty sure I can handle it. I know I can. But we’ve got other guys like Destiny and Bruce Hector who can come in and know the scheme and know what to do.”
Cox proved last postseason that he can play extra snaps. He was a monster in the Eagles’ three playoff games on the road to winning the Super Bowl. But one of the reasons for his extended play this year is because of depth. Even Schwartz admitted the Eagles are missing Timmy Jernigan, who is out until at least Week 7 and possibly much longer. Without Jernigan, the Eagles have Cox, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao and Bruce Hector on the bench. While Ngata and Vaeao play, the Eagles have been hesitant to put Hector on the field.
Fans have noticed a new level of play from Cox, but so have his teammates. They credit him for putting the work in to become truly great. Brandon Graham thinks Cox just needs to stay healthy. If he does, … maybe that DPOY is realistic.
“Man, I’m telling you, the way that Fletcher’s playing right now is unbelievable,” Vaeao said. “He’s playing at another level. It’s crazy where he’s at right now. I think he’s going to continue to do what he’s been doing the whole season.”
That would be very good news for the Eagles.