By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—Fletcher Cox’s genesis as an Eagle started innocently enough, beginning at the fingertips of Eagles’ defensive line coach Jim Washburn leisurely channel hopping on a Thursday night last fall. Bored, Washburn happened to pop on a Mississippi State game. There, he was swayed by No. 94 tearing it up. He had to find out who the kid was. Washburn made inquiries and was told he was a junior, a kid named Fletcher Cox.
Washburn didn’t need much more prodding to be sold on the 6-foot-4, 298-pound defensive tackle, nor did Washburn need a hard sell to convince Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid to make Cox the Eagles’ first pick in the NFL Draft Thursday night.
Cox, a large, mobile 21-year-old from Yazoo City, Mississippi (pop. 11,403), joins Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Trent Cole on the Eagles’ defensive front, which promises to challenge the world champ New York Giants as the best defensive front in the NFC East.
The Eagles moved up with Seattle to obtain Cox with the 12th overall pick, trading their 15th overall pick, and additional fourth- and sixth-round picks to Seattle to move up.
Cox ran a 4.76 during the NFL Combine. Reid instantly penciled Cox in as a starter at defensive tackle, teaming inside with Jenkins to make an interesting, quick pair of defensive tackles in the Eagles’ 4-3 wide-nine scheme. Washburn went down to spend one-on-one time with Cox.
Washburn can’t wait to work with Fletcher. The veteran defensive line coach said he wants to work on the newest Eagle with everything, emphasizing that many of the things Fletcher did at Mississippi State, like slanting, the Eagles do.
“[Cox] is just such a good athlete, I told Andy when I came back from seeing him, he’s the biggest 296-pounder I’ve ever seen,” Washburn said. “He’s sudden, he’s quick and he’s very athletic. He’s just a good football player. He’s a better prospect than he is a player at this point right now. I’ve coached Fletcher Cox my whole life. I’ve coached him a million times. I’ve coached Southern black kids my whole life. That’s what my whole life’s work been. We hit it off. I knew exactly where he was and where he’s from. He’s an exploder and he’s tough. He can’t explode, I don’t want him. If they don’t love football, I don’t have any use for him. [Cox] explodes, he can play, he’s passionate, and he likes it. He loves football. I really like him.”
Apparently, so did Reid.
“We feel Fletcher Cox is a tremendous player. He’s a defensive tackle, and he has the speed and athletic ability where he can outside if needed,” Reid said. “He’s someone that we targeted and we tried to stay aggressive and go get him. He’ll be a nice addition in [defensive coordinator] Juan’s [Castillo’s] defense. Wash was able to go down with him for a day and work him out for a little bit. Obviously, Jim is excited about it, as is Juan.
“He’s going to be asked to play four or five plays in a row, hopefully, just three, right, and then the next group comes in. We did last year and had success with it and we’ll continue to do that this year. He carries [his weight] well. He’s really put together in the lower half, and he’s able to anchor. He has great hips and great lower-body strength. The amazing thing he can run for that size as fast as he can run is an amazing thing to watch.”
Going into the draft, Reid said, Cox would be able to play in 3-4 or 4-3 front and do just as well. When the Kansas City Chiefs took Dontari Poe as the first defensive lineman with the 11th overall pick, Reid jumped at the chance to take Cox.
“We thought he would be a top six, seven pick and when he began to drop, we started making phone calls,” Reid said. “We weren’t going to get quite as elaborate as some teams did. We had other people there we also liked if this didn’t work out, but we thought we were okay where we didn’t have to overspend to get him. The way it fell, it worked out.”
This is a big year for Reid, possibly he’s biggest and most important. Anything less than at least a playoff appearance may mark the 2012-13 season as his last in Philadelphia. Being fortuitous enough to have Cox drop to 12 seems like a nice start.
“I’ve said it for so many years here that I think you win games up front,” Reid said. “If you can perform up front, whether it’s offensive or defensive line, you make everybody better. That’s just how it works. In this case, with the defensive line, it puts a tremendous urgency on the quarterback that they have to make these decisions. Hopefully, they are the right ones for the majority of the time. There are very few quarterbacks that can throw the football when they have someone right in their face.”