The Eagles' pick in the third round brought a ton of excitement, at least for me. Was it going to be stud Pitt tackle, TJ Clemmings? Athletic UCLA passer, Brett Hundley? Oooooh, or versatile Penn State safety, Adrian Amos? There were tons of intriguing options at that pick, and I did not really see a direction I did not like. "With the 84th pick in the NFL Draft.." Alright, let's go! "The Philadelphia Eagles select..." "Hundley, Clemmings, Amos" I repeated over and over again to myself (I am such a nerd).
"Jordan Hicks, Linebacker, Texas." Yeah. What? I mean, it was a name I was familiar with from some player previews I did in the summer of 2013, but not a name I was expecting to hear in the third round of the draft. Especially to a team that had just extended one inside linebacker, traded for another and have yet to trade their incumbent, star inside linebacker. Needless to say, the Hicks pick was very strange to me, but after I did some digging into him, I found out there was quite a bit to like.
Hicks story starts as a five star recruit and number one linebacker in the country coming out of high school. He was a monumental signing by the Longhorns. Unfortunately, his career was plagued by injuries early on. He has missed a total of 19 starts due to injury. What would be a Chip Kelly acquisition without some shoddy health history. Luckily, Hicks was healthy for his senior season and went on to collect Second Team All-Big 12 honors.
Hicks is a superb athlete and it shows in space on the field. He effortlessly moves from sideline to sideline and does a great job moving in coverage. He has the athletic ability to cover running backs out of the backfield, receivers over the middle of the field and tight ends down the seam. First and foremost, Hicks is a coverage linebacker.
What also stands out about Hicks is how quickly he is able to diagnose plays and moves to the ball. He is an incredibly smart linebacker and rarely misses an assignment. As a tackler, he is very solid, but not violent. Expect him to make the tackle, but not make any game changing hits. This conservative nature is helpful for a lot of things, but also hurts him in other aspects of the game.
While Hicks does a good job carrying out his assignments, he does not really attack the line of scrimmage like you would want from a linebacker. He usually diagnoses, move towards the play and "catches" the ball carrier rather than meeting them in the hole or the backfield. This allows the running back to gain more than he should on any given play. Hicks is also timid when working in traffic, too often fearful of taking on blocks and rather tries to dance around them. His timidity takes him out of plays, which is the last thing you want from the man in the middle of your defense. It is not unfair to think that he was playing a bit scared due to his injury history and wanted to protect himself. Hopefully, going forward, he can play more comfortably and be more aggressive in attacking the play.
Pro Comparison: Donald Butler
Like I said before, Hicks was the last thing on my mind when he was selected. After watching him, I became a bit happier about acquiring a player of his talents, but the value is still questionable. There were plenty of very good players available at the Eagles' pick, at least in my humble opinion, so the selection of a player at a position where the Eagles have a bevy of good players and depth, was a bit questionable.
Mychael Kendricks. Demeco Ryans. Kiko Alonso. Najee Goode. Emmanuel Acho. Jordan Hicks. That is a lot of inside linebackers. Obviously guys could get cut or traded in the near future, but Hicks short term projection is a bit murky. In his rookie season, it would make sense that he sees the field on special teams. If he does play with the defense, it would likely be on passing downs where the team would not have to worry about him attacking the line of scrimmage. He can impact the game immediately as a coverage linebacker, but we already have Mychael Kendricks for at least another year and Kiko Alonso to do that. This was definitely a long play by Kelly, as a year from now we could be talking about Hicks and Kiko as the starting linebackers for the team.