On the latest “Move the Sticks” podcast Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks and discussed the biggest “Jenga pieces” of every NFL team. The player who, if they’re removed, the team falls apart, not counting QBs, because then for twenty-odd teams it would be their QB, and that’s no fun. In effect, they’re saying which player can each team least afford to lose to injury.
For the Eagles, they came to an obvious conclusion:
Jeremiah: On Philly, that you would not want to see pulled out of there… Fletcher Cox is pretty darn good.
Brooks: That’s what I was thinking. Either Fletcher Cox or Jason Peters.
Jeremiah: You know another one, a sneaky one for them, is they were a different team with… Lane Johnson.
Brooks: Can’t go wrong.
Jeremiah: But if I think I had to say one, I think I’d say Fletcher Cox, you don’t want to take him out of the middle of that defense. Although I am on record as saying I think Timmy Jernigan is going to have a huge year playing next to Fletcher Cox.
(was that DJ being clever with “pulled out” or a faux pas?)
These are all good suggestions and choices. Fletcher Cox is the best player on the Eagles, and every team would suffer greatly if they lost their best player. It’s almost too easy to pick him. As Jeremiah notes, the Eagles were a different team without Lane Johnson, and it’s safe to assume that losing Jason Peters would have the same effect.
But there are two more players I’d put up for consideration.
Beyond being a team leader, losing Malcolm Jenkins could have an even bigger impact on the defense than losing Fletcher Cox. The Eagles defensive line is one of the best in the NFL, in large part because of Cox, but also because of Brandon Graham, and now Timmy Jernigan and Derek Barnett. Remove Cox and the line goes from great to okay. Take Malcolm Jenkins out of the secondary and it’s suddenly awful. Similar to how there was a night and day difference in the offensive line with and without Lane Johnson, we also saw last year, though to the devastating degree, that the secondary is in a similar situation. When Ron Brooks went down with injury, it caused everyone to shuffle their roles, and the defense suffered. The effect of losing the secondary’s best player would be catastrophic, and a potentially a greater loss in overall performance than the defensive line losing Cox.
While it was a completely different scheme and team, we’ve seen what the Eagles defense looks like in a season with and without Jordan Hicks in 2015, and it wasn’t pretty. Which is a testament to his ability and value that even as a rookie he was one of the best players on a good defense. On the national landscape, Hicks is easily the most underrated Eagle. He’s one of the best playmaking linebackers in the league, leading all LBs in interceptions and tied for the league lead in passes defensed. It’s possible that by the end of the season he’s the best player on the defense, which is saying a lot. The drop off in losing Hicks would be massive.
On one hand, it’s kind of scary to think about what would happen if any of these players suffered a season ending injury. But on the other, to have a handful of outstanding players is a pretty good spot to be in.