Pro Football Focus recently released their annual list of secret superstars on every NFL roster. This series aims to highlight the league’s most underrated players.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ secret superstar is none other than Jordan Hicks.
Key stat: Had the league’s lowest passer rating allowed (53.7) of all linebackers in 2016.
Hicks was arguably the league’s best coverage linebacker in 2016, and that continued a trend of impressive coverage grades since he entered the league. His play against the run has been less impressive, but in a passing league, his ability to make plays on the ball and limit the damage done in his coverage has been a big part of Philadelphia’s defense.
Hicks is an appropriate pick for this list. He’s certainly not a secret to Eagles fans, but he doesn’t get enough respect from a national perspective. I’d argue he’s one of the most underrated players in the NFL. I know I bring this up a lot but I can’t help myself: Hicks is literally on pace to post Hall of Fame numbers.
Jordan Hicks is the first NFL LB with 11+ takeaways (7 INTs, 4 FRs) in his first 24 career games since Hall of Fame LB Jack Ham. #Eagles— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) January 2, 2017
Jordan Hicks is a beast.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) January 2, 2017
24 games played: 100 tackles, 7 INT, 14 PD, 1 FF, 4 FR, 2 sacks, 1 TD#Eagles
The stats don’t tell the whole story, either. Hicks is such a valuable member of the defense from a leadership perspective. As the starting middle linebacker, he makes the calls and gets everyone set up. It drives me nuts how people talk about moving him to weakside linebacker when he’s been producing at an elite level on the inside.
The downside with Hicks is that he’s always going to be an injury concern until he proves he can stay healthy for an extended period of time. Hicks reportedly hurt his hand on his honeymoon but thankfully the injury isn’t expected to be too serious.
If Hicks can stay healthy, he figures to have another big year in 2017. That should mean he won’t be underrated for too much longer. It’s time Hicks gets the respect he deserves.
In addition to Hicks, there are a few other names of interest on PFF’s list. Let’s start with a former Eagles player you might recognize.
CB Byron Maxwell
Key stat: Allowed just three catches for 23 yards against Brandon Marshall in Week 9 on six targets
Maxwell had a quietly impressive season despite actually being benched in the midst of it by the Dolphins. He didn’t begin the season well, and was sat down in Week 4, but from that point onward he allowed more than 30 yards just twice over the rest of the season and never more than 42 yards in a game. The longest catch he allowed after being benched was 19 yards and he amassed eight pass breakups and two interceptions over that time.
Maxwell and Kiko Alonso really struggled with the Eagles in 2015 but it seems like they’ve found some success in Miami. Trading both of those players was what it took to ultimately get Carson Wentz so I doubt the Eagles are kicking themselves at this point.
Here’s an interesting name from another NFC East team.
DI David Irving
Key stat: Spent 35.3 percent of his snaps on the edge and the rest on the inside of the Dallas defensive line.
Irving has just cost himself the first four games of the 2017 season thanks to a suspension, but his 2016 in particular showed some impressive potential, and he recorded 39 total pressures and 14 defensive stops. Irving played just 486 defensive snaps and had the fifth-best pass-rushing productivity score of 8.5 among defensive tackles.
The Cowboys, who already don’t have a great pass rush to begin with, will be missing one of their best pass rushers for the first four games of this season. Lol Dallas.