Defensive End Cedric Thornton – The 2011 undrafted defensive lineman from Southern Arkansas University, Cedric Thornton was undeniably resilient. During a period of undersized “high-motor” prospects, the massive six foot three inch 309 pound defenseman was simply too good to cut, despite the competition from eleven drafted players. Thornton arrived and from that moment was working uphill to earn a roster spot. He drew inspiration from another Eagles defenseman, Antonio Dixon, who had himself made the team despite being undrafted.
“He sets an example. Me and Antonio’s relationship is real close, we bond on and off the field. He’s a guy that I actually looked up to coming here because he told me his story that he’s undrafted and … it motivated me.” – Cedric Thornton
Cedric is a massive defensive end who played the run extremely well, and worked hard to improve his pass rush. At the time, defensive line coach Jim Washburn ran the 9-tech, which gave the defensive ends primary responsibility to rush the passer. Cedric learned a great deal under Washburn, but could only find playing time as part of a platooning scheme. Limited by time and pass rushing priority, Thornton recorded one sack and twenty seven tackles in 2012. But in 2013, the Eagles transformed to the 3-4 and suddenly Cedric Thornton’s run stuffing abilities became the cornerstone of Bill Davis’ scheme. Head Coach Chip Kelly had never heard of Thornton when he arrived in Philadelphia. Neither had defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. But when they watched film from last season, Thornton stood out. So dramatically did Thornton fit into the new defense, that his statistics practically tripled. His play was good enough to earn his ranking with Pro Football Focus as the third best defensive end to defend the run, behind Houston’s JJ Watt and New York Jets’ Sheldon Richardson. Thornton also had a nose for the football, forcing a fumble and recording five tackles for a loss. And this was arguably the first season for Cedric Thornton to be a starter. What is his upside?
“I don’t know what his (Thornton’s) ceiling could be. I’m not a fortune-teller. We try to look at it, ‘How did you perform today?’ Tomorrow’s another day. And we stack it up.” – Jerry Azzinaro
Perhaps we are not fortune tellers. But we know quality when we see it. Thornton has turned “undrafted” into weekly motivation to best his competition, and he usually does.
There are more players who will emerge in 2014, and I’ll try to tell their story this off-season as well. The Birds roster will improve next year. It will improve, because two Eagles players are poised to have breakout years.