We’re but 5 weeks into the 2015 NFL season, yet rookie Jordan Hicks, has already made his mark on the Eagles resurgent defense. With the momentary loss of Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks, the team was thrust into a difficult situation very early on; relying on a rookie to play a prominent role at the nucleus of the defense. To the surprise of virtually everyone, not only has Hicks transitioned seamlessly into a full-time role, but he has quickly become one of the organizations most promising young players, and as such, has altered the makeup of the Eagles ILB corp.
The arrival of Hicks has woven a cautionary tale that Philadelphia Eagles fans would be wise to follow: avoid drawing conclusions on draft day. The Eagles selection of Hicks in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL draft met morbid skepticism, as fans quickly took to twitter to express their dissatisfaction:
Needless to say, the rapid development and ascension of Jordan Hicks has quickly silenced the critics from months ago.
To a degree, I could relate to the general consensus. I knew of Hicks, but the scope of my offseason evaluations never stemmed further than the Eagles perceived targets. The Eagles had Mychal Kendricks in tow, and had already extended DeMeco Ryans, traded for Kiko Alonso, and added Brad Jones. At first glance, there was very little need for an additional ILB on the roster, let alone a 3rd round pick. So, after initially viewing players like Eric Kendricks and Bernardrick McKinney, I quickly moved on to wide receiver and defensive back. Needless to say when I saw “Jordan Hicks, Linebacker, University of Texas” pop onto my screen during the 3rd round, I was somewhat bewildered. My first impressions of Hicks were not kind, as I unfortunately picked what must have been the worst game of his senior season to analyze:
Later, after watching Hicks a bit more I refined my opinion and came to a more optimistic conclusion, although the initial exposure had me torn on his potential:
"Hicks possesses impressive movement skills; his ability to move laterally and operate in space is enviable, and makes him a solid fit at WILL ILB. He is able to move sideline to sideline, and looks comfortable and confident in zone coverage. Hicks plays balanced and with good pad level for the most part, and does a great job of keeping his head up while engaging blockers, allowing him to locate ball carriers and slide into running lanes. In addition to this, Hicks is a highly intelligent player, capable of acting as a coach on the field, and giving him the makings of the potential heir to Demeco’s role. Hicks also adds a presence as a special teams threat who will slide seamlessly into the slot left vacant by the departure of Casey Matthews.While Hicks moves very well he lacks functional NFL strength to say the least. Hicks can navigate the trash well, however, when he’s engaged by an offensive lineman he’s typically blown off the ball with ease. Most college linebackers have issues with consistently stacking and shedding, as the nuances of proper technique and hand usage aren’t easily developed, however, Hicks issues are far deeper than the typical prospect’s; I really worry about his play strength as it is (getting him heavily involved in the strength program will be key). Although Hicks has good tackling technique and takes good angles, he often finds himself sliding off ball carriers and giving up extra yards. His instincts are also suspect as he sometimes ends up in the wrong gap, or bites on fakes."
Hicks came out in preseason and performed as one might expect; up and down, flashing ability while working through the typical rookie learning curve. Oddly enough, it was when the lights were brightest and the odds were stacked against Hicks that he was at his best. In the midst of Dallas week, and less than 2 full games into the season, Kiko Alonso comes up lame and Hicks is thrust into action. He responded by accumulating 7 tackles a sack and forced fumble in roughly one half of football. Since then, Hicks has continued his impressive play, compiling one of the most impressive stat lines in the NFL through his 3.5 starts: 27 tackles, 1 FF, 3 FRs, 1 INT, and 2 PDs.
The weaknesses that Hicks exhibited in his senior film have to this point been far overshadowed by his strengths. His smarts and preparation have quickly diminished the adverse affects of the rookie learning curve, while his movement skills and athleticism have made him a demon in coverage, and allowed him to navigate the trash and slide laterally into running lanes. It also appears that I underrated his instincts which have been proficient to this point. His strength at the point of attack has been a non-issue as well.
To give you and idea of how outrageous Hicks’ level of production has been, here are his numbers (roughly) when extrapolated over a 16-game season: 108 tackles, 4 FFs, 12 FRs, 4 INTs, and 8 PDs. To be clear, this is a ridiculous and likely unattainable level of production, however, it does illustrate just how effective Hicks has been over a short period of time. A fact that has apparently not been lost on defensive coordinator Billy Davis and the rest of the Eagles staff, who have recognized that Hicks has earned himself a role moving forward (transcript from Jeff McClane of Philly.com):
"“When the guys come back, they’re coming back from injury, so first of all, he will help us keep them on a lower pitch count as they heal,” Davis said Wednesday. “As Chip [Kelly] said, it’s a great problem to have. But when it comes to pass and we’ve got all them up and healthy, then we’ll just have to play on a rotation basis and with packages.”"
This quote exemplifies the impact that Hicks has had on the ILB corp. The Eagles ILB group is perhaps the most talented in the NFL, even without Jordan Hicks. So, for a rookie 3rd round pick to be able to carve out a role so quickly, is really a tribute to the impact he’s had on the defensive side of the ball.
Because of the skill set that Hicks possesses, he will be firmly entrenched in the future development of the Eagles defense. Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso are extremely talented and productive players in their own right, however, Hicks’ headiness and leadership qualities make him the ideal successor to DeMeco Ryans, whose role is highly coveted by the staff.
Whatever the case, Jordan Hicks will be in the starting fold when both Alonso and Kendricks return, something that very few thought possible just a few short months ago.
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