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How Fletcher Cox’s Mississippi State mindset ignited the Philadelphia Eagles

It has been a tough journey, but this defense is ready, as the former Bulldog is more than qualified to take the reigns.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout what was a long and grueling four years of hard work, the Philadelphia Eagles are back in the playoffs, following a season many could have only dreamed of. The injury of quarterback Carson Wentz has resulted in the emergence of a defense now regarded as one of the most formidable. Former Mississippi State Bulldog and arguably the game’s best defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has become the Eagles’ face, carrying a team that was left for dead.

Defense wins championships, and it starts at the line. While fourth in total defense, the Eagles are first against the run, allowing 79.2 yards per game. With another career year under his belt, Cox has excelled under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, elevating the line into another stratosphere. Individually, he has not had the best statistical season, but his play speaks for the jump from 15th to first in run defense.

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images

Able to play inside and out, Cox’s versatility has given offenses headaches at the line of scrimmage. While adjusting to different schemes, he has also brought out the best in fellow tackle Timmy Jernigan along with defensive ends Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham. The former Bulldog has also drawn enough attention to free up lanes for a solid linebacking corps as well as an up and coming secondary.

While at Mississippi State, Cox put forth his best season as a junior, posting 56 total tackles, 14.5 for loss, and five sacks. Adding a forced fumble returned 52 yards, his game spoke for itself, resulting in being selected 12th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Rounding out 114 total tackles, 24.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and two recovered, Cox proved his worth for the duration of his three-year tenure with the Bulldogs.

As it pertains to an on-field impact, defensive tackles have been overlooked at both the collegiate and pro levels. However, Cox has countered that notion through power, speed, and agility. The Eagles’ rotations along the line have allowed him to display an all-around game, consisting of elements beyond the skillset of a defensive tackle. Leading to tackles and/or sacks in the open field, fighting off blocks with a quick first step goes a long way.

Cleveland Browns v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

One of many from Mississippi State, Cox was a sure thing from the day he set foot in Davis Wade Stadium. But he was not the only Bulldog to be mentioned as one of the NFL’s elite on defense. Detroit Lions’ cornerback and league leader in interceptions Darius Slay is also at the “cream of the crop” at his position. Deemed “Big Play Slay”, the Mississippi State product has excelled in the defensive backfield.

In addition, K.J. Wright of the Seattle Seahawks, Preston Smith of the Washington Redskins, and Benardrick Mckinney of the Houston Texans highlight a trio of linebackers who have taken their teams a level higher on defense. A staple of defensive talent, Mississippi State produces star after star. Having steadily made his name from college to the pros, Cox has been a dominant spark plug game after game.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

He recorded seven tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hits in the Eagles’ 15-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Advancing to the NFC Championship Game, his presence thus far has been infectious on and off the field. He is a natural leader, and although not the most vocal, Cox knows what it means to win.