Jordan Hicks may not be a household name, but he’s come up big for the Philadelphia Eagles in his short career. Hicks has become an interception magnet — he led the team with five in 2016 — and in his third year, he should be an even bigger contributor, on and off the field.
At the middle linebacker position, Hicks is responsible for identifying formations and putting his teammates in a position to make stops. He’s grown to be the more vocal and confident leader that comes with the experience of a full regular season under his belt. But more importantly, he should also have a clean bill of health.
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There was cause for alarm earlier this month, when the linebacker injured his hand while on his honeymoon in Greece. The Eagles haven’t confirmed if his hand is actually broken, but even if it is, the team doesn’t expect Hicks to be out for more than four weeks, marking his return right around training camp.
Hicks is heading into the 2017 offseason with a leg up over previous years. For the first time in his career, he hasn’t had to incorporate significant rehab into his training. With his time and energy instead focused on improving on an already impressive year, Hicks is poised to break team and league records in the months ahead.
Hicks can building off a league-leading season
Hicks gained momentum throughout the year as a clutch player, especially against division rivals. He capped off the season with a two-interception game against the Cowboys in Week 17. With most of the Dallas starters resting in preparation for the playoffs, Hicks’ picks came against former teammate (and buttfumble legend) Mark Sanchez — to the delight of Eagles fans.
Hicks became the first NFL linebacker with 11-plus takeaways in his first 24 games since Hall of Famer Jack Ham in the early ’70s. He was sidelined for seven weeks at the end of his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle, or he might’ve earned that record a little sooner.
Overall, the middle linebacker has recorded 100 tackles, 14 passes deflected, seven interceptions (including a pick-six), four fumble recoveries, two sacks, and one forced fumble.
And he’s just getting started.
Hicks is ready to have yet another career year, and that won’t come without hard work in the weight room and the film room.
“Obviously last year I was able to make some plays. Again, I’m just trying to build off of that. Being able to be in the same defense will help a lot, and to be able to really work on the intricacies of the defense,” Hicks told Bleeding Green Nation.
That undersells the real value he added to the Eagles defense. Not only did he lineup for 95.2 percent of the defensive snaps, but he ranked No. 7 on the team in snap counts, behind only Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, and Nigel Bradham on defense, and Jason Kelce, Carson Wentz, and Jason Peters on offense.
The sophomore player didn’t just stand out among his teammates, but also throughout the league. He led all linebackers with five interceptions last season (tied for No. 3 among all position groups), along with the most passes defended (11), and most plays on passes (16). Hicks was also ranked by Pro Football Focus as the toughest linebacker for quarterbacks to face in the league in 2016.
The most exciting thing about Hicks’ performance last season is that it set the perfect foundation for 2017. He entered the offseason more confident and with a full year of experience in a new defensive scheme. Building on what he did last year will set him, and the Eagles defense, up for a havoc-wreaking year.
In what quickly became a bright spot for the team in 2016, the defensive side of the ball gained momentum throughout the season. Despite a few light position groups (like at cornerback), as a whole, the defense was on the cusp of being among the top 10 in the league — finishing 2016 at No. 13 of ESPN’s total defense rankings.
With Hicks firing on all cylinders at the end of last season, in addition to his offseason motivation, he’ll be pivotal in making the Eagles’ defense one of the most aggressive in the NFL.
He’s embracing a leadership role
Heading into just his third year in the league, Hicks is already stepping up to save a sad 2015 draft class for the Eagles. Hicks and wideout Nelson Agholor are the only two picks still with the team from the final draft class of the Chip Kelly era. Agholor has struggled his first two seasons, but Hicks has become an exciting young leader for the defense.
“At middle linebacker, I feel like I have to be [a leader]. I think honestly we have quite a bit of guys who are considered leaders,” Hicks told Bleeding Green Nation.
Despite being only 25 years old, he’s not afraid to speak up. The Eagles released footage of a mic’d up Hicks throughout the 2016 season, and it’s easy to get excited about a guy who is all-in so early in his career. It isn’t just the defense he’s riling up and supporting, but quarterback Carson Wentz and head coach Doug Pederson too.
He understands the value of consistency, and having the same defensive scheme — and defensive coordinator — two (healthy) seasons in a row will go a long way to get there.
Hicks already has a plan, telling BGN, “We’ll be able to see [the same route concepts] and take specific film and figure out the steps and drill work. Work on what we weren’t really good at last year. That’s how you take the next step.”
Still playing under his rookie contract, Hicks could cost the Eagles big money when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season. But, if he keeps flying around the field, making big plays on opposing quarterbacks, and contributing to an upward-trending defense, he’ll be worth every penny.