I wrote about Jerome Brown earlier this week on the 28th anniversary of his death, and I found myself watching a bunch of videos of Jerome on YouTube.
That’s why it took me 4 ½ hours to write a column that should have taken 45 minutes. Because I kept getting distracted watching grainy old highlights of Jerome wrecking people.
And the more I watched No. 99, the more I saw No. 91.
Fletcher Cox was only 1 ½ years old when we lost Jerome in June of 1992. He never saw him play. But it’s uncanny how similar they are.
How often do you come across a defensive tackle this stout against the run and this disruptive going after the quarterback? How often do you find an interior lineman able to make this much of an impact on a football game? How often do you find a 300-pounder this athletic and nimble?
It doesn’t happen often, and the Eagles found that guy in the first round round 25 years apart.
Look at their careers.
Brown was the ninth pick in 1987, Cox the 12th pick in 2012.
Brown made his first Pro Bowl in his fourth season. Cox made his first Pro Bowl in his fourth season.
Brown had 9.0 sacks his first two years and then busted out with 10 ½ in his third year. Cox had 8 ½ sacks his first two years and busted out with 9 ½ in his fourth year.
They each made two Pro Bowls in their first five seasons.
Heck, Fletch’s locker is even in virtually the same spot at the NovaCare Complex that Jerome’s was at the Vet. Two thirds of the way down on the right.
Differences? Fletch is a couple inches taller. Jerome was a lot wilder.
But Brown and Cox are the two best defensive tackles in Eagles history, and third place isn’t close.
They share not just a position and some stats and honors and a uniform but a genuine passion for the game, a relentlessness and determination and drive that sets the great ones apart.
Seth Joyner played alongside Brown all five of his NFL seasons and has studied Cox as an analyst here at NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Nobody on the planet is more qualified to put the two defensive tackles into context.
I asked Seth a couple years ago if Cox reminds him of Brown.
“When you look at defensive tackles, you’re either going to get a guy who’s a run stopper or a guy who’s a pass rusher,” he said. “It’s very rare that you find a defensive tackle that has the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage from a run standpoint and then when he knows it’s a passing situation, he’s almost unblockable. In all my years I’ve only seen one defensive tackle play that way, and that’s Jerome Brown and you’re seeing a lot of those qualities in Fletcher Cox.”
Cox has now made five straight Pro Bowls, and although 2019 wasn’t his most consistent season as he came off a serious injury, by the end of the year he was playing as well as ever.
Sadly, it’s impossible to compare Jerome and Fletch after their first five years. Jerome had really started to take better care of himself four or five years into his career, and there’s no question in my mind he would have become as productive, as dominant and as consistent as Cox has been these last few years.
It probably wouldn’t have been here, though, because Jerome was planning to leave as part of the free agent exodus that cost us Reggie, Clyde, Seth, Andre and Eric Allen.
But he would have been a Hall of Famer, just like Fletch will one day be a Hall of Famer.
I’ve wondered for years what kind of player Jerome would have been had he lived. I realized this week that every time we watch Fletcher Cox we get the answer.
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