Through the injuries, through all the losses and defensive coordinator changes, Texas Longhorns linebacker Jordan Hicks made it.
Selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, the former five-star prospect is not only living his NFL dream, but he's doing so in an organization that clearly values the traits he embodies, especially his intelligence and work ethic.
Those are just two of the reasons why head coach Chip Kelly took a chance on Hicks in a slot many analysts felt was on the high side for the oft-injured linebacker. Despite some criticism for taking the former Longhorn on the draft's second day, Kelly said that he had a second-round grade on Hicks, making him a value pick in the eyes of the organization.
"I've been talking to Philly for a while, actually," Hicks said abouit being picked by the Eagles. "I went on a pre-draft visit there and had a great time, felt really comfortable and enjoyed meeting with all the coaches and getting a feel for the place. I really like the city, and I know the organization is doing big things right now, so I can't wait to get there and get going."
Of course, the Eagles also believed in the on-field abilities of Hicks, the physical traits that made him the consensus No. 7 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class.
"Jordan has a lot of skill," head coach Charlie Strong said. "He's someone that can go in coverage and cover backs or anyone he needs to. He does a great job of dropping into a zone or matching up, but he's also very physical at the point of attack where he can run downhill and take on blockers."
Hicks posted some of the best agility times at the NFL Scouting Combine for any player at his position, including the 13th-best three-cone drill for any linebacker since 2006. One thing that really sets Hicks apart from the other linebackers in the draft is his athleticism, which is remarkable:
When viewed holistically, Hicks's pSPARQ score of 134.2 places him in the 87.5 percentile amongst ALL CURRENT NFL linebackers. His athletic comparisons include Ryan Shazier, Mychal Kendricks, and DeMeco Ryans.
Because of that athleticism, Hicks is effective in coverage, as he showed on those two big red-zone plays against West Virginia last fall:
New Eagles LB Jordan Hicks had the 9th highest coverage grade of all LBs in this draft class— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 2, 2015
As a result, he should eventually become a three-down linebacker for the Eagles.
But those are just physical attributes -- Hicks also excels at the mental side of the game. Strong refers to the middle linebacker as the "glue" guy for the defense because that position is typically responsible for making defensive calls and checking the alignment of the other 10 players. However, it was Hicks at his weakside position who was responsible for handling that role in 2014.
"The thing about Jordan is he's very smart," Strong said. "He's just like another coach out on the field. He's someone who did a great job this year getting our defense lined up, and guys respected him because of how hard he worked."
Learning a new defensive system shouldn't be a difficult task for Hicks -- he played for four defensive coordinators during his time at Texas.
After the 2015 season, the depth chart should open up for the former Texas star. The incumbent at the weakside position right now is Mychal Kendricks, who is in the final year of his rookie contract and has been the consistent subject of trade rumors recently. The two players behind Kendrick, Brad Jones and former Longhorn Emmanuel Acho, are both much more marginal players who could struggle to win the back-up job if Hicks acclimates quickly.
Most of all, Hicks is a player who knows what it means to work hard after recovering from two season-ending injuries. He's a player who knows how to overcome adversity. And he values his opportunity even more highly because of it.
"Obviously I'm not going to sit here and say I know what to expect because it's new," Hicks said of the transition to the NFL. "You can't be ready for something brand new. You have no clue what it truly means to step into the situation, but I also know who I am, and I've been through some things in my life that I've overcome, and I've learned a lot about myself since I've been at The University of Texas."