Jabril Cox celebrates after making a tackle

Vogel’s All-Versatile Team: OLB Jabril Cox, LSU

  • 2021 NFL Draft
  • All-Versatile Team
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Denver Broncos
  • Jabril Cox
  • LSU Tigers
  • New York Giants
  • NFl Draft
  • North Dakota State Bison
By John Vogel January 2, 2021 0 Comment
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John Vogel debut’s his All-Versatile Team series with LSU linebacker Jabril Cox, a strong pass defender at the linebacker position.

Let’s face it – we all love versatile football players. They always seem to capture our intrigue as it is astonishing to see a man compete in so many ways on the football field. Versatility piques the interest of NFL teams too. The NFL is always looking to add wrinkles to their teams on both sides of the ball, especially as the league becomes more about match-ups.

Introducing the first annual 2021 Vogel’s All-Versatile Team – a breakdown of the most versatile players entering the NFL Draft and discussing how they can fit into an NFL offense with their unique skill sets.

In this series, the goal isn’t only to break down the best players entering the 2021 NFL Draft – it’s to break down some of the more interesting players. An initial 22 players will be announced on the “team.” Following the initial 22 release, we will add eight more players to provide some depth to the squad. After all, this was a difficult list to compile due to the extraordinary number of interesting players in this class.

Introducing outside linebacker Jabril Cox, LSU

Jabril Cox was an FCS All-American at North Dakota State before transferring to LSU. The graduate transfer from Kansas City, Missouri came to LSU with much fanfare and high expectations. Cox generated the same type of expectations during his illustrious high school career.

Cox was a four-year starter in three sports at Raytown South, playing football, baseball, and basketball. Entering his junior season, Cox was a rising four-star talent with many eyes and offers at division one schools. Then, disaster struck. Cox tore his ACL halfway through his junior football season. His recruitment was put on hold as doctors assessed the damage to discover whether Cox would ever play sports again. “It was like he had the plague,” Cox’s father, James, recalled from the sudden lack of interest.

Cox recovered beautifully and was back on the field with a strong final year. He was playing as a dual-threat quarterback and receiving FCS offers. In fact, he even received some interest from Nebraska, although he was never offered. “I thought towards the end that more teams were going to come and pick me up,” Cox explained. “But, they never did.”

Time at North Dakota State

North Dakota State collected interest in Jabril Cox but not as a quarterback – they liked him as a linebacker. “[Cox] understood spacing,” Bison coach Matt Entz explained later on. “He understood route concepts. He understood field awareness. Some of those are intangibles.”

Cox took a redshirt his first season on campus to better adjust to the defensive side of the football. His redshirt freshman season, in a huge game against Youngstown State, the team’s starting linebacker, Chris Board, went down with an injury and had to leave the game. Cox was the next man up, and he did not disappoint. He collected three sacks, one on his first snap, and a critical tackle-for-loss.

Youngstown State’s head coach at the time was none other than Bo Pelini. “I think he’s an NFL guy,” Pelini stated after a game. “Sometimes I don’t know what NFL guys look for, but how you’d watch this kid on film and say that you don’t want this kid on your football team – I mean, you don’t know much about football if anybody says that.”

As Cox’s time at North Dakota State came to an end, it became clear after his redshirt-junior season that he wouldn’t be around another year. The question became – would Cox declare for the draft and go pro? The answer came when Cox announced he was entering the transfer portal to pursue his final year of school elsewhere.

In the end, the redshirt senior decided to join forces with Pelini, who had just joined the LSU staff as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Ability in pass coverage

Here’s the crazy part of Jabril Cox’s game – he has the athletic ability to cover tight ends down the field. Did you notice that when LSU played Florida, their tight ends were not a threat on the field? Turn on the tape and it may or may not surprise you to see Cox covering tight ends down the field.

In the modern NFL, tight ends are becoming more and more of a threat in an offense’s passing concepts. With athletic receivers at the position like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller in the NFL, the league is looking for linebackers capable of covering tight ends down the field. We are seeing more nickel usage, or when defenses have five defensive backs, on the field than we ever have. When teams switch into the nickel, it’s generally to take a linebacker off of the field. The linebackers that stay out and play have to be effective in pass coverage.

Remember – Cox understands route concepts. He understands spacing. Cox knows where to place himself, especially in zona coverage concepts, when dropping into the field of play. He intercepted three SEC quarterbacks this season. Mississippi State’s KJ Costello didn’t see him, and Cox scored a touchdown. Arkansas’s Feleipe Franks underestimated his athleticism, and Cox almost scored another touchdown. Ole Miss’s Matt Corral didn’t see him either.

It’s easy to see NFL teams seeing the upside to drafting Cox so that he could be that strongside linebacker who plays effectively in space and stays on the field during nickel sets. Because he’s a big body type, he matches up well against tight ends. That’s someone that teams like the Denver Broncos or the Los Angeles Chargers would like to have because of the amount of time that they spend preparing for versatile tight ends.

Strength as a pass rusher

Speed plays a huge factor in Jabril Cox’s ability as a pass rusher. His closing speed is something extraordinary – he has the remarkable ability to cover a ton of space quickly and speed up the internal clock of the quarterback. There were several examples where Cox showed the ability to impact the quarterback in pass-first situations. In fact, he collected two sacks in relief in his first game against Youngstown State.

However, Cox is not effective at getting off of blocks. That means that people who are thinking that they can put Cox as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system are probably wrong. To use Cox in pass-rush situations, he needs to be-schemed effectively. So free releases into the backfield where Cox can time his opportunity and wait for the line to pick up their blocks. With his closing speed, Cox has the athleticism to be very effective in those situations.

Potential weaknesses in run defense

Jabril Cox isn’t a perfect player – don’t ever get suckered into thinking anyone is a perfect player. He does show potential weaknesses as a run defender, which does limit his usage a little bit. You’ll find Cox grasping at ankles quite often on tape with the runner moving down the field.

One of the big issues with Cox is that he doesn’t take good pursuit angles to the ball carrier. He often moves in to make the tackle at an awkward angle, limiting his effectiveness to really make plays. This is why he oftentimes ends up nipping at ankles. He doesn’t always show strong tackling fundamentals or really a desire to, which could be annoying to some coaching staff’s around the league.

What role does Jabril Cox end up playing in the NFL?

Cox can fill the need at several positions in multiple defensive schemes. This is why he’s part of my All-Versatile team this year. Cox is projected to run a 4.5 forty-yard dash, and should otherwise test off of the charts athletically.

To me, Cox best projects as a 4-3 strongside outside linebacker – from the information that we have at this point. His ability to cover in space is crucial to the modern NFL. He can potentially be a match-up-neutralizer with tight ends and some of the better receiving running backs in the league. I think that Cox will be highly valued by teams that regularly face dynamic pass-catchers at the running back and tight end positions.

I can also see Cox fitting as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, as someone who will shift into that pass coverage role when they take one of the outside linebackers out of the game. Cox’s ability to play zone coverage in space fits that role as he would be taking on a bigger portion of the field. I think that Jabril Cox fits that role very well.

All of that being said, I think there could be NFL teams that want to play him like a ROVER, a low safety who plays closer to the line of scrimmage. I don’t think that would be the best fit for him in the league – simply because I wouldn’t want to match him on a slot receiver, but the need could be filled. He’d be a big ROVER.

Jabril Cox’s Best NFL team fits

Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos, as previously discussed, deal with versatile mismatch players like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller twice a year each. Cox has the potential to neutralize those mismatches.

No, it’s impossible to expect a rookie to eliminate Travis Kelce or Darren Waller. They are both incredibly dominant receivers who are almost unguardable one-on-one. That’s why they are both stars in this league. However, Cox with his athleticism and ability in zone coverage fits into the Broncos cover-two style of defense as that inside linebacker that’s used primarily for pass coverage.

Waller’s biggest threat is his ability to stretch the seams and attack vertically. In Denver’s zone defense, Cox’s athleticism could force quarterbacks hesitant to the ball near him, buying more time for the safety to move into position. He can potentially defend the seams from those vertical threats.

In the case of Kelce, it’s hard to imagine Cox really having an impact in coverage against him. However, when you watch how Cox understands throwing lanes and you see him jump a couple of routes, he might be able to make someone like Patrick Mahomes respect his position on the field.

New York Giants

The New York Giants went out and got some linebackers last offseason – Blake Martinez from the Green Bay Packers, and Kyler Fackrell. Fackrell ended up on the injured reserve, and DeVante Downs ended up in the outside linebacker role.  It’s been a weak point this season.

It would make sense for the Giants to add someone like Jabril Cox – especially with the need for someone effective in pass coverage. The Giants play a cover-two defense that’s predicated on keeping the play in front of them. Cox would fit that role very well.

Atlanta Falcons

Let’s face the facts, we really don’t have any idea what will go down with the Falcons this offseason. However, when I look at their roster, I see a team that needs someone like Cox to help them, especially in a division with Sean Payton using Taysom Hill as a mismatch weapon, Matt Rhule and Joe Brady scheming things in Carolina with Christian McCaffrey, and a boatload of offensive talent in Tampa Bay. They are weak at the linebacker position.

Imagine placing Cox in the NFC South. Atlanta has a good draft position this class, and a lot of needs. We might have to update this when they start putting their coaching staff together. For now, we will stick with this spot.

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