Between Micah Parsons, Zaven Collins, Dylan Moses, Baron Browning, and others, the 2021 linebacker class is stacked with high-level size/speed defenders on the second level. Another NFL Draft prospect who embodies this archetype is LSU linebacker Jabril Cox. Cox, an FCS transfer, used his 2020 season to prove he could make the leap to a higher competition level. Did he succeed, and how was his draft stock impacted?
Jabril Cox NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 231 pounds
Current Year: Redshirt Senior
The FBS is known for its general superiority in terms of athleticism, but gems are unearthed every year at the FCS level. However, few of those gems get the opportunity to prove their worth on the FBS stage. Cox earned that, but his journey started with a lot of hard work, dating all the way back to high school.
Cox was a standout at Raytown South High School. There, he was a three-year starter and two-year team captain in football, as well as a four-year starter in basketball. Although he logged reps at wide receiver, linebacker, safety, and cornerback, Cox’s primary role was starting quarterback.
Cox was a dual-threat weapon, but his lack of role definition or polish as a quarterback cost him on the recruiting stage. Merely a two-star recruit, he received little interest after going on a visit to Nebraska as a sophomore, and he wound up choosing the North Dakota State Bison as his college football destination in 2016. There, Cox would attract the interest he failed to bring in as a younger player.
Jabril Cox’s journey to becoming an LSU linebacker
Players rarely make such a massive institutional leap as Jabril Cox made in his redshirt senior season. It was a leap predicated on years of dominance at the FCS level, in the Missouri Valley Conference.
After redshirting his first year with the Bison, Cox played in all fifteen games as a redshirt freshman. Over the course of the 2017 season, he logged 75 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, four pass deflections, and three fumble recoveries. He was named the Missouri Valley Newcomer and Freshman of the Year for that season. But there was much more where that came from.
Making strides after his touted rookie season
In 2018, Cox picked it up about three notches. He again played in all fifteen games, carrying on his role as a full-time starter. That year, Cox amassed 91 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions, and seven pass deflections. Cox became a menace for teams in pass coverage and won MVC Defensive Player of the Year for his breakout season.
By 2019, Cox was a fixture, both to his teammates and his opponents. He carried on his productive streak in 2019 and ended his North Dakota State career with outrageous totals. Among them, he accumulated 258 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, six interceptions, and 18 pass deflections. He was also a three-time National Champion, for good measure. Cox could have feasibly declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, but there was one thing missing on his résumé.
A year at the FBS level
After graduating from North Dakota State in the spring of 2019, Cox turned his attention to his prospective NFL career. He aimed to strengthen his NFL Draft stock with a year of competition at the FBS level. Thus, he entered the transfer portal as a grad transfer.
It serves as an indication of Cox’s talents that he was immediately pursued by two of the top teams in the SEC: Alabama and LSU. While visits were not allowed due to restrictions, Cox ended up signing with the Tigers. LSU offered greater opportunities at the linebacker position, and Cox converted on those opportunities in the 2020 season.
In his lone FBS season, Cox stood out on an LSU defense that regressed overall. In ten games, Cox picked up 58 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, a pick-six, and five pass deflections. Cox was named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker. While he didn’t win, he proved he belonged in that conversation, and that was ultimately what he set out to do.
On January 3rd, Cox officially declared for the 2021 NFL Draft. Now, it’s on to the next step up.
Analyzing Jabril Cox’s NFL Draft profile
As mentioned earlier, the 2021 NFL Draft is flush with impressive size/speed talents at linebacker, and Jabril Cox is part of that group. Measuring around 6-foot-4, 231 pounds, Cox is very well built on the second level. He also has enticing athletic traits to couple with his imposing frame.
The biggest calling card for Cox, at least athletically, is his explosiveness. Moving downhill, Cox accelerates rapidly, and his straight-line burst can create problems for players who linger in the backfield too long. Cox’s ability to cover ground quickly also helps in coverage. There, he has the traits to hawk in front of short and intermediate routes, and he found great success doing this, as evidenced by his nine career interceptions. Additionally, his burst enhances his pass-rushing utility. If he’s unblocked, he can absolutely wreck plays.
Cox also brings solid lateral agility, and while he only offers good-not-great fluidity when changing directions, he has enough spring in his step to compensate. Cox’s functional speed also impresses. Some defenders have excellent explosiveness but max out too quickly and don’t have the speed to continue a chase. Cox, however, likely runs around a 4.6. This speed shows up big-time in pursuit, where Cox’s tracking ability can be effective, especially with his length.
What are the holes in Jabril Cox’s game?
As you might expect, Cox is still relatively raw as an NFL Draft prospect. Coming from the FCS and only spending one year in the FBS, he still has a bit of a learning curve in store for him. He performed admirably in his lone FBS season, but his play was noticeably volatile at times. The LSU linebacker proved that he has an NFL future, but teams may need to insulate him for a bit before designating him a premier player.
That said, Cox is well worth an investment in the NFL Draft. The LSU linebacker brings upper-echelon athletic traits, and he also has the size to shed blockers and finish tackles with authority. He can line up against tight ends in man coverage, and he also shows flashes against slot receivers. Additionally, he has the football IQ and instincts to be a playmaker in zone.
Cox needs to learn how to better mend patience with aggression, and he can further refine his tackling angles. However, he has the mentality, motor, and physical makeup to be a potential impact starter in the NFL.
Jabril Cox’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Jabril Cox was an incredibly productive linebacker at the collegiate level. Judging how well his leap to the FBS went, he should be able to morph into a producer in the right scheme quickly. Teams will have to learn how to use Cox’s size and explosiveness best. However, given Cox’s exciting and well-rounded pallet of traits, that shouldn’t be laborious.
Cox has the tools to fill in at both weak and strong-side linebacker situationally. He could also play linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, where his ability as a blitzer could be magnified. Versatility is the name of the game for Cox. With his athleticism, he can do a lot of things that other linebackers can’t. In an NFL where that mix-and-match capability is so important, that’s a big point of emphasis for the LSU linebacker.
He’s also known as a humble, hard-working player, who’d likely be flexible to what coaches ask of him. This should be accentuated at the Senior Bowl.
Teams where Cox could provide the most impact
Teams like the Washington Football Team, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams, and Atlanta Falcons, would benefit greatly from Cox’s dynamic ability. He also fits the locker room culture that these teams are trying to establish as they look to take the next step. There are, of course, other teams that could also use Cox’s talents. On Day 2, he offers a ton of value with his physical potential. He’ll be 23 by the NFL Draft, but his ability to quickly adapt to his surroundings bodes well for him, both for his impending transition and for his quest to become a starter.