The Dallas Cowboys put in the work to identify defensive players in the draft that they wanted to add to their roster for 2021 and beyond. Some players like Micah Parsons and Kelvin Joseph already have roles dreamed up for them, while others like Nahshon Wright and Israel Mukuamu will be battling for snaps with the rest of the defensive back group. A player who falls a bit in both camps is fourth-round rookie from LSU, Jabril Cox.
After winning three National Championships with the Bison, Cox, who transferred from North Dakota State to Louisiana State, is joining a position group that went from a weakness to a potential strength of the defensive roster in 2021.
With health and ability questions about Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys have slated Keanu Neal to play linebacker. They then spent the 12th overall pick on Micah Parsons, who they've slated for a do-it-all role as a pass rusher off the edge and an off-the-ball linebacker.
Add Jabril Cox into the mix, and all of a sudden, the linebacker group looks pretty good. They can go five deep and can be used in situations that maximize their respective abilities. And this is where I think Dan Quinn will look to get Jabril Cox on the field in 2021. As a situational linebacker.
At LSU, Cox played a lot in nickel. They lined him up as an outside linebacker, often playing as an overhang backer next to the defensive end. He plays with really good discipline in the running game. Seeing the ball carrier and playing to his assignment. There are times when he can overpursue against misdirection, but he generally stays disciplined and reads the counter well. When the overhand defender, Cox, does a good job staying home to maintain contain as he did against Florida when they attempted a backside end around with Kadarius Toney.
He has good length to engage and disengage blockers, including offensive lineman. When the offensive lineman comes for him Cox with their second-level block, he's able to fight them off using his length. If he cannot get engaged with his hands on the blocker, he has a difficult time shedding the block because he doesn't have any leverage. But that doesn't happen often.
He was a solid run defender but not necessarily a powerful striker when attacking the ball carrier. Not necessarily a sudden player, he plays smooth and flows to the football.
Where Jabril Cox could find himself on the field in 2021 is in coverage. At LSU, Cox was often assigned to cover tight ends who would split out wide or into the slot. Jabril Cox is natural in his zone drops and has good footwork when asked to turn and run with a player. His eye discipline keeps him from getting drawn in on play-action and helps him keep appropriate depths in his drops. He does a good job passing off receivers in zone and picking up players coming into his zone. He keeps his head on a swivel and shows good awareness.
The Cowboys' best bet for utilizing Cox in his rookie year would be in obvious passing situations. 3rd and long or when other teams are playing from behind. His natural athleticism, his length, and his instincts in coverage will help the Cowboys control the middle of the field. Dallas may have guys that they deem “starters” on game day, but I think we're going to see the top five players at the position used in a rotation and in a way that puts them in the best position to succeed. Getting Jabril Cox on the field in coverage would be the way to help him succeed in 2021.