Should the Broncos take a coverage backer?
The Broncos’ off ball linebackers were a reliably solid unit in 2020. Alexander Johnson saw his role expand to take on more blitzing as Fangio adjusted to life without Von Miller. Josey Jewell stepped into the void when Todd Davis was released in September and overperformed expectations. Together with the safeties, the duo served as the most consistent part of the Broncos defense as they combined to play more than 1900 snaps.
Both Jewell and Johnson return for 2021 with contracts that expire after the season. Questions about their future as well as John Elway’s attempt to acquire Patrick Queen in the 2020 draft does mean there’s a real possibility George Paton is looking for a dynamic three down linebacker.
Does Jabril Cox fit the description?
At a glance:
A transfer from the North Dakota State Bison, it didn’t take long for Cox to find his way to the field. The 6’3 233 lb. 22-year old played in every game for the Tigers and finished with three interceptions on top of his 58 tackles, adding a touchdown to boot. Defensive coordinator Bo Pelini didn’t hesitate to ask to Cox to stick with assignments in man coverage and throughout his tape there are reps with him sticking on all sorts of assignments. He has the kind of short area quickness and long speed to become a three down backer in the NFL.
Why he fits the Broncos
- Started 38 of 45 games for NDSU before he transferred to LSU and started 10 more.
- Very good athlete with very good quickness, agility, and good explosiveness.
- Good competitive toughness and the SEC didn’t look too big for him.
- Anticipates in coverage and will read the QB during a drop.
- Has the range to chase balls down in space. Tackle to tackle is easy. Understands how to leverage the ball back to help.
- Very good in zone coverage, looks very good on breaks with a quick trigger and understands leverage.
- Very good in man coverage because of his ability to mirror. Used against slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs.
- Very good ball skills as he will play the ball in the air as he tries to contest at the catch point. Finished college career with 26 passes defensed and nine interceptions, three of which came at LSU.
- Could serve as a valuable part of pressure packages with his range and ability to drop or play up.
Reasons for concern
- Tore an ACL as a Junior in high school.
- Played part of the 2019 season with a torn labrum.
- Processing looks adequate and he may need a little seasoning to adjust to speed of the NFL. This shows up most when he’s identifying the run fit in the box. The SEC was fast in the trenches.
- Adequate play strength that shows up when he’s mashing around the line of scrimmage.
- He’s adequate against the run at the POA. His ability to stack and shed is adequate thanks to his play strength.
- He’s adequate against outside runs and will over pursue.
- Displays adequate tackling in one on one situations, but did show improvement from 2019 to 2020 across jump to SEC.
- Craftier QBs will be able to manipulate him with their eyes early on.
What I’ve seen / heard / read
I spoke with John Todd about Jabril Cox on Cover 2 Broncos. It’s worth noting that their metrics love him.
“Cox is a rangy athlete who excels in both man and zon coverage which will allow im to see the field in clutch situations at the next level, but missed tackles and too many inconsistencies in the run game could be a problem for him,”
“Jabril Cox is an athletic coverage specialist who needs to add play strength to become a full time contributor in the run game. In the NFL, he projects best as a Will linebacker in a 4-3 defense and has the athleticism to hang over a receiver or tight end in the slot as well as manning up on backs,”
Jabril Cox enjoyed a standout high school career where he played multiple positions and starred in both football and basketball but didn’t receive much interest coming out as a recruit. He spent three seasons at North Dakota State where he was outstanding. After being named the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year in 2017, Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, and being a two-time FCS All-American, Cox opted to level up and compete in the SEC before entering the NFL. Cox is an outstanding coverage linebacker that thrives in space. He is terrific in both man and zone coverage, making him an ideal matchup linebacker that can handle tight ends, running backs, and some slot receivers. He has terrific range, mobility, and his motor always runs hot. When it comes to areas of concern for Cox, run defense, playing through contact, and being consistent with being an assignment-sound defender are the primary areas that need growth. Cox profiles as a productive NFL starter that brings a rare coverage skill set to the table.
The only real difference in studying his tape from North Dakota State and LSU is that Cox looks substantially more explosive than everyone else on the field for the Bison. He looks like he fits right in with the athletes at LSU, though. He’ll need to be placed in a scheme where he can play proactive, attacking football rather than getting bogged down as a thinker. He’s extremely fast with verified playmaking traits and credentials. His cover talent could help him quickly get on the field. He’s below average in diagnosing and using his hands, which can put him in recovery mode at times. However, traits and talent should be enough to overcome those issues and help make him a solid, three-down starter within the first couple of seasons.
Jabril Cox is the closest comparison I’ve found to the type of linebacker John Elway and the Broncos were reportedly chasing last year. If George Paton is looking to pair an athletic coverage player with Alexander Johnson, Cox makes a ton of sense. He may always carry questions about his play in the box, but his strengths in coverage could be so valuable they’re worth accepting. Keep in mind that Fangio deployed nickel or dime personnel on 75% of the Broncos snaps in 2020.
From day one, he would contribute to special teams as he competes for a starting job. Down the road he has the potential to be a sideline-to-sideline force who can help shut down the middle of the field to opposing passers. I’m a huge fan.