Needless to say, the Dallas Cowboys now have a lot of talent at the linebacker position. That also means they now have more questions to answer, having now used their fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on linebacker Jabril Cox. The former LSU standout slid down the draft board farther than many anticipated he would, but that skid ended in North Texas. With the addition of Cox on the same weekend as former Penn State phenom Micah Parsons accelerates questions about the future of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch — the latter set to by the Cowboys no later than Monday.
For Cox, it’ll be about hitting the ground running with the chip that’s now on his shoulder.
“[The Cowboys are] getting a high-character, versatile player,” he said following the pick. “Someone who can do multiple things for them on the defense, be able to play special teams, coming in packages in all three downs; just being anything that the coach would want. I just want to help Dallas win and reach that high Super Bowl status that they’ve always been at.”
The 23-year-old began his collegiate career at North Dakota State, where he earned honors as MVFC Freshman of the Year and Second-Team All-MVFC (2017), MVFC Defensive Player of the Year (2018), two-time All-MVFC (2018, 2019), two-time FCS All American and three-time FCS champion.
The 6-foot-3, 232-pound prospect went on to take his talents to the LSU Tigers in 2020 and continued to make plays in the SEC, showing off his elite coverage skills by finishing the year with three interceptions on the year — along with five pass deflections in his 10 games played. Cox is also more than willing to get his hands dirty on special teams, and that’s an added attribute the Cowboys will use in spades, given his ability to tackle and on-the-field speed. He’ll also add to Parsons in possibly pushing flex defender Keanu Neal more to the safety role than one of linebacker, as previously planned. Or, if he begins at safety as projected at the moment, the inverse will occur.
Cox shouldn’t take much time to ingratiate himself to a LB-needy Cowboys team, as he did at LSU and NDSU previously.
He’s an athlete who settled into the linebacker position after operating in multiple positions in high school, and a multisport athlete who also starred in basketball. Look for him to be used more as a matchup nightmare for tight ends and slot corners, differing from what Parsons brings as a downhill punisher. You’d be hard-pressed to locate a linebacker with the coverage skills of a dominant defensive back, and that’s the right medicine after seeing Smith struggle in space recently. The mixed signals from now-fired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan did Smith no favors, admittedly, but it’s difficult to not see the addition of Cox as direct competition for him and now Neal, the latter signing a one-year deal to help salve the wound.
“Just my patience and me having length,” said Cox of his coverage abilities. “I take a lot of pride in winning my one-on-ones. That’s something that I always want to do, and just the football smarts and all around. If you’re competing and want to win your one on one, you’re not going to lose many matchups.”
And speaking of Lee, whom the team is open to carving out a coaching role for, the Cowboys can’t help but work up a later when considering the possibility of Lee coaching up Parsons and Cox for the future — whenever Lee is ready to take the job. The biggest knock to Cox’s game is that he needs to consistently play through the contact, which could be exacerbated against stronger and more elusive NFL players than he’s seen…