BATON ROUGE, LA - DECEMBER 19: Jabril Cox #19 of the LSU Tigers reacts after a play against the Ole Miss Rebels at Tiger Stadium on December 19, 2020 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
(Photo by Beau Brune/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

Louisiana State linebacker Jabril Cox has the athleticism and coverage ability to be a tremendous mid-round target for the New York Jets.

After starting for three seasons and earning Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year Award honors at North Dakota State, linebacker Jabril Cox (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) set his sights on an NFL future and wanted to prove to scouts he could play against top competition before turning pro. Cox chose to grad-transfer to defending national champion LSU, playing in the SEC for his lone year of Division I football.

Known for his speed and coverage ability in Fargo, Cox looked just as rangy and fluid in space in Baton Rouge, proving he isn’t a small school wonder. Linebackers in Robert Saleh’s defense are tasked with covering a lot of ground in space, and the Jets simply don’t have anyone on the team currently who is fast enough or sound enough in coverage to be their full-time WILL linebacker.

Speed and football IQ are the two most important traits Saleh wants in his linebackers, and Cox has both in spades.

Film

It’s first-and-10 from the offense’s 9-yard line, and Ole Miss is running Midline Option to try and get some easy yards and get out of their own end zone.


Cox is lined up at WILL playing man coverage on the No. 3 receiver to the field. As soon as Cox sees the running back come across, he knows it’s Midline and triggers.

He easily knifes under the receiver’s block and grabs the running back by the ankle for a loss of six yards—quick to diagnose and quick to attack.

Later in the same game, LSU is in 2-Man with Cox on the running back. The Rebels call 4 Verticals and the back leaks out to the flat as the check-down.

Cox stays square and follows the back, then takes advantage of the quarterback’s bad decision with an interception. Awareness is fully on display once again. 

Cox’s coverage ability shines here as he reads the post route from the slot receiver and plays perfect catch technique to wall-off the route inside. Even more impressive is the speed-turn Cox pulls off to stay with the route through the break.

This is defensive back-type movement from a 6-foot-4, 230-pound linebacker, and Cox makes it look easy.

Cox against Alabama. The Crimson Tide call a screen to tailback Najee Harris from a Split-Back Gun set, with a flat motion from the opposite back to distract the defense. Cox is the first defender to read the screen and calls it out, and then starts hauling ass from the backside C-gap to track down Harris.

Despite being the furthest box defender from Harris when he starts running, Cox is the first to the ball. Harris is awesome and breaks the tackle, but the range and smarts Cox displayed to get to Harris in the first place are what’s most impressive about this play.

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Conclusion

Saleh has had a history of drafting athletic linebackers and turning them into stars. Brian Cushing, Bobby Wagner, Myles Jack, and Fred Warner, just to name a few, are all former Saleh disciples who went on to become great players.

With a glaring hole at WILL and Saleh’s reputation for finding gems at the position, it’s a solid bet that the Jets will draft a linebacker at some point in the 2021 draft. Jabril Cox is just the type of player Saleh covets, and will likely be available much later than the top WILL linebackers like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or Zaven Collins.

Speed, instincts, and coverage ability are a necessity in this defense, and if the Jets want a WILL linebacker with those skills for cheap, there might be no better player than Jabril Cox.

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