Feb 23, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive back Justin Cox runs the 40 yard dash during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
When this year’s NFL Draft rolls around later this month (April 30th), the Bengals will likely have another solid, if not spectacular, draft. The key to this type of draft lies not only in the early and middle rounds, but really what happens in the later rounds, and even in the immediate aftermath when team’s scramble to sign undrafted free agents. Whether it’s in the later rounds of the draft or as an undrafted free agent, defensive back Justin Cox could prove to be the Bengals’ Next Project.
Justin Cox comes to the draft process with measurable talent literally. At 6’1″, 191 pounds, he offers great size for a defensive back. At the combine Cox was undeniably impressive. He was a top performer (Top 10 amongst secondary participants) in five of seven events. His 40-yard time was an astounding 4.36 seconds, his vertical leap and broad jumps (38″ and 129″ respectively) were impressive, and his 20 and 60-yard shuttle times (4.07 and 11.2 seconds) offered great promise. Teams likely drool over prospects who offer this type of elite athletic ability.
Cox’s off-the-field behavior is concerning to teams though. Although many people close to Cox called his run-in with the law uncharacteristic, whenever a player is arrested on suspicion of burglary and aggravated domestic violence, teams are justifiably worried. Also concerning is Cox’s lack of refinement on the field. He’s the type of player who relies on his athletic ability to get by. This fact is readily when watching Cox and is highlighted by Lance Zierlein in his draft profile. Refinement can be found with coaching, so if Cox is malleable, he could turn into a solid player.
This is the key with Justin Cox. Brandon Walker‘s piece for The Dispatch can be seen in multiple ways. Although Cox is training hard, will this type of commitment translate to coaching and the film room, which is where is effort must be employed if he is to improve?
Also, Cox has been seemingly shielding himself from the world in order to focus on the task at hand, earning his way into the NFL. Yet, rather than shielding himself from potential problems, which would be a good thing, maybe he’s simply suppressing the distractions that will eventually present themselves down the road?
On the positive side, it was good to hear, though he was suspended from Mississippi State following his arrest, Cox still bought a ticket to attend Mississippi State’s Bowl game in order to support his teammates. Also, and though it can be attributed to many factors, it is interesting that MSU allowed 20.2 points per game when Cox was on the field and 27.6 when he was off it.
Justin Cox is undeniably an interesting project. With experience at safety, and the athleticism of a cornerback, he could be a versatile defensive back. His athleticism offers great promise and hence, a template for teams to work with. Yet, his drawbacks can’t help but engender great concern.
It’s highly likely that Cox falls into the drafts later rounds, or possibly even out of the draft entirely, at least according to one scout.
"“We have him as a draft reject based on character and his overall tape.”"
If this happens, Cox could be signed soon after the draft concludes, and for the Bengals, be their next undrafted free agent find. Talented, yet troubled, sounds like the beginning of what could prove to be Marvin Lewis’ next great project.
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