This draft class may very well go down in history as the Dan Quinn Draft, considering the Cowboys have spent all six of their picks thus far on defense. In fact, they set a franchise record in doing so:
For the first time in franchise history, the Cowboys have spent their first six picks on defense:
LB Micah Parsons
CB Kelvin Joseph
DT Osa Odighizuwa
DE Chauncey Golston
CB Nahshon Wright
LB Jabril Cox
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 1, 2021
And of course they made that history by selecting LSU linebacker Jabril Cox with the 115th pick. Cox was one of the consensus best players remaining heading into Day 3 of the draft, but it didn’t seem likely that Dallas would double-dip on linebacker after selecting Micah Parsons in the first round.
But apparently Dallas was very high on Cox, having a second-round grade on him. That was about in line with what many other draft experts thought of Cox, hence the surprise at him still being on the board. But the Cowboys got him here, and the decision to take two linebackers in this draft, both of whom were highly thought of heading in, likely means the end of both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith as the unquestioned starters.
As for Cox, he was a three-year starter at North Dakota State before transferring to LSU this final season. Cox absolutely dominated in the FCS, which is why the then-reigning national champs welcomed him to the team. Cox wasn’t as dominant in the SEC, but he was still incredibly productive, tallying 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and three interceptions.
That last stat speaks to Cox’s calling card: he’s arguably the best coverage linebacker in this whole draft. Cox plays incredibly well in both shallow zone and when asked to match up with tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Cox even showed some positive reps against slower slot receivers at LSU as well.
While Cox’s pick likely spells trouble for Vander Esch and Smith, it’s a very good complementary addition to Parsons. The most commonly listed weakness for Parsons was his below-average skills in pass coverage, while Parsons’ calling card was his run defense and pass rush ability. Dan Quinn has apparently already told Parsons he’ll be drawing up plenty of blitzes for the athletic linebacker, so adding Cox to take on more coverage responsibilities actually enhances the Parsons pick.
As far as positions go, Cox’s best fit is at the WILL linebacker spot, which allows him to sit back and read the defense and play free. That fits well with Parsons too, since Parsons will likely fit into a MIKE or SAM role in this scheme.
Cox is not without his weaknesses, though. He has trouble with getting off blocks when offensive linemen reach him, and at times Cox was so eager to make a play that he filled the wrong hole. He’ll need to get a little more patient and work on block deconstruction at the next level, but at WILL in this defense he’ll be limited to the amount of times he runs into that issue (provided the interior defensive line doesn’t get blown up as they did in 2020).
This selection seems like exactly the way Cowboys fans could have hoped for Day 3 to start. After some lukewarm, at best, reactions to most of the team’s picks on Friday, Cox is an objective value pick at 115 overall and gives the Cowboys a very formidable young linebacker duo moving forward. The biggest intrigue will be how this actually affects the two entrenched starters Dallas already had, but we’ll have to wait for training camp to get an idea of that. Until then, it’s time to celebrate Dallas landing a steal in this draft.