2021 NFL draft: LSU's Jabril Cox fits modern coverage LB mold to a tee

Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. DT Christian Barmore | 29. QB Mac Jones | 28. CB Caleb Farley | 27. RB Javonte Williams | 26. C-OG Landon Dickerson | 25. S Trevon Moehrig | 24. CB Greg Newsome II | 23. WR Rashod Bateman | 22. EDGE Greg Rousseau | 21. OT Christian Darrisaw | 20. RB Najee Harris | 19. LB-S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah | 18. EDGE Jaelan Phillips | 17. OT Teven Jenkins | 16. EDGE Kwity Paye | 15. CB Jaycee Horn | 14. OT-OG Rashawn Slater | 13. OG-OT Alijah Vera-Tucker | 12. WR DeVonta Smith | 11. EDGE Azeez Ojulari | 10. CB Patrick Surtain II | 9. OT Penei Sewell | 8. QB Zach Wilson | 7. LB Micah Parsons | 6. QB Trey Lance | 5. WR Jaylen Waddle | 4. QB Justin Fields | 3. WR Ja'Marr Chase | 2. TE Kyle Pitts | 1. QB Trevor Lawrence

Here are how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here are how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

43. LSU LB Jabril Cox

6-foot-3, 233 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.90 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Athletic, three-down matchup linebacker with terrific coverage ability, but can he be a good run defender?

Games watched: James Madison (2019), Vanderbilt (2020), Mississippi State (2020), Arkansas (2020), Florida (2020)

The skinny: A 0-star Rivals recruit out of Kansas City, Cox was a dual-threat QB and linebacker coming out of high school whose junior-season knee injury seemed to cool recruiting interest from SEC programs. He signed with North Dakota State and redshirted in 2016. The next season Cox made 75 tackles (13 for losses), 4.5 sacks, one interception, four pass breakups, one forced fumble and three recoveries, earning second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference honors and being named conference Freshman of the Year. In 2018, he made 91 tackles (9.5 for losses), four sacks, four interceptions (two pick-sixes) and seven pass breakups, named first-team all-MVC and conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Cox was named AP FCS All-America in 2019 with 92 tackles (9.5 for losses), 5.5 sacks, one interceptions and seven pass breakups in 15 starts, ending a 31-game starting streak when he missed one game with a torn labrum (which he played most of the season with). After the season, he transferred to LSU and started all 10 games, making 58 tackles (6.5 for losses), one sack, three interceptions (one pick six), eight pass breakups and a fumble recovery, earning second-team all-SEC. Cox attended the 2021 Senior Bowl.

LSU linebacker Jabril Cox stepped in at the SEC level and had a strong 2020 season. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
LSU linebacker Jabril Cox stepped in at the SEC level and had a strong 2020 season. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Upside: Incredible playmaking production — incredible nose for the ball. Collected 38.5 TFLs, 15 sacks, 26 passes defended and four fumble recoveries in 55 career games. Great return skills with the ball in his hands — nine career interceptions, 254 return yards and three pick-sixes at two schools.

Highly experienced college performer who was an integral part of three-time champion FCS program and defending FBS champs at LSU. Performed well in big games and missed only one career contest. Played hurt and rarely left the field.

Didn’t look out of place among SEC competition. Plays very fast and has the athleticism to make an impact in space — shows up making plays from every angle. Moves well laterally and strikes to close like a viper.

Coverage ability is his biggest calling card. Modern linebacker who can drop into zones or match up in man coverage with all different shapes and sizes of pass catchers. Strong lateral-quickness ability to match twitchy receivers, backs and tight ends. Knocked away a ton of passes in Senior Bowl one-on-one coverage drills vs. tight ends and backs.

This play against Arkansas was nearly Cox’s fourth career pick six — less than a yard short of scoring. Watch as he fakes pressure, gains proper depth in his drop, reads the eyes of Feleipe Franks, makes the INT and nearly houses it:

IDs and diagnoses run action quickly. Will come down hard and challenge the edge. Made several play-saving tackles downfield to clean up others’ mistakes. Good blitzing ability. Takes good paths to the QB and closes fast. Scheme-diverse player who operated under three different defensive coordinators.

Good body type to handle coverage/blitzing role. Height-weight proportional. Good length — excellent wingspan (79 1/2 inches) and solid arm length (32 1/2 inches). Moves well for his size. Nice all-around athletic template.

Natural-born leader — sets a tone for his team. Could have declared for the 2020 draft but picked LSU to challenge himself further. Immediately made his presence felt in Baton Rouge — strong work ethic and practice habits. Said one LSU staffer to Yahoo Sports: “We wish he could have been here three more years. Tremendous player and young man.”

Downside: Might never be a true enforcer in the run game. Taxed when sorting through traffic and can be washed up in the muck. Lacks high-end pop at the point of attack. Not a finesse player, per se, but hardly a power player either.

Can take on blocks better. Not a true stack-and-shed linebacker and could do a better job of slipping blocks, getting low and finding better paths around blockers. Operates best when he’s well-shielded up front and free to flow and attack.

Lacks elite burst and take-on strength. Small hands (8 3/4 inches) didn’t cause issues in coverage but might be concerning when attempting to detach from blocks. Didn’t always maximize his good length.

Will give up some catches in coverage — not a true sticky, blanket coverer. Finds himself in catch-up mode. Allowed some clean catches in Senior Bowl one-on-one coverage drills vs. tight ends and backs. Still learning to completely trust his eyes and instincts in zone coverage.

Might not develop his blitzing talent if he’s tasked with extensive coverage duties. Can be too reactive and not proactive enough closer to the line of scrimmage.

Best-suited destination: Cox might start his NFL career as a coverage linebacker, occasional blitzer and special teams performer. But he possesses all the traits and instincts to develop into a three-down starter in time. He’s scheme diverse and should have mass appeal — every team in the league could use a linebacker who can cover the way he does.

Did you know: At Raytown South High School, Cox played just about every position — QB, wide receiver, linebacker, safety and cornerback — and was all-conference at QB and linebacker. He also was a four-year starter for the basketball team.

Player comp: In time, Cox could be a Fred Warner-caliber player.

Expected draft range: Round 2

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