Monday, March 26, 2012

Draft Profile: Fletcher Cox - DL - Mississippi State

The following is the 1st in a series of draft profiles for potential 1st and 2nd round picks for the Dallas Cowboys. These profiles are put together with the specific needs of the Cowboys in mind, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and game tape to get an idea of who might fit in best with Dallas come draft day.

Fletcher Cox
Mississippi State
6'4, 298
40 time: 4.81, Bench Press: 30
Dec 13, 1990 (21 years old)

Our first profile as we ponder the best scenario at #14 when the Cowboys come up to make their selection might actually be the best option when we finish this series. Fletcher Cox appears to be exactly the type of player that has been missing from the Cowboys 3-4 scheme over the last several years.

Because of Dallas' reliance on the outside linebacker in the defense, and the luxury of having one of the elite pass rushers in this generation in DeMarcus Ware, they have felt almost no pressure to address the 2 defensive end positions with any level of urgency. Instead, it has been a constant parade of stop-gap types and part time players. They are either plodding run stoppers who have no prayer of pass rushing or situational pass rushers who have no anchor in the run game. Instead of having anyone who approaches the 1,000 snaps of a full-time defensive end, they have had a series of 400 snap defensive ends. This, of course, requires more man-power and trouble as the Cowboys have needed essentially 4 defensive ends at all-times. But, not for the reasons the Giants use that many (rotational substitutions to simply wear out the opponent) but rather by necessity based on each down and distance they must substitute the proper DE into the game to keep from being caught with the wrong players on the field.

In the 2011 draft, the Cowboys had a chance to get an elite defensive end at the #9 spot with JJ Watt from Wisconsin - a player that they were said to be quite taken with. But, they also had major weaknesses on the offensive line, and properly targeted young Tyron Smith as a solution to their long-term issues at tackle on the OL. It was a rare time where there was no wrong answer when they chose between Smith and Watt, because whoever they took was going to be a "blue chip" addition for years to come. But, which ever direction they went, the other spot was still going to be a glaring weakness.

And, after scrambling to make sure Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher were re-signed, the Cowboys found stop gap DE Kenyon Coleman with young and promising Sean Lissemore to keep the position warm until there was a chance to bring in a young stud.

Well, perhaps, Cox is that man. Fletcher Cox was born on December 13, 1990. That was 24 hours after Tyron Smith was brought into this world on December 12, 1990. Smith was very young to be placed into the NFL as a raw but exciting 20-year old, and now it appears that there are similar ideas about Cox as a 21-year old draft prospect. Cox did not redshirt and is now turning pro after his 3rd year. He is still figuring things out.

When watching his tape, he appears to be a defensive lineman with great versatility. Mississippi State was very liberal in their use of Cox, moving him up and down the defensive line snap after snap. On early run downs, he anchored the middle as a DT in their 4-3 front. On pass downs, they would sometimes kick him outside to work on a tackle. There were scenarios (such as the 1st snap against Wake Forest in their bowl game) where they would even drop Cox into pass coverage out the hook/curl area. And regardless of what he was asked to do, it seemed like he was ready to answer the bell.

When you watch all of the defensive line prospects year after year, you quickly are able to eliminate players who do not seem to back up their workouts with game tape. For instance, it is great to hear you can bench press 225 25 or 30 times, but how come you don't look that strong on the field when you are playing? Your quickness is intriguing, but where was it when your team needed it last fall?

That is not the problem with Fletcher Cox. I think of all of the defensive line prospects in this draft, Cox's game film is the most impressive. He demands double teams, and he often splits them. He is a destructive force against the run, seldom being pushed back, but often working his way into the backfield. He beats most single-team match ups. He anchors well against the run and yet gets to the Quarterback with sacks and pressures. 5.5 sacks may not sound like much, but if you watch him on film, there are plenty of plays where he is running at the QB and forcing him into the waiting arms of a team-mate.

And most importantly, like Tyron Smith, the belief is that in 3 years, he will be even better. He is still growing and just figuring the game out at the top levels. But, if there is something that is always important for this position to me, it is that high motor. And when you look at the tape below, tell me you see any energy drop off late in games. I don't. He looks relentless all day long, and with a huge workload, many players of his type don't have the same burst all day. I really like his game.

Here is some tape for your own eyes:

Vs South Carolina

Beat double teams. Very quick at the snap with his get off. Disruptive. Plays all 4 spots. Did not tire out. Great motor.

Vs Alabama

Inside on early run downs. Sheds and tackles on interior runs. Sideline to sideline pursuit of the wide runs. Doesn't give up on a play. And is able to move up and down the line with great versatility.

Additional video from the Music City Bowl vs Wake Forest here. In this game he blocks a kick with ease after pancaking his blocker.

Vs Kentucky. Video quality is not great, but you can see him again from a different perspective.

Diary of Fletcher Cox TV Story: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The Case For Taking Fletcher Cox at #14: As I have looked at the Cowboys principle positions of need, I keep walking back to the spots at defensive end that I think are biggest reasons that players like Anthony Spencer are not as productive as we would like. For years, the Cowboys have had Jay Ratliff flanked with replacement level players who just do not stress the opponent with their abilities. If you could get a defensive end like Cox who can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 with ease and will be your best player at the position the day he arrives but in year 3 or 4 might be among the very best in the NFL, I think this pick speaks for itself. If you could get a player at DE that could win his match-ups, you might be shocked at how many pressure situations are made better for all of your front 7. He would be an immediate 3-down DE, and in my mind fits the Cowboys like a hand in a glove.

The Case Against Taking Fletcher Cox at 14: Obviously, if I think this highly of a player like this (and more importantly, if I feel the Cowboys feel the same way about him), then the trick is to hope that he falls to 14. Every team in the league can talk themselves into the idea that a fabulous talent at DL is a great way to go on draft day. Thankfully, Quinton Coples, Michael Brockers, and even Dontari Poe might be more freakish athletes or interesting prospects and perhaps more appealing to teams higher up the board. It is highly possible that the Cowboys could fancy a David DeCastro as well, and it would be difficult to argue that pick, either. But, if Cox falls to #14, I think he is the Cowboys man.


InvisoBlogger said...

great post as usual! Fletcher was late on the radar so a lot of blog following fans are still struggling to say yes to him, but I feel he is the best DL prospect of the draft (if M. Ingram is considered a LB)

Brandon said...

This is awesome. Please continue with this series. Very informative.

Shawn said...

I'm not high on Cox. He's a gambler. When he can 1-gap and penetrate he's effective in the backfield. When he can't slip past a guard he gets in trouble. Once a guard gets his hands on him you not only see him blocked, but even pancake blocked.

My fear is that he's the opposite of Spears. Spears is a great run stuffer but can't do anything against the pass. So Cowboys fans fall in love with a pass rusher who gets pushed into the bench on every run play.

I think he's a good player, maybe a late 1st round pick, but he's not the 14th best player in the NFL draft.