Summary: There has been a lot of turnover for the consensus top ranked defensive tackle heading into the 2012 NFL Draft. At one time, it was between Penn State's Devon Still and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy. LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers was considered the top tackle heading into the NFL Scouting Combine. After the Combine, Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe had the top spot. In the final weeks leading up to the draft, Cox has taken over as the No. 1 ranked defensive tackle. Cox was an early entry who went under the radar for a time, but a great Combine performance and good film have elevated his stock into being a potential top-10 pick.
Cox got off to a slow start in the beginning of 2011. He was suspended in the first game and was quiet for the first month or so. He then came alive with four sacks in Mississippi State's two games against South Carolina and Kentucky. Late in the season, Cox had big performances against Alabama and Arkansas. He made his presence felt and outplayed those tough offensive lines. Cox showed his speed and athleticism with a 52-yard fumble return against the Razorbacks. He totaled 56 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and one forced fumble in 2011. He ended the season with an impressive bowl game versus Wake Forest.
Cox is an improving player that has big upside. He is just scratching the surface of what his athletic ability allows him to do. He put that on display during the Combine with a staggering 40-yard dash time at 4.79 seconds with a 10-yard split of 1.63. That 10-yard mark was similar to times from skill-position players. Cox was excellent in the field drills.
Cox's pass-rushing ability sets him apart from other defensive tackle prospects. It is hard to find tackles who have his capacity to pressure the quarterback; a dangerous interior pass-rusher is a huge advantage in the pass-driven NFL. Cox has a unique combination of speed and playmaking ability. He has the power to push linemen back and get them off balance along with the speed to shoot by them and get to the quarterback. Cox has a great get-off from when the ball is snapped. He uses that to get leverage on tackles and sheds blocks with quick, violent hands. Cox has the speed to jet by linemen and cut around them. Unlike some highly touted tackles in this draft class, Cox has a steady motor and is consistent.
Cox projects as a 4-3 defensive tackle who could play the three technique. His length and versatile skill set allow him to be a potential five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 system. Cox should go in the top half of the first round on Draft Day.
Player Comparison: Kevin Williams. A quality comparison for Cox is the Viking Pro Bowler Williams. Both are dangerous pass-rushers who offer an exceptional ability to get to the quarterback from the interior. Williams had 22 sacks in his first two seasons in the NFL. Since then, his sack numbers have declined as he commands a lot of blocking attention, but he has still produced some respectable totals including 8.5 sacks in 2008 and six sacks in 2009. Williams (6-5, 311) is about 12 pounds heavier than Cox, but it wouldn't be surprising if Cox adds that weight in an NFL strength and conditioning program as he ages. The Vikings took Williams with the ninth pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. Cox could easily go ninth overall in 2012.
NFL Matches: St. Louis, Carolina, Dallas, Philadelphia, Tennessee
St. Louis could surprise some by taking Cox with the sixth-overall pick. If Justin Blackmon, Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne are off the board, the Rams may decide to go with Cox over Trent Richardson. The Panthers at nine are maybe the most likely team to draft Cox. They have a need at tackle, and Cox is the best one available in the 2012 NFL Draft class. Carolina's pass rush would improve significantly with Cox paired with Charles Johnson.
Dallas could select Cox to be a five-technique defensive end in its 3-4 defense. The Cowboys are said to be considering using their first-round pick on an end. If Cox gets by Dallas at 14, he probably won't move any lower than the Eagles at 15. Philadelphia is projected to take a defensive tackle, and Cox would be a good fit. It is doubtful that he would get past the Eagles.
The Titans may decide to trade up for Cox if they believe he won't fall past No. 15. They could use a difference maker on their defensive line, and Cox would be tremendous value for them.
Cox is known to be taking pre-draft visits to the Titans, Cowboys and Rams.