Gators Breakout Watch: Pass Rusher Brenton Cox Jr.

Once a highly sought-after target in both recruiting and the transfer portal, Florida Gators pass rusher Brenton Cox Jr. is set to make an impact in his second season playing for Florida.
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When the Florida Gators made the move to add former Georgia pass rusher Brenton Cox Jr. via the transfer portal in 2019, the instant analysis viewed it as a win for the Gators, an addition who would make a major impact for the team once eligible.

That moment would come during the 2020 season when Cox was named the starting BUCK for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's defense. Cox would go on to start all 12 games for Florida, accumulating 42 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Still, the former five-star pass rusher left some to be desired as the results weren't always obvious on the stat sheet.

This year, however, Cox should be able to do just that. With another year under his belt, learning the team's system and getting better on and off of the gridiron, Cox is in for a major breakout campaign, proving everyone right that pegged him as one of Dan Mullen's best acquisitions during his tenure as Florida’s head coach.

Cox, 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, possesses the size and athleticism to make an impact as an edge rusher. He would go on to generate a total of 48 pressures on the quarterback in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus, easily grading out as the team's best pass rusher. 

Cox ranked No. 6 in pressures at the EDGE position among all pass rushers graded by PFF, which includes 130 teams. While his efforts weren't always materializing into big plays that can be seen on websites such as statbroadcast, his efforts were clearly making an impact on the gridiron, affecting the quarterback. 

Over the spring this year, Cox has been tasked with becoming a more consistent player for Florida. Last season, there were times when Cox's impact wasn't necessarily felt, or the plays were few and far between on certain drives. Becoming more consistent in the good plays is what Mullen is looking for out of Cox, he noted in March. 

"There’s still things he’s working on. We talk about it. Even in this last scrimmage you’re looking at a guy who’s an older, veteran guy that makes huge production, but there’s still some critical errors in there," said Mullen.

"It’s I can’t make great plays, and then make terrible plays. I’ve got to be a consistent performer, with great plays. It’s not so much raising his top-end bar, it’s raising the bottom up within his performance. I think that’s one of the things we’re constantly talking on, you don’t have to make more plays. What you have to do is be more consistent on the bottom of end of stuff.”

There's no doubt Cox can be that consistent player for Florida, especially if those around him step up to the plate, too.

Over the offseason, Flordia added plenty of talent to its defensive line. Along with bringing in a couple of recruits such as big-man freshman Desmond Watson, the team brought in two transfer prospects in Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Shelton, both of which are expected to play major roles at the defensive tackle position this year.

WIth more beef up front, Cox will have less trouble making plays in the offensive backfield, able to stick to what he does best: rush the passer.

For Florida, generating a pass rush is one of the keys to Grantham's defense. Without it, there have been lapses in big-play ability from its back end in the secondary, which was partly an issue at times during last season. Now, with a renewed focus and perhaps a bit more consistency, Cox will be able to greatly help in that area.

Asked whether or not Cox could be a dominant player, Gators running back Nay'Quan Wright was short and sweet with his response in March, stating that Cox can be a great player, "I believe so. I think he’s going to show the world this year. I believe that he can do it.”

If there is one player Florida must be able to depend on this season on defense it will certainly be Cox, and there's plenty of reason to believe they'll be able to.