Tampa Bay may have found a diamond in the rough by selecting cornerback Chris Wilcox in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Wilcox has the physical and athletic attributes to become a strong man-coverage cornerback and special teams contributor with the Buccaneers, it just hasn't all come together quite yet for the 23-year-old Brigham Young product.
Wilcox appeared in 31 games with the Cougars, starting 26 over the course of his five-year college career. Near the end of his 2018 junior campaign, Wilcox went down with a season-ending ankle injury. He was only able to play in one game late in the 2019 season before medically redshirting and returning to BYU for a fifth season in 2020, in which he played nine of 12 games.
Across his career, Wilcox has posted solid coverage numbers, particularly with a 59.6 completion percentage allowed across 94 targets and 671 coverage snaps in the 2017-18 and 2020 seasons combined, per Pro Football Focus. Wilcox broke up eight of those passes, but failed to record an interception in college.
Why? I want to cut Wilcox some slack, perhaps his injuries set his game back a bit. The nearly 6-foot-2, 198-pound corner began his career strong with starts as a freshman and even broke up five passes as a true sophomore. But now, his game is in need of some retooling. He has the athletic traits and makeup to develop into a dependable cornerback, but he isn't there yet.
As a run defender, Wilcox shows off his speed as he is quick to identify the run and get downhill. He shows physicality to get off of blocks and is quick to seal off the perimeter and force ball carriers to keep their rush inside of Wilcox's hip.
However, when it comes to approaching the ball carrier, Wilcox can be a bit hesitant and takes some poor angles as he attempts to close in on a tackle. Wilcox tends to tackle high, which can cause him to slip off of tackles without great upper-body strength. He's certainly willing to lower his shoulder and make contact, though.
In coverage, Wilcox has shown some comfort bumping and running with receivers, particularly on outside releases and moving vertically. Wilcox owns above-average arm length to pair with his height, which makes press coverage an aspect of his game worth continuing to develop. He didn't get a ton of opportunities to jam receivers in the film observed but there's some potential there.
He uses his length well to keep receivers in check moving down the sideline. Maybe a lack of targets in part led to Wilcox's lack of interceptions because he proved capable in deep coverage and owns the physical profile to easily and routinely contest catches at the boundary.
Receivers working inside and off of the vertical stem is where Wilcox's coverage game falters, though. His hips are a bit stiff moving inside and his recognition skills of crossing patterns are in need of improvement, which can cause Wilcox to get lost in coverage in short-to-intermediate zones. His lack of great fluidity also makes breaking down on routes tougher to accomplish.
Wilcox's pro day numbers back this up. By all accounts, he's a high-caliber athlete with the ideal frame and speed that Tampa Bay covets on the outside (see: Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean), but his results in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard-shuttle indicate a concerning lack of fluidity and stop-and-start ability.
Fortunately for Wilcox, his athletic profile makes him an intriguing special teams candidate at the least as head coach Bruce Arians has preached a need for speed all offseason. Wilcox absolutely provides speed, at minimum in a straight line which should prove valuable on kickoffs and punts.
With proper coaching, though, Wilcox still has the potential to turn into a solid press cornerback for Tampa Bay, at least on the boundary side of the field where he isn't tasked with covering a wide portion of the field, and instead primarily remains on the vertical stem with safety help not far away.
There are areas in which Wilcox will need to become more comfortable in coverage, which would hopefully unlock improved ball skills. Ideally, Buccaneers cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross will be able to develop Wilcox into a playable corner, as the team doesn't have many other options for depth on the outside.