The New Orleans Saints need a linebacker. They have selected 12 linebackers since Payton's arrival, five of those within the first three rounds. Only often injured Alex Anzalone made any lasting impact from those selections.
The New Orleans Saints have selected 90 players in the NFL draft since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006. Only three of those players played their college football in the state of Louisiana. Defensive lineman Al Woods (4th round, 2010) and offensive lineman Will Clapp (7th round, 2018) were drafted from LSU. Louisiana Tech's running back Boston Scott was also added with a 6th round choice in 2018.
Anzalone departed as a free agent this offseason. Kwon Alexander, who injured his Achilles late in the 2020 season, was released. New Orleans still has LB Demario Davis, one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and could bring Alexander back on a cheaper contract. They are also hoping for continued development from 2020 3rd round pick Zack Baun and 2019 7th round choice Kaden Elliss.
The Saints could use one of their three Day 2 draft choices on a fast-rising prospect from just up the road to add more talent at this position.
JABRIL COX, LINEBACKER (LSU)
- LSU: 1 year | Linebacker
- MEASUREMENTS: 6’3” and 232-Lbs.
STATS: 10 Games | 37 Solo | 21 Assisted | 58 Total Tackles | 1.0 Sack | 3 INT | 1 TD | 5 PD | 1 FR
NFL.com Comparison (Lance Zierlein) - Tahir Whitehead (free agent)
An ACL injury during his junior year at Raytown South High School in Missouri cooled the recruiting pursuit of Cox. He rebounded in his senior year to be an all-District selection as a quarterback and wide receiver. Cox chose perennial FCS power North Dakota State, where he would redshirt his first year.
Upon seeing the field in 2017, Cox was an instant sensation. He had 13 tackles for loss among his 75 total stops, along with recording 4.5 sacks and breaking up three passes. That not only earned him 2nd team All-Missouri Valley Conference recognition but he was also named the conference Freshman of the Year.
Cox was an FCS All-American selection over the next two years for the Bison and the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2018. That season, he gathered 91 tackles (9.5 for loss), intercepted four passes, recorded four sacks, and scored two defensive touchdowns. He followed that up with 9.5 stops for loss among 92 total tackles with 5.5 sacks and six passes broken up in 2019.
Cox joined defending national champion LSU as a graduate transfer last season. He’d be a bright spot on a Tiger defense gutted by NFL draft picks and COVID-19 opt-outs. He responded to the rise in competition with 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, five passes were broken up, and a defensive touchdown over ten game starts.
The jump in competition from FCS to the SEC was handled seamlessly by Cox. He did have some trouble diagnosing plays against more intricate offenses at times, slowing his reaction. That was even more evident when he lined up from an inside position.
As a run defender, Cox is too upright when he steps into a gap. That gives blockers a leverage advantage against him. He also needs to be more aggressive when taking on blockers, too often getting caught on his heels. As a pass rusher, most of his sacks came on delayed blitzes or pursuit on broken plays rather than pass-rush ability.
Cox is one of the most developed coverage linebackers in this draft class. His foot speed and fluid athleticism allow him to stay with backs, tight ends, and even some wideouts down the field. He has outstanding recognition and instincts in zone coverage, showing the ability to drop fluidly and closing on a throw quickly. Cox has remarkable anticipation and good leaping ability, evidenced by his 9 interceptions and 26 passes broken up in college.
Against the run, Cox has the necessary speed to track down plays sideline-to-sideline and beat a runner to the edge. He has a sudden burst through gaps into opposing backfields to create constant disruption.
Jabril Cox is still a bit raw but proved he is up to challenges with his play in the SEC last season. He’ll need to refine his play as a run defender but has the aptitude for a high upside. His athletic talents and natural coverage skills will make him an immediate contributor. He has the instincts to develop into a top NFL linebacker in a short period.