I have to admit that when the Cowboys drafted Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox with their second pick in the third round, I was pretty relieved. I had put Wilcox in almost every mock draft that I did because there were some pretty strong hints coming out of Dallas that they really coveted him. Plus, I like Wilcox as a player; he has the upside you want in a mid-round pick, but I also think his physical skill set makes him a safer prospect than some believe.
I’ve had more time to watch Wilcox and study his game. In addition to a couple of matchups against small schools, I watched Wilcox in the Senior Bowl practices and game. Although it’s just one game, it’s an important one for small-school prospects because we see how they stack up against the big boys. Below, I posted my original scouting report on Wilcox, plus what I like, what I don’t like, and a re-grade.
Wilcox has excellent size at 6-0, 213 pounds. He turned in a solid 40 time at 4.51 and a remarkable 4.09 short shuttle, showing why he was used at receiver for three seasons. As you’d expect, Wilcox is an outstanding athlete; he moves fluidly and shows excellent lateral quickness. Despite little experience at safety, Wilcox is a good tackler. He doesn’t wait for ball-carriers to reach him, but instead attacks the line and breaks down well in space.
Wilcox didn’t play much from a single-high position at Georgia Southern, but he got time there at the Senior Bowl. He performed surprisingly well, and his measurables suggest he should be able to play deep. He showed good ball skills at the Senior Bowl—and during his time on offense in college—so he has the ability to make big plays in the secondary.
The obvious knock on Wilcox at this point is that he’s a project. He could take a year or two until he becomes fully acclimated to the safety position, but there’s clear upside.
What I Like
Wilcox is an athlete. Although he’s obviously raw and inexperienced at safety, I think that’s a good thing, for a few reasons. First, it means he hasn’t had as much time to pick up bad habits. The Cowboys’ coaches have a piece of clay that they can sculpt, and Wilcox is enough of an athlete to pick up the teaching right away. Second, I think it’s valuable for defensive players to understand offensive concepts. Wilcox has said he’s benefited from knowing how receivers will run their routes, how they’ll come out of their breaks, and so on; although he played at Georgia Southern, he’s a step ahead of the game in terms of the mental aspects of playing in the NFL.
What I Don’t Like
It’s obviously not ideal for a prospect to play against inferior competition because it becomes really difficult to grade him. While I think Wilcox’s background allowed the Cowboys to acquire value on him in the third round, he has some hurdles he’ll need to overcome to play under the bright lights of the NFL. With any small-school prospect, it’s so important to make sure they’re confident and mentally tough enough to play with the best of the best.
Re-Grade: Second Round
After publishing my Wilcox scouting report, I actually moved him up into my top 40 overall prospects. I’m all-in on this guy, so hopefully he’s not the next Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (another player I liked…but don’t tell anyone).
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.