Disclaimer – This article is not a spin off of Benjamin Button with Brad Pitt. It’s the case of JJ Wilcox the starting safety of your Dallas Cowboys.
Wilcox was drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. At this point everyone knows his story. He played for Georgia Southern Eagles. A small FCS college playing WR and Slotback before settling into a safety spot his senior year. Wilcox was athletic enough to be a serviceable kickoff return man. The Cowboys fell in love with Wilcox after seeing him at the scouting combine where he ran a 4.57 forty-yard dash and decided to take him in the third round.
Wilcox played in thirteen games his rookie year starting five games before getting injured in practice and giving way to Jeff Heath. Wilcox only recorded thirty eight tackles and one pass defended. In 2014 J.J. started 16 games finishing with seventy four tackles, five passes defended, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
When the 2015 season started, I had expectations of Wilcox taking his game to another level and I have to admit I was more than disappointed. Maybe I’ve been programmed over the years by one of our coaches (The Tuna) as well as other NFL geniuses that players should should start reaching their full potential after three seasons. Wilcox started thirteen games finishing with only 53 tackles, three passes defended and one interception before losing his starting position to Byron Jones. The highlight of his 2015 was the big hit delivered on Odell Beckham Jr. that left the WR seeing stars like Wile E. Coyote.
These type of splash plays and physicality is what the team loves about Wilcox but with those plays come missed tackles. Sorry guys! That’s just part of the game but the real problem is how he gets to the play. Does he have a problem with play recognition when supporting the run? Everyone seems to want to make football a science or even math talking about the poor angles that he takes on the field like football is Geometry (which I sucked at).
Pro Football Focus has great individual stats that most football fans would never think about when looking at a players production. In laymen terms PFF states that Wilcox plays in deep coverage he missed eight tackles on 303 rush attempts for a missed tackle percentage of 2.6%. They also have a rating for tackle efficiency which Wilcox ranked 47 out of 63 safeties which is not good (an understatement).
The Cowboys ranked fifth in total pass defense in 2015 giving up roughly 3,600 yards through the air. Only four teams gave up less yards and three of those teams had an actual pass rush and Pro Bowl corners. The team had a pedestrian total of thirty-one sacks for the season. My point in bringing this up in the discussion of Wilcox is that as bad as people say he played the stats do not back up that theory. I will be interested in seeing how the secondary, specifically Wilcox takes to a new voice in the secondary room specifically Greg Jackson aka “The Safety Whisperer”. Not to say that Jerome Henderson was the problem but it can be stated that he was not as successful helping players translate their college talent to the NFL as we would like considering the struggles of Mo Claiborne and Wilcox. The other issue could be that Wilcox was miscast as a free safety and his skill set was never one of a center fielder but more of a box safety supporting the run. In the past the team never liked to declare who was the FS and SS in their defense but called the positions interchangeable which makes sense considering that Wilcox and Church’s games are similar.
In the offseason the team made the decision to move Jones to free safety and writers are predicting that move and the drafting of Kavon Frazier will make Wilcox expendable which would be a mistake.
Church and Wilcox are in contract years and both will be looking for a second contract with the Cowboys or putting their best foot forward for the opportunity with another organization. Wilcox has untapped potential and room for growth and it’s a matter finding out if the team has ran out of patience with him. Could the Cowboys consider cutting Church (and his 4.25 million salary) and rolling with Jones and Wilcox as the starting safeties with Heath and Frazier as backups. Would you consider offering Wilcox an extension similar to Heath’s new contract?
Looking at pictures of the recent OTA’s, it looks like Wilcox has taken this offseason seriously, he looks lighter and I’ll be interested to see if he comes to camp in shape which would help with his overall mobility.
While writing this article, I learned that Muhammad Ali passed away. In honor of probably the greatest boxer of all-time, I would ask that Wilcox do one thing and that is “Rumble, Young Man, Rumble”
R.I.P. Muhammad Ali
So Mote It Be!