The Curious Case of J.J. Wilcox

J.J. Wilcox

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.

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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!

Roger Haywood

Roger Haywood

Author CowboysTalkLine.com at SportsTalkLine
Writer at CowboysTalkLine.com on the SportsTalkLine Network where sports is old school and the writing is new age. Living in the city of sin, it's hard to be an angel.
Roger Haywood
Roger Haywood

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17 thoughts on “The Curious Case of J.J. Wilcox”

  1. The Cowboys have a bit of a chicken/egg situation in that they either draft poorly or the coaches are unable to develop players. Or horror of horrors, both.

  2. As I recall, Frazier has some of the same issues as Wilcox. Big hitter, bad angles. It is also quite possible that Wilcox has reached his full potential.

  3. I think Wilcox exemplifies an approach to the draft which places too much emphasis on traits at the expense of production. From my perspective, Wilcox often seems to be lacking in basic play recognition and the other intangibles necessary to playing safety at a high level. For example, being around the ball and securely tackling are all important and Wilxoc does not excel at either.

    I think he has enough speed to play FS, but he lacks the instincts and ability to diagnose that he needs to play the backend effectively. You cannot whiff at that position.

    Hopefully Byron Jones will take FS over for the next decade.

    1. Steven Van Over

      You identify an interesting aspect of the Cowboys approach. Rather than exclusive I believe (out of necessity) they draft in two distinct draft approaches that often deliver results short of the mark. The one you identified is an obvious approach with Dallas tabbing guys with high SPARQ scores. The other approach they swing at however is guys with production/instincts over metrics. Anthony Hitchens and Deon King come immediately to mind. Both of these reflect Jones “wild cat – swing for the fences” draft mentality. They rarely seem to go for any middle ground players. Byron Jones, the offensive linemen, Morris Claiborne .. they go SPARQ at the top. Lower rounds they add production heavy guys to the mix.I believe the aspect that even if a production guy does everything right a superior athlete can blow right by/around him on the field. BUT if you hit on a SPARQ guy you’ve got a gem. Other teams dwell in the happy land between the extremes IMO.

      1. This makes a lot of sense. You should write more about this idea.

        Lately I have been reading interviews with Scott McCloughan. He is remarkably open about his scouting process. Mainly, I think, because it isn’t easily replicated by anyone with an untrained eye. His main point about drafting is always some variation of this sentiment:

        “The tough part is figuring out the person. Is he a competitor? What’s his toughness? What’s his mindset? I’ve been around long enough, which is great because I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve learned from them, but what makes a guy average to good, good to great and great to exceptional?”

        When I think of the last few Dallas drafts, since Parcells actually, I always think of this. Why do so many of the Dallas picks fail to develop beyond what they start as. Think of the Parcells players like Romo, Witten, and Ware who really developed beyond what they were when drafted. Those guys have improved themselves every season. Who remembers Witten as a one dimensional, pass catching TE taken in the 3rd round?

        And where are those guys on the current roster? My feeling is that Dallas is doing the technical parts well but missing something more fundamental to the game.

        1. But Romo was brought in on the urging of Sean Payton. Parcells reportedly wanted Shawne Merriman over Ware. Think of Skyler Green, James Marten, Jacob Rogers, Antonio Bryant, and all the rest of the o-line guys Parcells drafted. Dallas in general has not done a great job of developing talent, but BigBill was far from flawless in that department.

          1. Nobody bats a thousand.

            Teams knew about Romo. The Cowboys got him because of the Payton connection to Eastern Illinois. Did Parcells want Merriman over Ware? I think it is impossible to answer. I am more likely to believe that he wanted Spears at 8 and Ware later.

            Parcells built a great roster in Dallas, which like the roster Johnson built in the 1990’s, gave the team a chance for years. No surprise there, he built great rosters at all of his other stops as well.

            Some guys can build a roster and some guys can’t. Despite all the hope around Jason Garrett it doesn’t appear that he can do it. He can certainly stock an offense, but I could to if I devoted 80% of the team’s resources to the task.

          2. Yes, and I think this says it all about how Jerry runs his draft. The coaches have tremendous input into the process. When you have a Johnson or Parcells, guys who control their assistants, the system works fine.

            But with a Phillips or Garrett at the helm, watch out.

          3. Took 13 games into the 2007 season to allow that team to grow soft, thus they lost to the Giants in the first round…….would have never happened with Big Bill @ the helm, especially versus his Giants

          4. Football Mensa

            As you stated….Parcells was terrible in regards to o linemen. The Jacob Rogers pick pissed me off so much. He was injured in college. A bad shoulder injury. Yet we waste a second round pick on him. Sound familiar ?

          5. Never underestimate the power of the offensive line coach in the NFL. They tend to play outsized roles in finding and developing linemen. I don’t think Parcells found one he trusted in Dallas. And that is on Parcells.

            Look what happened in NE when Scar retired. The entire OL fell apart and they had to convince him to come out of retirement.

          6. Have never bought into that argument that Parcells wanted Merriman over Ware………..IMO more Jerry disinformation through his crooked side kick to take the attention away form BP’s huge talent acquisition skills coupled with his development of players.

          7. I’m just going on Jean Jacque Taylor, who was a beat writer for the DMN as to the Merriman meme. Merriman was supposedly pissed that we passed on his ‘roided up butt. I’ve never bought into the genius Parcells personnel guy. George Young built the dynastic Giants teams, although, when Young and Parcells arrived, the team was so poor that an upgrade was not an overwhelming task. And, BigBill passed on Steven Jackson, a near HOF rb to trade back and draft Julius the Third Jones. Not to be confused with Felix the Fourth Jones. Don’t mention Bobby Carpenter, that pick still makes me foam at the mouth.

          8. Jackson was overweight and had an attitude problem coming out, BP does not suffer fools at all even if talented, see TO, Bryant and before them, Terry Glenn which he then brought over to Dallas after he got his act together; the guy’s record is impeccable at all his stops in building rosters………….ditto Larry Allen when he got to Dallas……they initially never got along because Allen had become a bit 2 comfy for Bill’s tastes, intent on building a winner through hard work and effort….LA finally got with the program…..the Merriman rumor was started by the Larry Lacewell close to Jerry…….not a reliable source at all …has been interviewed by the NFL network several times and comes off as “a true inside source” of all things Cowboy during those years………guy was a huge failure in building rosters, Jones finally kicked him out after many terrible draft picks…..

        2. Where Parcells always shined was with the lower picks…….Ratliff, Canty, Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, think about that great depth he built on that front four with both Ware and Spears as anchors…………his biggest weakness was he remained loyal to a fault drafting sons of players that had served him well in the past…….Carpenter was the epitome thereof; BP wanted to instill a culture of hard work, no nonsense and dedication to winning above all else…..the polar opposite of Wade’s grandfatherly approach……..what a colossal waste of talent………

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