After three years of playing safety in the NFL, Dallas Cowboys defender J.J. Wilcox still considers himself relatively new to the position.
In the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys took a chance on a small school safety out of Georgia Southern named J.J. Wilcox. Despite having only spent one year at the position at the collegiate level, the prospect showed the Cowboys enough potential to warrant being drafted that high.
Three years later, many believe that experiment has failed in Dallas. After starting five games during his rookie season, Wilcox has been the Cowboys starting free safety for the last two seasons.
But starting this year, Wilcox will be replaced in the starting lineup with second-year defensive back Byron Jones, who was the Cowboys first round selection in 2015. And for good reason. Last season, Wilcox was one of the worst safeties in the entire NFL.
During his rookie campaign, Wilcox flashed potential but was plagued by a knee injury mid-season, stunting his growth. The following year, things appeared to be clicking for the small school prospect as he started all 16 games for the Cowboys and recorded career highs in tackles (74), passes defended (5), and interceptions (3).
But Wilcox took a giant step backwards in 2015, recording only 53 tackles, three pass defends and a single interception. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 79th best player at his position out of a qualifying 89 candidates last season.
Wilcox knows he had a bad year. But he blames it on inexperience.
"“I’ve got to get better,” Wilcox told the Star Telegram on Wednesday. “Like I said, I’m still growing at the position. This is my fifth year playing it. I’ve been playing offense all of my life. So I’m still growing, and I think I have a lot of upside. I just have to keep learning the game, study hard on the film, just be more consistent in open-field tackling and being the best safety that I can be.”"
Many would argue that five consecutive years at one position is likely enough time to know whether you can play at a high level or not. Unfortunately, you only get so many chances to prove yourself in the NFL. And now that Jones is slated to take his place in the starting lineup, Wilcox will have to prove his worth as a back-up and on special teams.
The 25-year old safety is also in the final year of his rookie deal in Dallas. So, not only is Wilcox playing for his job with the Cowboys this season, he’s also auditioning for potential suitors if he hits free agency next year.
With Jones starting over him, Jeff Heath entrenched as a special teams ace, and talented rookies like Kavon Frazier and Rolan Milligan competing for a spot on the depth chart; Wilcox could certainly be on the roster bubble and off the team entirely when the regular season begins.
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