Cox, who had until January 15 to declare for the draft, didn’t delay any longer than the weekend after returning from Mississippi State’s 23-17 victory over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. Which turns out to have been the junior defensive tackle’s final game in a Bulldog uniform. Talking to Dawgs’ Bite immediately after the game, while he and teammates were celebrating on LP Field in Nashville, Cox kept the same non-committal approach to the topic he had maintained the past month.
Tuesday, he made it official through University channels.
“This is a chance for me to do what I’ve always dreamed of, play in the NFL,” said Cox. “I appreciate everything Mississippi State has done for me to help me to get to this point. The coaches, fans, staff, and everyone have been amazing during my three years in Starkville.”
Few can be surprised at the confirmation. As far back as July, when Cox represented the Bulldog defense at SEC Media Days, he was being pressed on the early-entry possibility. In fact he had begun looking into this a year ago, following his 2010 sophomore season, which meant Cox’s emotional clock was already counting down. He still handled all queries as easily as he did blockers this season, en route to a 56-tackle, 5.0 sacks, and 14.5 tackles-for-losses junior year.
Cox was named first-team All-SEC at defensive tackle as a junior by league media, and four times—including a stretch of three-straight MSU games over four weekends—was picked by the SEC Office as conference defensive lineman of the week. For his three seasons Cox compiled 114 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for losses.
He also made a name on special teams by blocking five placekicks over his career, four field goals and a PAT. In his Bulldog finale Cox had possibly the game’s key defensive play when he stuffed Wake Forest’s go-ahead field goal try in the second quarter, which the MSU offense turned into a fast touchdown drive and a lead the Dogs never lost.
All along Cox has shared the credit for his own achievements with classmate Boyd. And what a productive partnership it has been, Cox said. “We used to be at camps with each other. We exchanged numbers and got to knowing each other real good. We’ve been roommates since we’ve got here, now we have an apartment and we’re living together. We’ve kind of bonded.”
Now it will be broken. Not that Boyd was caught off-guard of course; he just wishes the band, and the bond, would stay together for another season. “But I’m going to support whatever decision he makes,” Boyd said.
For that matter Boyd has had his own decision to make. Scouts have watched both #s 94 and 97 all this season and Boyd has his own professional potential. Yes, Boyd said, he also has looked into an evaluation by NFL experts for early entry.
“I did that, but I’m taking everything a day at a time. There’s not really a decision to make, I’m probably going to be back.” Boyd had 51 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 8.0 TFLs as a junior himself.
Cox is supposed to have received expert opinion of being a first-round or at the latest second-round draft pick, making his decision to turn pro simple. Junior cornerback Johnthan Banks has a somewhat harder choice based just on reported evaluations of third- or fourth-round selection. Still most MSU staff do expect Banks to also declare for the draft, based on family considerations as much as immediate pro prospects.
Banks ended the season with 71 tackles including three sacks, with five interceptions and nine more passes broken up. That included a touchdown return in the Auburn game, his third career pick-six. For his three seasons Banks has a dozen interceptions, tying him for second on the MSU list. He’s often said his goal is getting the record, which is currently 16, but that obviously hinges on returning for a senior season.
Coach Dan Mullen isn’t glad to lose any of his big-play makers, but neither does he object to Bulldogs pursuing their own best interests. In fact, “We encourage all our guys to turn in their paperwork to the NFL,” Mullen said. “We tell them if you’re going to be a first-round pick you should go. If you’re not, it’s really not all that much money.” Though, the coach will acknowledge, to many young men any amount of money looks like a lot at this point in their lives.
Still, if it is not what Mullen calls ‘life changing money’ he still tries to make a practical case to the kids.
“We encourage guys who aren’t going to be a first rounder to come back, finish, get their degree, and hopefully improve their draft status. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Guy Hurt by coming back. I’ve seen a lot of guys hurt by leaving early. But we’ll support whatever decision they make, they’re part of our family.”