Jabril Cox, an All-American and the best defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision, has entered the NCAA transfer portal, meaning he's leaving the Bison and playing elsewhere his senior season.
It is major news for NDSU's football program, the FCS division and, of course, Cox himself.
Cox was a dominant defensive player for the Bison the last three seasons. His combination of size (6-foot-3, 235 pounds), speed (head coach Matt Entz said numerous times he believed Cox was the fastest player on the team) and length (former coach Chris Klieman used to say NDSU had never quite had a linebacker with Cox's frame) was a unique combination that had many asking how Cox ended up in FCS and not in a major conference like the Big 12 or Big Ten.
He was so good for the Bison that he really was their best linebacker, safety, cornerback and pass rusher all rolled into one.
And get this: Cox played quarterback in high school, believe it or not, and was probably the second- or third-best quarterback on the Bison's roster during his time in Fargo.
Cox was the type of linebacker who would force opposing teams to change their offensive gameplan in an attempt to avoid him. It often didn't matter. Cox's speed was such that he'd make tackles even when teams ran away from him. He was good enough to cover up deficiencies in other players.
He was, in every sense of the cliche, a game-changer. Losing him is a serious blow for NDSU's hopes of winning their ninth national championship in 10 years in 2020.
Completely shocked 27% Surprised, but not shocked 61% Saw it coming a mile away 12%
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Saw it coming a mile away
With Cox and Lance, the Bison were ready to enter next season with the best defensive player and the best offensive player in FCS. It would have made them an even bigger favorite to win another national title, and maybe even make a run at highly ranked FBS Oregon in the season opener.
With Cox leaving Fargo, it gives other FCS teams a slightly bigger piece of hope that perhaps they can knock off the Bison. Entz indicated late last season that Cox was going to graduate this spring. That means the Kansas City, Mo., product would be considered a graduate transfer, eligible to compete immediately for another team without having to sit out a season.
Cox will likely transfer to a Football Bowl Subdivision school in a Power Five conference, where he could play at a higher level against consistently better competition. Cox is good enough to play at almost any school in the country. He would immediately be among the top linebackers in either the Big Ten or Big 12.
It seems Cox is doing this to improve his prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. While it's widely believed he was already going to be drafted, higher draft picks get bigger contracts and have an advantage in making NFL rosters.
He's a highly regarded linebacker, one of the most talented at the FCS level. NFL teams had him on their radar as a three-and-done at the start of the season. He had 32 TFLs in three seasons. https://t.co/QJ9NHeKhM4— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) March 2, 2020
While NDSU has had a number of players get chosen in the draft in recent years, including quarterback Carson Wentz going No. 2 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016, Cox and those advising him might believe that he can move up in the draft if he shows he can play strongly against major competition.
NDSU is the biggest fish in the history of the FCS pond, but there are still questions about the competition the Bison play. Playing against Missouri State isn't the same as playing against Oklahoma.
"There will always be a small-school stigma," said Dane Brugler, the lead draft analyst for The Athletic web site. "Several prospects can overcome it during the draft process. But it sounds like he's getting ahead of it to overcome the stigma during his senior year, not after it."
In short, Cox wants a better draft position to make more money. That's the way professional sports work. Competing in a major conference could bump him up a round, or two.
He's won three straight FCS national championships. He's been a part of two straight unbeaten seasons. He's dominated the division at which he's played. He's getting his degree. There's little, if anything, left for him to accomplish at NDSU.
Cox is a legit talent with the chance to start on a big-time college team. He's transferring to improve his draft position so he can make more money. If that's the road he goes, it's impossible to fault him.