CLEVELAND — Jabril Cox finished his college football career at LSU, but North Dakota State will continue to claim him. The linebacker, drafted in the fourth round Saturday, May 1, by the Dallas Cowboys, spent four years in Fargo before graduate transferring to Baton Rouge. Cox was selected No. 115 overall.
"Heck yeah," Bison head coach Matt Entz said. "He's a graduate. He's an alum, right?"
Indeed, Cox has a degree from NDSU in psychology with a minor in business. After a redshirt year with the Bison, he played three seasons before transferring to play his senior year in the powerful Southeastern Conference.
The Kansas City, Mo., product likely won't be needing to put his degree to work anytime soon. He was taken in the fourth round, meaning Cox's salary will be around $1 million per year. His four-year deal has a projected value of $4,251,251 with a $777,251 signing bonus.
#NDSUSeasonOpenerCountdown: #42: A tremendous player during his time in Fargo, who made an instant impact when he got on the field. The 2017 @ValleyFootball Newcomer of the Year, 2018 defensive player of the year. A three-time national champion, number 42, @_Brillo. pic.twitter.com/jMmYvPpu6T— Dom Izzo (@DomIzzoWDAY) July 25, 2020
"Mature. North Dakota State, great program. I mean, this guy was trained," LSU coach Ed Orgeron told The Forum. "Great young man. Came in, earned his way onto the team. Started every game for us. Could play nickel.
"I was surprised with his cover skills. That's one of the most impressive things that he did. ... He could run. He could run with some of the top receivers in the SEC, which is very impressive."
Cox's story is one of projection and development.
Mainly a quarterback at Raytown South High School in Kansas City, Cox suffered a knee injury his junior year and wasn't highly recruited. NDSU saw him as a defensive player, despite Cox playing a limited amount at safety in high school, and the Bison developed him as a linebacker.
"We just knew he was a phenomenal athlete," said former Bison assistant coach Conor Riley, who recruited Cox and is now at Kansas State. "He could've played linebacker, safety, tight end, wide receiver, maybe even defensive end. Everything was so effortless for him."
Cox is 6-foot-4, 231 pounds. In a closed pro day for NFL teams Monday, he ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash.
The grad transfer showing out pic.twitter.com/zZgiE8bv1M— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) September 26, 2020
In his redshirt freshman season of 2017, Cox was the backup slot linebacker behind Chris Board, now in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, before an injury to Board in the sixth game of the year at Youngstown State pushed Cox into fulltime duty.
Cox's ability stood out in the Bison's overtime victory as he registered eight tackles, including three tackles for losses and two sacks.
"I remember the first time he got out there. I said, 'Guys, I'm going to blitz him about four times in a row so I know where he's at,'" Entz said. "I think he had two sacks within the next four plays. The rest was history."
Cox led the Bison in tackles and tackles for loss that season, adding 4.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries as NDSU won the Football Subdivision Championship national title. He was a freshman All-America and finished sixth in the voting for the Jerry Rice Award, presented to the top freshman in FCS. He was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference freshman and newcomer of the year.
Jabril Cox didn't skip a beat from FCS to the SEC.— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 22, 2021
2018 NDSU: 87.4
2019 NDSU: 85.2
2020 LSU: 83.5 pic.twitter.com/XPKNRjTz5U
The dominant performances and accolades continued to build Cox's sophomore and junior seasons. The Bison won two more national championships and Cox played a major role defensively, often covering the opposing team's best receiver and disrupting things with his speed and physical play.
Cox returned interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back games against North Alabama and Delaware in 2018, when he finished fourth in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award that goes to the best defensive player in FCS.
Cox was an All-American his final two seasons at NDSU, capping his time in Fargo with eight tackles in the Bison's championship game victory over James Madison following the 2019 season. He finished his NDSU career with 258 tackles, 32 tackles for loss and 14 sacks, He added six interceptions and scored two defensive TDs.
Cox entered the transfer portal in March 2020, wanting to play for a Power Five school to enhance his NFL Draft stock. He landed at LSU, joining the team that had recently hired former Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini as its defensive coordinator.
The defending Football Bowl Subdivision national champions didn't repeat their success from the prior season, but Cox started all 10 games for the Tigers and finished third on the team in tackles. He returned a pass interception 14 yards for a touchdown in his first game at Tiger Stadium.
"He's getting better, always," Entz said. "The more football you play, the better you get."