Originally, when I started composing NFL draft scouting reports in preparing to identify the Miami Dolphins No. 8 pick on Thursday night, I had six players identified as possibilities for the team's selection.
Those players were Stanford guard David DeCastro, University of North Carolina defensive end/defensive tackle Quinton Coples, wide receiver Malcom Floyd, defensive end/linebacker Melvin Ingram, offensive tackle Riley Reiff and quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Click on DeCastro, Coples, and Floyd for their scouting reports. In reading the tea leaves, it seems that Reiff's stock has slipped. Ingram at under 6'2" and 275 pounds doesn't appear to be a fit for Miami the more you read about Dolphins' general manager Jeff Ireland and his preference for bigger players on defense, a philosophy held by his mentor Bill Parcells.
Therefore, I have scratched doing scouting reports on these players for now, which probably means one of them will be Miami's pick.
Meanwhile, a "new name" has emerged as a possibility at No. 8, according to Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero: Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Given that the Dolphins released defensive lineman Philip Merling today, the theory that Cox could be in play for Miami is gaining momentum.
So, I prepared this scouting report on Cox and then will have the final scouting report on Tannehill available right before the draft.
One thing I really like about Cox is that not only does he have quick feet and keep his legs driving, but he doesn't waste movement on his way to the quarterback or to a ball carrier. Here is a player who firmly knows that the shortest path to your target is a straight line.
Cox is so quick that he can make himself "skinny" and split double-teams despite his 6'4", nearly-300-pound frame. He might always make the play, but he gets penetration into the opponents' backfield more often than not.
There is some thought that Cox can be an outside rusher, but I am not sure that he has the burst at the snap or the pure speed to bend the corner on a consistent basis.
The reality is that Cox only had 8.5 sacks in his three-year college career. However, if he perfects more pass-rushing moves other than a simple bull-rush, which is likely given his relative inexperience, expect him to be a dominant inside penetrator.
Grade: 6.8 (on a scale of 1.0 to 7.0 with 1.0 being unacceptable and 7.0 being elite)
Cox seemingly never stops his feet and appears to have a true passion for the game. If he has a clear drawback in his technique, it's that he gets way too upright at times and will be stoned by blockers who can anchor and survive his bull rush.
In watching tape of his performance against South Carolina in 2011, there are times that Cox seems to struggle with shorter blockers who get under his pads.
In the run game, he can be moved off the line of scrimmage because he doesn't have a real thick lower body to stand his ground if he is not going forward. In short, Cox, at this point in his career, is not the ideal option to play defensive tackle on third- or fourth-and-short.
Also if his momentum is stopped, he is not likely to redirect and get back into the play.
Still, unlike some other players at his position, the 21-year-old does not take a lot of plays off, and he also possesses a great motor.
This is perhaps the biggest concern about Cox. While he appears to have good instincts, the reality is that he is raw. He's essentially a two-year starter who hasn't been allowed to settle into a single position.
When Cox learns to anticipate the snap on a consistent basis, he will be absolutely lethal because of his aforementioned quick feet.
While Cox consistently gives a good effort from snap to snap, he must maintain focus on his technique so that his pad level stays lower.
You want to know how strong Cox is? He bench-pressed 225 pounds 40 times. More importantly, watch the way Cox absolutely runs through and manhandles a much bigger South Carolina offensive tackle at 4:10 of this clip.
Cox's hands pulverize the offensive player on a regular basis, and he will keep engaging the blocker until he knocks them to the turf or out of the play.
Cox has elite upper body strength and ridiculously strong mitts with which he can drag down a ball carrier with ease.
The scary part is that Cox has the frame to get bigger and stronger. He does not explode into the ball carrier or quarterback, but it seems to be more a function of doing what is necessary to make the play rather than making a highlight reel.
Cox may not generate some of the hype of other more highly touted defensive line prospects, such as Ingram, Coples, Michael Brocker or Dontari Poe, but arguably he is the best of the bunch and might be the odds-on favorite to be the first player drafted at this position.
Remember that Cox played against elite competition nearly every week in the SEC and more than held his own.
Cox's versatility to play in any scheme at multiple positions is a huge benefit, and there is a palpable sense that his best days lie ahead in the NFL.
Overall Grade: 6.8
How He Fits with the Dolphins:
There is a good chance that Cox could go to Jacksonville with the No. 7 pick or to another team who decides to trade up ahead of the Dolphins. However, if Cox makes it to the eighth pick, the Dolphins will have an interesting question to answer.
Do they take a player who isn't a prolific college pass-rusher but has the tools to be such a threat in the NFL, especially as a three-technique defensive tackle in the 4-3 defense Miami is expected to employ?
Remember, this team didn't just waive Merling but also lost starting end Kendall Langford in free agency. I could see the Dolphins going to a formidable four-man line in obvious passing situations of Jared Odrick, Cox, Randy Starks and Cameron Wake.