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Prediction: Cox Wins Defensive Rookie of the Year
Cox may have been the sixth defensive player taken off the board, but I think he has more of an ability to make a difference in 2012 than any other such player in the entire draft.
I don't think anyone outside the first round—with the possible exceptions of teammate Mychal Kendricks, Janoris Jenkins and Bobby Wagner—will really make a case for Defensive ROTY.
None of the other first-round defensive line prospects are as NFL-ready as Cox in my mind, especially the guy taken right before him—Dontari Poe. Poe has "bust" written all over him, especially because of his poor college record.
At the defensive end position, I see a spattering of talent, but I don't think Michael Brockers, Quinton Coples or the others have the opportunity or the talent to make a run at the award.
Defensive backs Dre Kirkpatrick, Stephon Gilmore and Mark Barron all have bright futures, but none of them will excel in their current situations right away.
Then, of course, there are the linebackers. I don't think either of the SEC products—Dont'a Hightower and Melvin Ingram—will be good NFL outside linebackers right away and Nick Perry doesn't exactly blow my mind.
The only two players who will contest Cox for the award are CB Morris Claiborne and OLB Luke Kuechly. Claiborne is a natural playmaker and Kuechly is an NFL-ready outside linebacker, both of whom will be playing with Pro Bowl-caliber partners—Brandon Carr in Dallas and Jon Beason in Carolina.
Even so, Cox has always been an explosive, playmaking defensive tackle and I think he'll do more in his first year than either Kuechly or Claiborne.