Whether it was by design or not, LSU football coach Ed Orgeron left two spots open in his 2020 recruiting class with the idea of landing a ready-made graduate transfer or talented player from the NCAA’s transfer portal.
With the Tigers losing all three of their starting linebackers, plus an experienced reserve, that position became the team’s most glaring area of need. LSU was able to fill that huge vacancy Thursday with a commitment from North Dakota State middle linebacker Jabril Cox.
The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Cox, who enjoyed a decorated FCS career with the Bison, announced on his Twitter page he pledged to the Tigers. He will have one season of eligibility.
“This might not get the headlines of some others, but Jabril Cox is easily among the most talented players on the transfer market this off-season,” 247Sports national recruiting analyst Charles Powers said in a 247Sports report. “He was one of the top overall players in FCS last year and is a legitimate NFL prospect. I know (LSU defensive coordinator) Bo Pelini has some familiarity having played against Cox. I love this pickup for LSU.”
Cox was scheduled to take an official visit to LSU last month which was cancelled when the NCAA suspended all spring sports and on-campus recruiting because the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kansas City, Mo. native indicated last month on the Baton Rouge sports talk show “Off The Bench” he enjoyed his time at North Dakota State, but was looking for a greater proving ground and wanted to conclude his career at the Division I level.
Cox represents a key addition to LSU’s depth chart at linebacker after the Tigers graduated senior Michael Divinity, along with juniors Patrick Queen, Jacob Phillips and K’Lavon Chaisson all of whom declared for the NFL draft.
With North Dakota State going 35-1 during his three seasons, Cox was regarded among FCS’ top defensive players in which he had 258 tackles with 32 for losses including 14 sacks, as well as 18 quarterback hurries, 12 pass breakups and six interceptions.
Cox was twice named first team All-American, including this past season as a junior when the Bison went 16-0 and claimed their third consecutive FCS national title.
He finished with a team-high 92 tackles (57 solos), 9½ tackles for loss and 5½ sacks and was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, symbolic of the FCS’ top defensive player.
In 2018 as a sophomore, Cox registered 91 tackles, 9½ tackles for loss including four sacks. He also had 7 QB hurries and 4 interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
He concluded his first season in 2017 as a freshman redshirt as a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, an honor bestowed on the nation’s top defensive player in FCS. He also won the MVC’s Freshman of the Year on defense and was the league’s top newcomer with 75 tackles, 13 tackles for loss including 4½ sacks and three fumble recoveries.
For the last three seasons, Cox crossed paths with Pelini, who served as the head coach at Youngstown State before returning to LSU in late January to join Orgeron’s staff as defensive coordinator.
Pelini was 0-3 against Cox and the Bison. Cox had a combined 23 tackles and four tackles for losses in wins of 27-24 in overtime in 2017, 17-7 in 2018 and 56-17 last year.
“My first game in FCS was against his team,” Cox said during last month’s radio interview. “That was my coming out party (with 8 tackles and 3 tackles for loss including 2 sacks). Me and him, we have had a great relationship. I have always caught up with him after games. He is just a great coach, overall.”
LSU safeties coach Bill Busch, who played an integral in the Tigers secure the signature of former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, was also credited along with Pelini in helping the Tigers land Cox’s commitment.
Cox enjoyed a standout career at Kansas City’s Raytown South High where he played quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, safety and cornerback.
He combined for more than 3,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns while playing quarterback his senior year. That came on the heels after losing half of junior season to a torn ACL – a development that was believed to have worried several Division I schools, thus opening the door for North Dakota State to sign him.