The Jets made a couple of roster moves last week and we've been carrying out an in-depth review of the players acquired. We looked at Chris Jones on Saturday and today we move on to look at safety JJ Wilcox.
The 27-year old Wilcox is listed at 6'0" and 212 pounds and was signed last week after news emerged that Rontez Miles required knee surgery. Wilcox started 34 games over his first four seasons with Dallas but was a back-up last year with the Steelers. He has recorded 226 tackles and six interceptions in his five year career.
Wilcox didn't actually play safety in college until his senior year, spending his freshman year at wide receiver and his next two seasons at running back. He had played both wide receiver and free safety in high school, so he was able to make the conversion in 2012 and was an all-conference selection as he registered 88 tackles and two interceptions.
Having attended the scouting combine, Wilcox was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 2013 draft. As a rookie, he was on course to win a starting role until his mother passed away, causing him to miss two weeks of training camp. He eventually started five games and racked up 38 tackles.
In 2014, Wilcox became the full time starter, posting career highs in tackles (74) and interceptions (three). However, in 2015, he was benched and saw his playing time and production drop off.
2016 was Wilcox's final season in Dallas, as he started four games and recorded 49 tackles and a career high six passes defensed.
In 2017, he was signed by Tampa Bay, but had a disappointing camp and was traded to the Steelers before opening day. He was a reserve with the Steelers, starting just one game and recording only 12 tackles.
The Jets signed him last week after he was reportedly just about to sign with the 49ers.
Let's take a closer look at what Wilcox brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study and divided into categories.
Wilcox posted pretty good workout numbers at the combine, as you can see. He was basically average-to-good across the board and has adequate size:
Wilcox has primarily been used as a deep safety. He has played both single high and two-deep roles, but doesn't come up into the box or match up with a slot receiver very often.
In college, Wilcox caught 45 passes for almost 900 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for almost a thousand yards and 13 scores as he played on the other side of the ball during his first three seasons.
In Dallas, Wilcox was often employed on offense as the deep halfback in the victory formation. While it seems unique for a deep safety to be used in that role, regardless of his experience in the backfield, when you think about the reasons why they have a guy lined up there, it's arguably logical to have a safety back there and surprising that nobody else does that.
Wilcox doesn't match up very often in coverage, although he will have receivers passed off to him or pick them up in zone coverage sometimes. He's more often employed in coverage support.
Here's an example of him making a good play in that role, as he comes up from deep to make a play on the ball:
On this play, he is late to pick up the receiver downfield and lets him get behind him for a big gain:
Overall, his coverage numbers are not too bad, but he has been beaten for a few touchdowns.
Wilcox is known for his big hitting and his coaches have had to tell him to slow down at times because he can make mistakes when trying to light someone up. Here's a big hit against Washington:
This recklessness can lead to penalties. He's had four unnecessary roughness penalties in his career and he can make too much contact in coverage, as he's had seven penalties for defensive holding, illegal contact or defensive pass interference.
Wilcox has good anticipation and closes fast on the ball. He seems to be adept at getting his hands on the ball to make a play.
Here's a good play in man coverage where he turns and locates the ball immediately to break it up:
With his experience as a receiver, you'd expect Wilcox to convert any opportunities to intercept a pass and about half of his career interceptions have come on tipped passes. He makes a tough juggling catch on this low ball:
Although he plays deep, Wilcox will come up into the box to get in on defensive plays against the run.
Here's a good play where he's actually up at the line and reacts and closes to stop the runner for a safety:
He'll come up and stick any runner that makes it out to the second level but, at times, has issues with taking over-aggressive angles. This can lead to some big plays:
Wilcox's reputation as a big hitter is well deserved and he'll often throw a shoulder rather than wrapping up, but does bring the lumber and will stop runners in their tracks. Here's a particularly aggressive takedown:
Wilcox was among the league leaders in missed tackles in 2014 and 2015, which is partially attributable to him being overaggressive in coming up to make a play. This missed tackle in the hole led to a touchdown:
He has posted much lower missed tackle numbers in his other three seasons, but he also played a lot less in those years.
Wilcox plays deep so doesn't get to rush the passer very often, although he has the closing speed to get home off the edge. Here's a rare example of him almost sacking Ryan Fitzpatrick:
He doesn't have any sacks in NFL or college play, but had a couple of hurries in his senior year at Georgia Southern and has recorded a couple of quarterback hits at the pro level.
Wilcox has contributed on special teams in a variety of roles. Here's a good example of him making a tackle as a punt gunner:
He's also seen work as a vice, on kickoffs in coverage and as a blocker and rushing kicks. He returned kickoffs and blocked a punt in college and had 16 special teams tackles in his four seasons with Dallas.
Last season, he was less effective than he had been in the past, with no tackles and four penalties.
Watching his highlights, Wilcox seems to do a good job of reading plays and coming up to make the stop. However, there can be situations where he is fooled. For example, on one play he left a man open downfield when the quarterback rolled out and looked set to scramble. This is probably at least partly due to his lack of experience at the position.
On this play he reacts a beat late to the misdirection and can't recover to prevent the fullback from scoring:
Wilcox did well to make himself a starter despite his lack of experience at the safety position. Changing positions so often over the course of his career perhaps speaks to his can-do attitude.
There are no obvious red flags in terms of character concerns, but he did make headlines when he came out in support of teammate Greg Hardy after he was suspended for 10 games back in 2015.
On the field, Wilcox is a passionate and demonstrative player but, as mentioned, can be prone to penalties at times.
In training camp, he famously got into a scuffle with Dez Bryant during which punches were thrown.
Wilcox missed five games in 2013 due to a sprained knee and three in 2015 due to a thigh contusion. He's also been in the concussion protocol twice. He was a healthy scratch four times last season.
It's clear that Wilcox has been signed for two main reasons. Firstly, he can take over from Miles as the third safety in dime packages. Secondly, he provides cover with Marcus Maye still rehabbing a sore ankle.
In both cases, he can be employed deep as he primarily was in Dallas. If Maye is back, that will free him up to do more things closer to the line in the dime packages and if he isn't then Wilcox can be a direct replacement. Wilcox can also replace Miles on special teams, although this is probably a slight downgrade.
Until the details of Miles' injury emerged this seemed like a move which might be unnecessary. However, it makes a lot more sense with Miles out for 3-4 months and the ongoing concern over Maye's availability. (Maye should be back in time for camp, but until he is there will be uncertainty).
Wilcox has some good pro level experience, even though his overall experience at the safety position has meant he's been a bit of a work-in-progress early on in his career.
On the field, he'll make some big hits and maybe even some impact plays, but he can also be prone to over-aggressiveness which will lead to mistakes and potential big plays from time to time.
His career seems to have taken a downturn over the past few years as he lost the starting role in Dallas and then couldn't make the Bucs roster or start in Pittsburgh. However, this move to the Jets could be a good chance for him to reestablish himself.