The emergence of Brenton Cox could create a crowded edge rusher spot for the Packers

The Green Bay Packers have a long tradition of undrafted rookies making the 53-man roster. The next player potentially in line could be edge rusher Brenton Cox, which could either lead to a crowded edge rusher room or a tough decision.

Cox is a former five-star high school recruit who very well could have been an early draft pick had he not been dismissed from both Georgia and Florida during his college career. During the 2020 and 2021 seasons with Florida, Cox recorded 74 pressures and 10 sacks. He was also one of PFF’s highest graded edge rushers during that span as well. While college production is by no means the “be-all-end-all” when it comes to future NFL success, there is something to be said for being a productive edge defender in the SEC.

“He was highly recruited,” Packers pass rush coordinator Jason Rebrovich said. “There’s a lot of guys that have trials and tribulations in college. The best thing I saw about him was how he is as a player.

“When I got a phone list through this process and I called the young man, I said ‘hey man, I don’t want to know anything about football. I want to know who I’m getting on a daily basis. Am I going to get this knucklehead who’s been through this? Or should I get a guy who wants to be a pro and have the opportunity to be a star in this league?’ Because he’s got a lot of talent. He needs to be pushed, and a lot of guys need that. They need that kick in the rear.”

In a deep dive into Cox’s college movies, Andy Herman of Pack-A-Day podcast noted that in an outing against Florida State in 2021, Cox’s ability to impact the run game, showcase his explosiveness and win as a pass rusher with both speed and power. This one play illustrates the extensive skill set he has at his disposal and can bring to the Green Bay defense.

Throughout OTAs and minicamp, Cox was routinely with the third-team defense, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since ahead of him on the depth chart are Preston Smith, JJ Enagbare, Justin Hollins and Lukas Van Ness. But after a practice, when Matt LaFleur was asked which young players on each side of the ball had stood out to him, Cox was one of the few names he mentioned.

“The thing with Cox in the few short days we’ve had him, he’s shown that,” Rebrovich said. “It just has to be consistent and has to grow with that consistency and hopefully there’s no breaks in there. Sometimes that happens, but if we can dig him out of that and continue to climb that mountain, he might have an opportunity to become a pretty good player.”

Cox will need to carry that momentum into training camp when the pads are on if he hopes to make a push at guard, but the potential emergence could affect the Packers’ lane construction. Green Bay has never kept more than five edge rushers under Matt LaFleur and even kept four one season, but the roster on Cox could have the Packers keep six, meaning go easy on another position group or they would have to go forward from a 2022 contributor in Hollins.

At this point, I would consider Rashan Gary – if available for Week 1 – Smith, Enagbare and Van Ness as roster locks. Hollins, from a salary cap perspective, is not, as releasing him comes with a very minimal dead cap hit. But with how he was used during offseason programs, often playing with the first-team defense opposite Smith and working with the starting special teams unit, it looks like he’s going to have a defined role this season.

After joining the Packers last season, Hollins ranked in the top 30 among all edge rushers in PFF’s run-stop rate and pass-rush win rate metrics. Pass rush coordinator Jason Rebrovich has also discussed the leadership role Hollins took on when he joined the team.

Keeping both Hollins and Cox would result in six edge rushers on the roster once Gary is activated, which in turn would affect the roster elsewhere, such as keeping just five receivers or five interior defenders, for example. If the Packers only kept five, they would likely be choosing between Hollins’ immediate impact and Cox’s future upside. For a team in a transition year, it likely makes more sense to select the young player, especially when discussing a final roster spot where playing time will likely be limited.

Given Cox’s potential, I could see the Packers wanting him on the field to keep him off the practice squad where another team could pick him up. We saw Green Bay take a similar approach last season with undrafted offensive tackle Caleb Jones.

Of course, Cox will continue to play well into training camp and the preseason, but I believe that gathering six edge rushers is very much at stake. The depth of this group is much improved from this time a season ago. It’s also an important position that will need to make a big impact for the Packers’ defense this season, and with a young core of Gary, Van Ness, Enagabre and potentially Cox, Green Bay could be set up well here in the coming years.

  • Published on 07/11/2023 at 17:10
  • Last updated 07/11/2023 at 17:10

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