Between the Packers’ need for help at the safety position and the team’s reported interest in Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox, it hasn’t been difficult to connect the dots between the two entities.
As a player who was a running back prior to his senior season, Wilcox is as raw as they come, but he also thinks his experience playing in a triple-option offense has its advantages.
“The triple option, I can sleep and still run it,” said Wilcox at the NFL Combine. “I still have some memories on it. I think it plays in my favor. I see the league kind of turning to kind of a zone-read type of offense now with (Colin) Kaepernick and all the other guys. I feel like it’s playing in my favor a little bit.”
It’s rather impressive how much Wilcox’s stock has risen in just one year since making the switch to safety.
As a senior Wilcox made 88 tackles and a modest two interceptions and three passes broken up, but thanks to the promise he showed, he earned an invite to college football’s premiere all-star game at the Senior Bowl.
From that point forward, Wilcox has been on the rise and on the radar of teams across the NFL.
Coincidentally, Wilcox admired the play of a former Packer as someone who blazed a trail by being a two-way player in college and then focusing on defense in the NFL.
“I looked at a couple guys,” said Wilcox. “Charles Woodson played both ways in college and I kind of set my game toward him a little bit. He definitely was a role model. Him and Sean Taylor, just physical, the way he plays the game. I look up to some of those guys for my game, too. So hopefully, I can fulfill their footsteps.”
The obvious difference between Wilcox and Woodson, however, is that Woodson played defense for his entire college career.
Wilcox will face a steep learning curve in the NFL, but he doesn’t think it will take him along to assimilate to the next level.
“Probably not long, just like it has in college,” said Wilcox. “You just have to go in there, get your mind right, get around the right people, get around the right coaching staff and great players and you’ll either catch up or get left behind. I definitely don’t want to get left behind so I’m going to go in there, work hard and surround myself around the best talent—the veterans—and improve my game.”
The measurables of Wilcox at the Combine were middle of the pack compared to other safeties, but his 20-yard shuttle time of 4.09 seconds ranked in the top five. His 40-yard dash time clocked in at 4.57 seconds.
An added bonus of drafting Wilcox is his experience on kick returns, which he continued to do even after making the move to the defensive side of the football. As a senior, Wilcox returned 31 kicks for 780 yards, an average of 25.2 yards per attempt.
For a team that’s looking to give Randall Cobb a break from his return duties, Wilcox could bring added value.
At safety, the Packers need to add depth after Woodson was released during the offseason.
One question might be whether the Packers would be willing to take a small-school, mid-round safety for a second consecutive year after selecting Jerron McMillian out of the University of Maine in the fourth round last year.
Despite the obstacles Wilcox faces, he’s not lacking in confidence.
“I played it all—free safety, strong safety, in the box. I can do it all,” said Wilcox. “There’s no limitations to what I can do. I feel like whatever position I’m at, they’ll get the best out of it. I definitely think my ceiling’s still rising and I’m kind of anxious to see how I’ll do in the NFL.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.