Fantasy Reaction: Derek Cox Signs With San Diego
The Chargers signing of Derek Cox to a four-year, $20 million contract to be their No. 1 cornerback may have come as a surprise to many, but when you play in the media black hole that is Jacksonville, your talents can be under-appreciated. Cox is certainly one of those types of players, and at only 26 years old there is a lot to like about him.
The main knock on Cox is the fact that he has struggled to play a full season, having missed three games in 2010, 10 in 2011, and four last year. When he has been on the field, he has been a consistently effective player, posting four interceptions in three of his four seasons in the league. Though it should be noted that he hasn’t shown the explosive ability to return one for a pick-six yet (his longest interception return is 16 yards).
Perhaps most impressively, Cox has only allowed one touchdown in his last 21 games, despite numerous matchups with his divisional rivals – Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson. This follows him allowing 10 touchdowns in his first 26 games in the league, which highlights the progress he has made and why he deserved a contract others may see as excessive. Last season Cox held Wayne to just 42 yards in two games, and against the Bengals he held A.J. Green to only one catch for eight yards. He did, however, struggle a bit against Calvin Johnson (six receptions for 103 yards) and Brandon Marshall (five receptions for 79 yards and a score). Cox is an above average, but not elite NFL cornerback, so he will continue to be asked to primarily cover the opposing No. 1 receiver and still receive plenty of targets.
Cox’s value in fantasy comes from his tackles, a result of being targeted often, not his big-play ability. With only three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and zero sacks in the past three seasons, his fantasy production is tackle/interception dependent. His limitations here do cap his ability to challenge to be a future fantasy CB1. To enter that realm you need to be a dynamic playmaker in the ilk of Charles Tillman (forced fumbles) or Janoris Jenkins (defensive TD threat) or be a 90+ total tackle guy (think Antoine Winfield). Even if Cox does stay healthy all season, I’m not convinced he’ll reach elite-level tackle figures. However, small steps forward and playing a full schedule of games would make him an upside sleeper selection.
With both of the Chargers starting cornerbacks from 2012 (Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer) testing the waters of free agency, the path is clear for Cox to become the No. 1 in San Diego and play 900+ snaps. A schedule that includes four games against the pass-heavy Denver and Oakland offenses will benefit his scoring. The AFC West also plays the AFC South this year so he’ll resume his battles with Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson, while also being handed some more big-name assignments in the NFC East – Dez Bryant, Hakeem Nicks/Victor Cruz, Pierre Garcon and whatever Chip Kelly has up his sleeve. With a plethora of top wideouts to face, Cox will have the opportunity this season to make some waves in CB-required leagues.
It’s possible that Cox sees 100+ targets in 2013 (he was thrown at 113 times as a rookie playing all 16 games and 983 snaps) and with those levels of opportunity he can post 70-80 total tackles and 5+ INTs. On those numbers alone he would be a very solid CB2, but if he can add just a handful of additional big plays such as a single sack and a forced fumble, and then return his career-first pick-6 (surely the law of averages alone mean he must return one soon?), he would move into the bottom half of the CB1 tier. His floor is a top CB3 (see his shortened 2012 season), but there is clear potential for more. Cox makes for an excellent value pick in IDP drafts because while your league-mates draft corners with a bigger media profile (Patrick Peterson, Lardarius Webb, Tramon Williams) you can wait rounds later for a player who could with a little bit of improvement outscore all three.