I can remember it like it was yesterday, and it still haunts me to this day. I was a 14 year-old, excited to watch my first Michigan game after labeling myself a fan of the Wolverines. The #6 ranked Wolverines led by guys like Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Mario Manningham hosted a then FCS school by the name of Appalachian State (who?). To my surprise, the Mountaineers completed one of the most historic upsets in college football history. In the process, they showed tremendous amount of heart, which seems to be an on-going theme with that program and the players who suit up for it.
Marcus Cox is the epitome of Appalachian State football and leaves the program as the school’s all-time leading rusher. For those who don’t know, Appalachian State is located in Boone, North Carolina. They leaped into the FBS blueprint in 2014 as a new team in the Sun Belt conference. Cox has made monumental efforts in establishing their relevant presence in college football’s top division. He helped lead them to consecutive bowl wins in his final two seasons.
Cox enjoyed a productive, prestigious career at Appalachian State. To start, he became the school’s all-time leading freshman rusher in 2013; where he would go on to finish 2nd in the voting for the Jerry Rice Award – given to the top freshman of the FCS. Who actually won it? Fellow draft prospect, Cooper Kupp. In 2015, Cox was one of three running backs to rush for over 100 yards against Clemson. The other two? Future Heisman winner Derrick Henry, and top 2017 RB prospect Dalvin Cook. Cox would go on to finish his career as the 2nd ranked active leading rusher in college football. Who was ahead of him? Donnel Pumphrey, or more well known as the all-time leading rusher in FBS history.
As if the production wasn’t enough to back up his game, Cox comes from athletic bloodlines. For one, he is the cousin of former Super Bowl champion Willie McGinest. His mother was a standout volleyball player at Alabama State back in the day. His brother Greg also plays football, at Jacksonville State.
A 2-star recruit out of high school, Cox plays with a chip on his shoulder. He played both running back and receiver in high school, so you know he offers similar versatility at the next level. In such a deep running back class he has flown a bit under the radar.
Name: Marcus Cox
School: Appalachian State
Comparison: Javon Ringer (Retired/Tennessee Titans)
Draft Grade: Priority UDFA
Unofficial Pro Day Results: 40-Yard Dash: 4.58 – Bench Press: 13 Reps – Vertical Jump: 30.5” – Broad Jump: 120” – 3-Cone Drill: 7.5
Positives: Tough runner who pushes the pile. Noticeable ankle flexion. Runs up the gut with burst. Settles into rhythm and makes an early impact. Able to pick his spots and find cutback lanes. Carves around the defense and swoops into holes. Possesses the necessary balance to slip through traffic. Background as a receiver. Produced against top competition (Clemson 2015, Tennessee 2016). Standout production – eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards all 4 seasons. High character player.
Negatives: Lacks a clear dominant trait. Not an overwhelming athlete. Not speedy, and lacks the outright strength to be a power back. Below average agility/change of direction skills. Non-elusive. Typically won’t make man miss in 1-on-1 situations. Tackled for loss more than any other running back I have evaluated to this point. Struggles to break free from tackles. Usually brought down on initial contact. Seems to regress as the game moves on. Poor vision in the 2nd level. Frequently runs straight into a pile. Struggles to create for himself. Unreliable pass blocker. Fumbled 17 times in a heavy workload. Worn tread – carried the ball over 900 times during his career. Minor knee/lower body injuries earlier in career.
Outlook: I greatly admire the way Cox plays the game. His heart, will and effort is evident. He has the compact frame to add weight and fill it out. I think he’s best served to embrace the power back role and get up to about 220 pounds as that would best allow him to get the most out of his skillset. I like him in zone blocking schemes as he picks his spots well and struggles to create for himself at times; although you’ll see he lacks the quick vision off the exchange and will run straight into the pile if nothing opens up. While he does have background as a receiver, his production in the passing game dropped tremendously from his freshman year. If he can prove early on that he can contribute in the passing game, that will significantly improve his value at the next level. As it currently stands, he’s a priority undrafted free agent in this rich running back class, but could catch on in the right fit.