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Florida defensive end Brenton Cox stands in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the Gators' 29-26 victory over the No. 7 Utah Utes Saturday, Sept. 3, 2023.
Florida defensive end Brenton Cox stands in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the Gators' 29-26 victory over the No. 7 Utah Utes Saturday, Sept. 3, 2023.

Former Florida Gators defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. is one of the most polarizing players in this year’s National Football League draft. 

The pass rusher projected as a high day two prospect with the potential to move up in the draft; he’s a former five-star recruit with elite potential. However, recent concerns have caused Icarus to crash back to Earth.

Cox was dismissed from Florida’s football team in October. The official reason for his dismissal was never released, but Florida head coach Billy Napier said that there are expectations to being on his team, and that being a Gator “is a privilege.” 

“I don’t know if we’d get specific relative to what caused the decision,” Napier said. “I think it’s more of a cumulative effect here.”

This isn’t Cox’s first dismissal — the edge rusher was dismissed by Georgia in 2019. 

Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart and then-defensive coordinator Dan Lanning declined to comment on Cox’s dismissal. However, Cox was arrested for marijuana possession that April, which likely figured into Smart’s decision.

Napier never clarified the reason Cox was dismissed from Florida football, but it’s well known that the first-year Gators head coach runs a tight ship. Napier preaches character, and it didn’t seem like Cox fitted his mold.

To his credit, this news seemed to blindside Cox, who reacted strongly to his dismissal on Instagram.

“I find it hard to express my disappointment in being dismissed from the team. It is truly a shock,” Cox said. “I have always had a competitive spirit. I think sometimes that gets misconstrued.”

It’s unclear whether the edge rusher’s draft stock was affected. Cox projected as a day two selection prior to his dismissal. This would typically spark character concerns among coaches and general managers. 

However, NFL coaches seemed to take a liking to Cox at the Shrine Bowl. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took a particular shine to Cox, taking time to coach the defensive end one-on-one at the event. At the combine, Cox referred to Belichick’s coaching style as “direct,” saying he appreciated how straightforward and hands-on the Patriots coach was with him.

“I’ve never been coached by someone like him, of his caliber,” Cox said.

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He impressed at the Shrine Bowl, tallying the West’s lone solo sack. Cox also added three total tackles in limited playing time and helped the West to a 12-3 Shrine Bowl victory. 

Cox needed a strong showing Thursday in the 2023 NFL Combine’s defensive line and linebacker day to boost his stock. Thus far, his combine performance has been, bluntly, abysmal.

Cox ran a 4.82-second 40-yard dash, which was the third worst among defensive ends. His 10-yard split — a measurement of a player’s explosiveness — clocked in at 1.65 seconds. This put him in the bottom half of defensive ends as well. 

This was very concerning for a player touted for his speed and explosiveness. 

His strength measurements didn’t help much either. The defensive end racked up 24 bench press reps, placing him in the middle of the pack. So if he’s slow and not particularly strong, what does Cox have to offer?

At his best, Cox is a lengthy bowling ball capable of changing a game’s outcome. The 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound defensive lineman has a build similar to NFL superstars Nick Bosa and Matthew Judon. He has natural bend, an elite trait few players possess. 

Cox was one of the best defensive ends in the Southeastern Conference when he was feeling himself. He flashed elite play, including 2021’s four-sack performance against Florida State. 

At his worst, Cox was just a flash in the pan. He tends to overrun tackles and occasionally fancies himself a solo act on assignments. His 14.5 sacks in 44 career college games aren’t five-star quality.

Cox is a ‘tweener. Where exactly he fits into an NFL-level defense is up in the air. He could be too slow to play on the edge at the professional level and not strong enough to switch inside. Cox could be dependent on impressing NFL front offices during combine interviews. 

It would be shocking if Cox went undrafted. But don’t be surprised when the defensive end is still available on day three of the draft. Cox still has high enough potential for a team to take a flier on him.

Contact Connor at connorobryan@ufl.edu or follow him on Twitter at @ConnorOBryan3.

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