Last season, the San Francisco 49ers brought in Perrish Cox as a free agent to add depth to a thin secondary unit. He was viewed as a low cost reclamation project for the Niners, as they tried to buy low and possibly find themselves a steal. Cox was the Niners’ dime cornerback and was Carlos Rogers’s primary backup in the slot.
Cox did not see a lot of snaps throughout the season, as he was on the field for nearly 15 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Nearly a third of those snaps came in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, as the team played in their dime package for most of the game to counter the Packers’ pass oriented offense. He would average seven snaps per game for the rest of the season. He was also on the field for a nearly 25 percent of the team’s special teams snaps.
Cox showed flashes of potential last season. He would be running with receivers stride for stride in tight coverage one minute and then the next he would be get lost in his own zone. It was impressive, despite his raw skills, due to the fact he missed the entire 2011 season after be cut by the Broncos for an off the field issue. The Niners are hoping for him to take the next step in development.
Cox’s role on the team is going to be increased, due to the season-ending injury to teammate Chris Culliver. Cox has looked impressive in the first two games of the preseason. He has looked solid in coverage in both slot and the outside. He has recorded several pass break ups in the two games, while adding two sacks in Friday’s game against the Chiefs. It has led to questions of whether or not Cox could potentially fill in as a starter on the defense this season.
Cox has always had the potential to be a great corner back since he came out of college. He looked like he could potentially be the best corner in the 2010 draft, but poor work out numbers and off the field issues led to him dropping to the fifth round. His scouting reports reads much better than his drafted position, which is likely due to the transgression off the field.
Cox was highly productive in college at Oklahoma State. He finished his career with 134 total tackles, 10 interceptions, and 45 pass deflections. As a senior, Cox led the nation with 19 pass deflections. His 45 career pass deflections is the second most in the Big 12 since 2005.
He was also highly accomplished as a returner on special teams. During his career, he averaged 24 yards per kick return and 11.6 yards per punt return. He had six total return touchdowns, with four on kick returns and two on punt returns. His four kick return touchdowns are the eighth most in a career since 2000.
Cox is a talented playmaker and his scouting report reflects that. He has excellent athleticism, despite his 4.6 40-yard time. He plays much faster in pads and possession great acceleration with good top-end speed. He also possesses great movement skills with quick feet and loose hips. He can turn and plant as well as any corner in his draft class. He has excellent ball skills, as shown by his 10 interceptions and 45 pass deflections.
Cox is best suited for man coverage, as he can be physical with a receiver and then turn and run down field with him. His ball skills then allow him to make a play on the ball in the area of that receiver. He has the skills set to be better in zone coverage than he is. He shows good agility and short area quickness with good play recognition skills, but he has a tendency to be tentative and give too much cushion in a zone scheme.
It is easy to see why the Niners took a chance on him prior to the 2012 season. He possesses the skill set to be a solid starter in the league, but it comes down to honing his raw skills into a polished product. The Niners have a good secondary coach in Ed Donatell, who is going to be key in the development of Cox.
The way he has looked in the preseason could potentially earn him some looks with the first team defense, especially in the slot. Rogers could be forced to play more outside, due to the injury to Culliver and the uncertainty of Nnamdi Asomugha. Then next season, if Cox continues his growth, he could force the Niners’ to part ways with Rogers and his hefty contract.
He would be younger, more athletic, and potentially much cheaper than Rogers, which is important with the potential contract situations for several of the Niners’ key players coming up in the next couple of offseasons.
It would also be wise for the Niners to give him more looks in the return game, as well. He has looked more explosive and dangerous than LaMichael James as a kick returner. It is not surprising to see him perform better than James, as he is a more experienced returner than James. James had a total of 17 combined kick and punt returns over his three years at Oregon, compared to Cox’s 177 total returns.
Cox has the potential to be a break out surprise for the Niners, especially in two positions that they are in dire need of impact players. He could be an explosive return option for the team, while also providing impact depth at the corner position. It would not be surprising to see Cox take over as the number one option as the slot corner.