Emergence of Brenton Cox could create crowded edge rusher room for Packers

Oct 29, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. (1) prior to the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. (1) prior to the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers have a long-standing tradition of undrafted rookies making their way onto the 53-man roster. The next player potentially in line could be edge rusher Brenton Cox, which could either lead to a crowded edge rusher room or a difficult decision.

Cox is a former five-star high school recruit that very well could have been an early-round draft pick had he not been dismissed from both Georgia and Florida during his college career. During the 2020 and 2021 seasons with Florida, Cox logged 74 pressures and 10 sacks. He was also one of PFF’s highest-graded edge rushers verse the run during that span as well. Although college production is not the be-all-end-all by any means when it comes to future NFL success, there is something to be said for being a productive edge defender in the SEC.

"“He was highly recruited,” said Packers pass rush coordinator Jason Rebrovich. “There’s a lot of guys that have trials and tribulations in college. The best thing I saw about him was how he is as a player.“When I got a phone list through this process and I called the young man, I said ‘hey man, I don’t want nothing to know about football. I want to know who I’m going to get on a daily basis. Am I going to get this knucklehead that’s gone through this stuff? Or am I going to get a guy that wants to be a pro and have the opportunity to become a star in this league?’ Because he has a lot of talent. He needs to be pushed, and a lot of guys need that. They need that kick in the rear end.”"

In a deep dive into Cox’s college film, Andy Herman of the Pack-A-Day podcast noted that in one outing against Florida State in 2021, Cox’s ability to impact the run game, showcase his explosiveness, and win as a pass rusher with both speed and power was on full display. This one game illustrates the wide-ranging skill set he has at his disposal and can bring to the Green Bay defense.

Throughout OTAs and minicamp, Cox was routinely with the third-team defense, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that ahead of him on the depth chart is Preston Smith, JJ Enagbare, Justin Hollins, and Lukas Van Ness. But following one practice, when Matt LaFleur was asked which young players on either side of the ball had stood out to him, Cox was one of the few names he mentioned.

"“The thing about Cox in the few short days we’ve had him, he has shown that,” said Rebrovich. “It just has to be consistent and has to grow with that consistency, and hopefully, there’s no lulls in there. Sometimes that happens, but if we can dig him out of that and keep climbing that mountain he might have an opportunity to be a pretty good player.”"

Cox will have to carry this momentum into training camp when the pads are on if he hopes to make a roster push, but that potential emergence could impact the Packers’ roster construction. Green Bay has never kept more than five edge rushers under Matt LaFleur and even kept four one season, but rostering Cox could have the Packers keeping six, which means going light at another position group, or they would have to move on from a 2022 contributor in Hollins.

At this moment, I would consider Rashan Gary – if available for Week 1 – Smith, Enagbare, and Van Ness as roster locks. Hollins, from a salary cap perspective, is not, given that releasing him comes with a very minimal dead cap hit. However, with how he was utilized during offseason programs, often playing with the first-team defense across from Smith and working with the starting special teams unit, it would appear that he is going to have a defined role this season.

Once joining the Packers last season, Hollins ranked in the top 30 among all edge rushers in PFF’s run-stop rate and pass-rush win rate metrics. Pass rush coordinator Jason Rebrovich has also discussed the leadership role that Hollins took on once joining the team.

Keeping both Hollins and Cox would result in six edge rushers on the roster once Gary is activated, which again, will impact the roster elsewhere, such as keeping just five receivers or five interior defenders, for example. If the Packers were to keep only five, they likely would be choosing between Hollins’ immediate impact and Cox’s future upside. For a team in a transition year, choosing the young player probably makes more sense, especially when discussing a final roster spot where playing time is likely to be limited.

Given Cox’s potential, I could see the Packers wanting to roster him in order to keep him off the practice squad where another team could sign him away. We saw Green Bay take a similar approach last season with undrafted offensive tackle Caleb Jones.

Cox will, of course, have to continue playing well into training camp and the preseason, but I do believe that rostering six edge rushers is very much in play. The depth of this group is much improved from this time a season ago. It’s also an important position that is going to have to make a big impact for the Packers’ defense this season, and with a young core made up of Gary, Van Ness, Enagabre, and potentially Cox, Green Bay could be set up well here in the years to come.