Sleeper Safety: Wilcox Could Be Target in R-2

J.J. Wilcox might be the best player you haven't heard of in this draft. He played defense for just one season at Georgia Southern but one scout has him ranked No. 2 among this year's safeties. He could be a target for the Packers, who have failed to replace Nick Collins.

J.J. Wilcox is the biggest sleeper in this year's draft.

The safety from Georgia Southern is considered a third-round pick by ESPN's Mel Kiper and NFL.com's Mike Mayock. A fourth-round prospect by NFL Draft Scout and National Football Post. A fifth-rounder by the Sporting News. An undrafted free agent by Optimum Scouting.

The truth is, Wilcox might go in the second round in two weeks — quite possibly to Green Bay, which is desperately trying to find a safety to fill the shoes of Pro Bowler Nick Collins.

An AFC scout told Packer Report that he has Wilcox ranked the second-best safety in this draft. Dave-Te' Thomas, the head scout for Scouting Services Inc. — a scouting service used extensively by most teams in the league — said he'd "take (Wilcox) over any safety" in this draft.

"I love this freaking kid," Thomas said.

During his first three seasons at Georgia Southern, Wilcox played three positions — flanker as a freshman, A-back in the wishbone as a sophomore and slot receiver as a junior. At each position, Wilcox was a premier playmaker. During the summer before his senior season, the coaching staff asked Wilcox if he'd mind moving to safety to help a porous defense.

A consummate team player, Wilcox embraced the change.

"Once he showed me the depth chart, I went in with it," Wilcox told Packer Report on Thursday. "I felt good about it. I always wanted to play safety. I always wanted to hit. I have a defensive mentality so it was easy to transfer over."

To get ready for fall camp, he watched tape of Charles Woodson, who played both sides of the ball at Michigan. And he gobbled up film of the late Sean Taylor, along with John Lynch and Brian Dawkins.

"I love football and I have a great sense of respect for the game," Wilcox said. "I study the game whenever I get a chance."

At the Senior Bowl, scouts didn't quite know what to expect. They knew he was an excellent athlete. They saw him deliver 88 tackles and two interceptions as a senior. But that was against FCS competition. How would he fare against some of the best players in the senior class?

"He (kicked) ass at the Senior Bowl," Thomas said. "I don't care about what people say. ‘Oh, he looked lost on some plays.' (Baloney) he was lost. If he was lost, man … You go back and look at the film and the kid's got good stick-to-itiveness to him. You put him in a system with a quality coach and you're probably going to have the best safety in this draft."

Wilcox was first-team all-Southern Conference as a senior. He had nine tackles against Georgia and his second interception clinched a quarterfinal victory over Old Dominion.

With so much ability — Wilcox (6-1, 217) ran 4.57 at the Combine with a 35-inch vertical, plus he's an excellent communicator — and so many areas in which he can improve, Wilcox's best football is in front of him.

"They like my upside," Wilcox said of scouts. "At the safety position, usually what you see is what you get because they played four years at the position. With me, this is my first year and I accomplished everything that I set out to do. Everything that a safety does in four years, I did it in one. My upside is good, my versatility — I can play either strong or free — my speed and my ball skills. Just the upside that I have, there's nothing I can't do. I can tackle good, I can move good. I just need more reps and more teaching of the position and the sky's the limit. With what I did in one year, imagine what I can do with another two or three years under my belt."

Wilcox said the Packers have been "buzzing around a lot" before the draft and made note of their presence at the FCS semifinal game at North Dakota State.

"I really like the organization — great coaching staff, a winning tradition," he said.

Reaching the NFL has been Wilcox's dream since he was a kid. Getting there will be sweet — and not just for himself.

"I think my parents are going to be proud and it will be very emotional for them knowing that their son has made it to the highest level of football," Wilcox said. "I don't look at it as much for me. Yeah, I want to be the best player that I can be but I just want to better my parents and their situation because there were a lot of sacrifices to get me to where I'm at."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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