Tom Telesco and the Chargers scouting staff have done outstanding jobs of finding value in late round picks and UDFAs over the last few drafts.
Defensive backs like Michael Davis and Brandon Facyson were both undrafted finds. Last year’s top offensive tackle back-up behind Russell Okung and Sam Tevi was Trent Scott, an undrafted lineman from HBCU Grambling State.
Year in and year out, this team comes away from the offseason with a diamond in the rough. But unlike any other position, this team has a knack for finding contributors at running back.
Two years ago, Telesco found a Division II running back out of Western State University by the name of Austin Ekeler. Fast forward to today and he is now the team’s backup behind Melvin Gordon while still being one of the most dynamic backs in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, Ekeler ended up the sixth-highest rated running back in 2018.
In last year’s draft, the Chargers took Justin Jackson with their seventh-round selection, just a handful spots above the annual “Mr. Irrelevant” pick. They also found another small-school prospect in Detrez Newsome out of Western Carolina University who ended his career as the school leader in yards from scrimmage.
Both running backs played significant snaps in at least a single game at some point this past season. When Gordon and Ekeler were both out due to injury, Jackson was able to start and carry the load in the comeback win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Newsome made the most of his opportunities against the Kansas City Chiefs during their first win at Arrowhead in over five years.
Long story short, don’t count out any running back that the Chargers draft or sign.
This year may just be the third one in a row that the Chargers have found a back worth keeping around in Old Dominion’s Jeremy Cox.
At 6-0 and 223 pounds, Cox would immediately be the largest back on the roster. With 28 starts across his four years at ODU, Cox has the experience Lynn covets in his players. However, due to some injuries and the Monarchs preffering a rotation at running back during his last two years, Cox’s stats are a little more up-and-down for a prospect who played in over 40 games. Here are his rushing and receiving numbers from his career:
2015 (10 games/4 starts): 72 carries - 369 yards - 1 TD / 20 receptions - 99 yards
2016 (12 games/8 starts): 119 carries - 732 yards - 13 TDs / 11 receptions - 118 yards - 1 TD
2017 (9 games/9 starts): 147 carries - 621 yards - 4 TDs / 20 catches - 176 yards
2018 (9 games/7 starts): 103 carries - 453 yards - 5 TDs / 24 receptions - 139 yards
His most prolific year was obviously in 2016 when he scored 14 total touchdowns and set a career-high with 5.8 yards per carry. The following season in 2017, he was right on his way to setting a career-high in rushing yardage until he suffered a season-ending injury against UNC-Charlotte. In his final year of eligibility, Cox split time in the backfield with two other backs while also battling some injuries, holding him to just nine games.
Even with some concerning production, Cox’s athletic profile surely kept teams interested.
His 4.42 forty is nothing to scoff at for a back weighing 220+. Add in a 39-inch vertical jump, a 4.19 shuttle, and 6.9 3-cone and you’ve got yourself a stout back who knows how to play with some wiggle.
His best game in 2018 came against the toughest opponent when the 0-3 Monarchs hosted the #13-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. Cox toted the rock 20 times for 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His elite explosion numbers are apparent on tape as he sparked the ODU offense with several big runs on the night.
#Chargers UDFA RB Jeremy Cox is a no-nonsense runner who makes his money taking one-cut and committing. Not a bounce or dance in sight.— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) May 5, 2019
He was a key cog in their upset win over 13th-ranked VaTech this past year. pic.twitter.com/PCPV3dHOjb
The most frustrating thing for evaluators is finding a big, physically-imposing running back who doesn’t play like he is 220-230 pounds. Thankfully for Cox, he is well-aware of his size and knows how to utilize it in certain moments.
In the play below, Cox catches a check-down route about a yard short of the sticks. Even though he gets stuck by the linebacker, Cox knows how to use some centrifugal force to swing himself around and over the marker to move the chains.
Jeremy Cox was seldom used in the passing game @ ODU but knew how to make his opportunities count. At 6-0 and 230 pounds, he plays that way by always clawing for the extra yardage. Stopped short of the sticks, he twirls his mass around to catapult over the 1st down mark. pic.twitter.com/IOD5JHOQjG— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) May 5, 2019
Nothing gets football fans more excited (apart from touchdowns) than when players are able to turn nothing into something. With running backs, the ability to find space and extra yardage when faced with a wall of defenders is a big-time trait. It shows scouts and coaches that you aren’t content with getting nowhere and will fight tooth-and-nail for just an extra yard.
Cox keeps his lower-body churning and somehow finds four yards on a 2nd-and-5 after he is met by a linebacker at the line of scrimmage:
Cox's contact balance is one of his best traits. Obviously it's what you look for in a 230-pound back. He better be able to shake off smaller defenders and refuse to get brought down by a single defender.— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) May 5, 2019
Here he's stuck at the LOS but keeps feet churning and digs out 4 yards. pic.twitter.com/qQaysDIP8x
Cox is more of a complete running back than his career stats let on and he should get an extremely close look by the coaching staff over the next few months. If it was any other year, I might say that he has one of the highest chances to make the 53. Unfortunately for Cox, he got signed by a team with one of the best backfield situations in the NFL.
He certainly has a chance to beat out Troymaine Pope for a potential spot on the practice squad but I’m not so sure he will be able to leapfrog Detrez Newsome as the team’s final running back, should they choose to keep four on the roster.
Regardless, Cox has the athleticism and skill set that you don’t just let slip away without much effort to retain him. Put him down as the UDFA that i’m most excited to watch once preseason exhibitions roll around.