Meet The Cubs: Jason Fox Scouting Report

>> 5.04.2010

4.30, 128: Jason Fox, Miami OT:
27 September 2008: University of Miami offensive lineman Jason Fox (64) blocks against the University of North Carolina in Carolina's 28-24 victory at Dolphin Stadium, Miami, Florida.
When the Lions tendered RFA offers to guard Manny Ramirez, guard/center Dylan Gandy, and tackle/guard Daniel Loper, I was surprised.  Surely, I figured, with the addition of Rob Sims, and the healthy return of Stephen Peterman, one of those three would be let go.  All three had a chance to prove their worth as a starter last season—and none have such unknown upside that they must be kept around, regardless of production.  I named a tackle to groom behind Backus, and a center to groom behind Raiola, as two of the Lions' draft needs; I figured either one or the other would be addressed.

We got a sneak preview as to which it would be when the Lions released Loper.  As a swing guard/tackle, and no spot for him at guard, he’d have to make the roster as a tackle.  Since he didn’t, that left only aging Jon Jansen as a viable OT backup, and his pass protection—never excellent—has degraded to where he can’t start at right tackle anymore.  I immediately Tweeted that there was a roster space being carved out for a left tackle.  @Reckoner67 asked if I meant Okung, and I replied, quote, “More like a 3rd/4th rndr.”  Yeah, Twitter is literate like that.

Sure enough, when the Lions—finally—got back on the clock in the fourth round, they took their developmental tackle; Jason Fox of Miami.   Fox is an interesting prospect.  He has the prototypical LT frame: 6’-6 7/8”, 303 pounds, and 34.4” arms.  He’s got plenty of experience, having started 47 games in 4 years at Miami, third-most in school history.  Depending on who you ask, he’s either got very good, or average NFL-level lateral agility (keeping in mind that “average NFL-level” is “very good”).  So, with that frame, that athleticism, and that pedigree, why was he there at the bottom of the fourth round?

Jason Fox didn’t start out as a left tackle; in fact, like a lot of premier pass protectors, he started as a tight end prospect.  Coming out of North Crowley high school in Forth Worth, TX, Fox had played at tight end until switching to tackle his senior year.  Measuring 6’-6 1/2”, and a probably-lanky 255 pounds, Jason Fox was Scout.com’s 25th-best offensive tackle in 2006.  Interestingly, Rivals.com had Fox as the #16 tight end in his class; both considered him a four-star prospect.  To the University of Miami, though, Fox was strictly a tackle, and he immediately proved them right.

He started the first three games of his true freshman year at right tackle, but switched to left in the third game due to an injury.  He spent the rest of the season bouncing between the right and left sides.  He was knocked out of the final game of the season with a dislocated elbow, but returned in time to start the MPC Computers Bowl [sheesh].  The coaches graded Fox out at 83%, second-highest on the team, and he was given the team’s highest effort grade.  After not allowing a sack from either side all year, he was named first team Freshman All-America by CollegeFootallNews.com, and second team by Rivals.com and The Sporting News.

In 2007's spring practices, Fox was permanently switched from the right side to the left, and he started there for the remainder of his career.  He graded out at 96%, notching five pancakes along the way.  In 2008, he was named a team captain, and started 12 of 13 games on the left side.  A sprained right ankle broke his career-long starting streak, but Fox still graded out at 97% for the season.  He drastically upped his pancake count, to sixteen—including three each against Texas A&M, UNC and Cal.  Fox scored his first, and only, career touchdown on a five-yard tackle throwback play against Florida State.

Fox’s senior season went almost—but not quite—according to plan.  After starting the first 11 games, Fox missed the final regular-season game of the year with an irregular heartbeat.  Fox also missed Miami's Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin, when an irritating knee injury finally got too painful to ignore—he and the coaches agreed it was more important that he get the surgery to fix it, so he could prepare for the draft.  Still, Fox racked up 20 pancakes, allowed just one sack, and was first team All-ACC; there are no doubts about his production on the college level.

Of course, any time a player finishes his season with an injury, there are questions about whether he'll be back in time.  The knee injury shouldn’t pose a problem; Fox participated in individual drills during rookie orientation.  The irregular hearbeat, though, is more concerning.  Fox was grilled about it in his post-draft con call, and got a little irked by the hubbub:

I would really prefer not to get into that if that’s okay . . . It was just a fluke thing. I’ve been totally cleared. I’ve been back for several stress tests. They just said it was a one-day thing and I passed all the tests with flying colors and told it will never happen again.

Okay, so the proof of the pudding is in the eating, right?  It’s time for everyone’s favorite part, the only real tool anyone has for prognosticating NFL success: YouTube highlight reels!



I saw a lot to like on that clip.  Fox shows really nice ability to trap and pull; what I like his how he pulls and then hits; there’s a nice pop when he reaches his target.  He shows decent footwork and hands, in most cases locking on to his man and keeping said man in front of him.  Fox is  beaten a couple of times, and (from what I can tell) misses an assignment or two, but overall we see very smart, steady play.

Fox seems to have a special knack for trap and seal blocks in the running game; we see him spring Graig Cooper for long runs with a few of them—as an aside, how about that Graig Cooper, eh?  One thing that concerned me: Fox rarely dominated in one-on-one pass protection; we didn’t see much in the way of driving into defenders, or pushing them to the ground.  He was also overwhelmed on a bullrush a couple of times.  It’s clear that he needs to add bulk and strength to that 6’-6 7/8”, 303-pound frame.

What do the experts think?

From Fox's NFL.com's draft profile page:

While Fox has been a starter for four years at both right and left tackle his foot agility and lateral range may be on the marginal side for a left tackle in the NFL.  He is a tough athlete that has proven his willingness to play with pain.  He still needs improvement in his temperament on the field. He does not always finish blocks off or look to punish opponents as often as he could.  Fox’s status may drop some in the draft as he will need rehab on an injured knee that he was playing with during his senior season. He is not a natural knee bender and will play with his pads too high at times.

The National Football Post, via Yahoo!

A smooth, good-looking left tackle prospect who displays great flexibility out of his stance, Fox has the athleticism to consistently reach the corner. He does a good job sliding his feet and redirecting in pass protection. He isn't a Velcro player and struggles locking onto defenders at the point of attack. He does a nice job extending his arms into blocks but isn't heavy-handed. Fox is more of a finesse run blocker who uses his footwork to angle defenders away from the play. However, he's explosive off the snap and does a great job reaching the second level and hitting a moving target. He is one of the most fluid offensive tackles in space I've seen and is an ideal zone-blocking scheme candidate.

NFL Draft Scout, via CBS:

Rarely does a player from "The U" rank among the more underrated senior prospects among his position, but entering his senior season that is precisely what left tackle Jason Fox was. A highly-touted prep prospect who emerged as an immediate starter for the Hurricanes as a freshman, Fox began his career at right tackle, but started the final three years manning the blind side. He'll need to prove his health after missing the final two games, including the Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin, after undergoing surgery on his lower left leg. Not as blessed athletically as some of the more highly-touted offensive tackles who will be drafted ahead of him, Fox's size, consistency and durability shouldn't be overlooked.

SI.com grades Fox out as a 2.59, a "future starter". Additionally, SI's Peter King said "Down the line, some league people I talked to like the developmental potential of Miami tackle Jason Fox to be a long-term tackle."

Fox offers a solid combination of football instincts and mechanics to get the job done. He's not the greatest of athletes, yet he has an understanding for the position, which will help him eventually develop into a productive player at the next level.

So where does this all leave Fox?  Per logic, per Tom Kowalski, and per George Yarno, it leaves him as the favorite to back up both tackle positions, and eventually push Gosder Cherilus for the right tackle spot, while preparing to take over for Jeff Backus.

I know some people are going to scream when I point this out, but do you see a pattern emerging? "Tough.” “Smart.” “Solid.” “Instincts and mechanics,” “not blessed athletically,” “consistent and durable.”  Yup, you can see where I’m going here.  To quote my attempt to satisfy the Lions' draft shopping list:

I know he's not the elite ƜBERTAKKEL that everyone has been screaming for since Lomas Brown, but to be brutally, brutally honest, folks, I think the Lions would be happy to replace Jeff Backus with Next Jeff Backus.

I said that about Bryan Bulaga—and Fox is not the prospect Bulaga is, especially in the strength department—but that quote rings true for Fox, too.  If he can stay healthy, and develop his body over the next season or two, “the Next Jeff Backus” could indeed be the best way to describe Jason Fox.


10 comments:

LionsFanRoc,  May 4, 2010 at 3:00 PM  

Agree with a lot of what you said. He's got really nice feet and is definitely big enough (if he adds some pounds, which at 6'7" you'd think he has some room to do so) for LT.

One thing that I noticed that I really liked was that when NC didn't rush anyone over him immediately he was smart enough to help the guard but stayed in position for the stunting DT/the delayed blitz from the LB.

It doesn't seem like a lot, but sometimes it's the little things that matter and that to me shows a lot of football instincts.

Ty May 4, 2010 at 3:56 PM  

Yeah, he seems to have excellent instincts and awareness--something Schwartz, especially, treasures. I expect he'll have no problem picking up the scheme . . . the biggest problem with relying on an rookie offensive lineman to contribute is the risk of completely missed assignments.

I just hope he's ready to go full-bore come OTAs, because Backus Ironman Streak or no, your top backup at tackle is a guy who has to be ready to step in cold, and play well, at a moment's notice.

Peace
Ty

Neil May 4, 2010 at 4:15 PM  

I love this pick as a 4th rounder. Fox has obvious potential - he's not just another body to be thrown into the mix and if things break right he could be a long term starter for the Lions. That's exactly what you want in a 4th round pick.

I also agree with the Backus comparison. That was something I was also saying prior to the draft, that if the Lions were looking to replace Backus, it would be with a version of him. It was why I didn't think they wanted Okung but it makes sense here too.

Ty May 4, 2010 at 4:40 PM  

Yeah, exactly; in the fourth round you're either getting a lifetime bit player, or a potential starter with question marks. In this case, the question marks are "Can he get a little bigger and stronger?" and "Is the knee okay?" . . . much better than "can he stay out of prison?" or "can he learn an NFL playbook?", especially considering that the knee is already good enough for him to participate in individual drills.

Peace
Ty

CJ81TD,  May 4, 2010 at 7:34 PM  

Great post as usual Ty. I really do think Backus could be markedly better with Sims and a more mature Stafford under center.

NorthLeft12,  May 4, 2010 at 7:44 PM  

Dead on Ty. Jeff Backus is exactly who I thought of when reading about Fox. We should be so lucky.

Bill May 5, 2010 at 8:23 AM  

Isn't Backus now the longest-tenured Millen draft pick still on the team? Curious how fans have routinely hammered him, although he has been one of the few steady players at his position for the Lions over the last 5 - 7 years. It seems unfortunate that Backus has been the brunt of so much criticism over that time period when in fact he was one of the only decent players Millen ever drafted.

Fox can grow (bigger and stronger) for a year or two, allowing Backus to enjoy a couple of years of Lions resurgence before he retires. A nice transition plan for both.

witless chum,  May 5, 2010 at 11:55 AM  

When I heard the Lions' drafted Fox, my first thought was of one of the two Miami games I watched last year, where they got manhandled by Wiscy in the Champs Sports Bowl. I was glad to hear that Fox was not one of the guys the Badger defensive line was making look silly.

Merch May 5, 2010 at 11:37 PM  

Backus is NOT that bad. Drives me nuts that he gets hammered as much as he does. Sure, I hate it when linemen make the stupid mistakes or draw the hold. Hard to excuse the false starts, unless you realize you HAVE to be out quick or you're going to be in trouble because you lack support inside.

Dom is in the same boat as Backus, not a bad player, one of the few steady ones.

Trouble was the guard spot and that exposes both of them. While it wasn't like we didn't have a guard lining up, that occasional gaping hole forced both guys to compensate a bit. It wasn't always the players being simply bad either, it was injury that hurt most. Sims should help, I think some may be suprised, although I suspect Backus will still be endlessly berated if he allows a sack. I hope Gosder didn't pan out real well, Jansen is a bit run down... Gosder is young and there is hope for him yet though, so maybe the right side will shape up more too and with Sims starting our former starting guard(s) will provide depth in case of injury.

Switching gears here.. I love the cub reports, great stuff, it's fun to think of what some of these guys may be like in a few years and wonder. But what I wonder is ... what wss being said about last year's class? Or the year before? etc... I'm actually kind of curious to see what the general in depth feeling was for some of the Mlllen classes and then a break down of where they are, or perhaps better yet, where they AREN'T (i.e. in the NFL)

That has to be the most frustrating thing is the wasted picks over those years. I know first rounders can be busts, but often it's a "bust" if they aren't a pro-bowler. An average regular starter would be good for any of our Drafts, but the parade of WRs we drafted alone is enough to make your stomach turn.

Just think that would be a cool topic.

Merch May 9, 2010 at 12:33 AM  

ooh.. just read this one..

http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/HaMMeRStryche/238431/

I like it... breaks down past drafts and sort of tells you player status, although there are some inconsistent notations about where former draft picks are and I'd think it would be more valuable to see more detail on production, whether it was with the Lions or since they move on. Makes you think "was it the Lions and the coaching/staff/ownership that made things bad or the collection of players" and if you saw poor performers who were let go in Detroit who flourished elsewhere you may think it was more than just a collection of bad draft picks and free agents.

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