We’re in the depths of the offseason here at The Falcoholic, and there has been little to nothing in the way of interesting news in ages. So, we’ll have to make some content of our own in the meantime. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be bringing you a new Player Profile series where we’ll take a look at each of the players on Atlanta’s roster. I’ll break down their measurables, past production, and try to project their 2020 season with the Falcons.
After taking a look at the projected starters, we now turn our attention to the depth on the Falcons’ roster. Today, I’ll be discussing safety J.J. Wilcox—an experienced veteran who was meant to be the primary backup to Keanu Neal in 2019 before suffering a season-ending injury during training camp.
S J.J. Wilcox
Contract: Details not reported, projected: $900K cap hit in 2020, free agent in 2021
Career Production: 77 games played, 39 games started | 233 total tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2 FF, 3 FR | 16 PD, 6 INT
2019 Production: Missed 2019 season with injury sustained in training camp
It’s been abundantly clear that the Falcons aren’t the same defense with playmaking SS Keanu Neal off the field, and the depth behind him has been suspect for years. We saw the team stubbornly start Jordan Richards throughout the 2018 season, realizing far too late that he was not the answer. In an effort to fix this issue, the team signed a reliable veteran to play behind Neal: J.J. Wilcox. While Wilcox has not had the most decorated NFL career, he’s been about an average starter—and that’s nice to have as a depth player.
Wilcox came into the NFL as a third-round pick of the Cowboys in 2013, and got opportunities to play almost immediately. He started 5 games in his rookie season, and predictably struggled a bit. The team handed the starting job to Wilcox in his second season—the only year he would start 16 games—and he acquitted himself fairly well with 3 INTs, 5 PDs, and a solid 59.0 overall PFF grade. He took a bit of a step back in 2015, where he started 13 games and his PFF grade dropped to a 52.8.
After two seasons of playing as a starter, Dallas moved Wilcox into more of a rotational role—and he thrived there in 2016, posting a career-high 80.9 PFF grade on 53% of the defensive snaps. That impressive performance earned Wilcox a two-year deal with the Buccaneers in 2017, but he wound up traded to the Steelers prior to the start of the season. That campaign would be largely forgettable, as Wilcox played only 134 snaps and started just 1 game. Wilcox was cut prior to the 2018 season and spent the year bouncing around between the Jets and Colts before joining the Falcons in 2019.
We don’t know what Wilcox would have provided for the Falcons last season—the reports coming out of camp were quite positive, with Quinn very high on his ability and even talking him up as a rotational safety. Wilcox would miss the entire season with an injury suffered in training camp, and until recently it looked as if his career might have been over. However, Atlanta has now elected to bring him back—perhaps a sign that he is fully recovered from his injury.
Projection: J.J. Wilcox earned the praise of the coaching staff in 2019, only to see his season end before he saw the field. Now that he has returned, expect Wilcox to compete with rookie Jaylinn Hawkins for the primary backup job behind Keanu Neal. I’d expect Wilcox to make the roster and wind up as the fifth safety even if Hawkins impresses enough to win the competition.