Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One is among the more highly decorated
defensive players in Southern Conference history, the other played three
seasons on offense before switching to the other side of the ball as a senior.
Who is a likely mid-round selection in the NFL Draft and who may have to sign
as an undrafted free agent would seem to be obvious.
It's not the case with former Georgia Southern standouts Brent Russell and J.J.
Wilcox, who were like two ships passing in the night of their senior season in
the opinions of NFL teams.
Both hope to be selected in the seven-round draft which runs from April 25-27
in New York, although Wilcox is considered the higher prospect despite playing
strong safety only as a senior after spending his first three seasons as a
slot back and a wide receiver in Georgia Southern's famed triple option.
"It doesn't matter where you go," Wilcox said, "it's just what you do when you
Size matters in the NFL. The difference for the two players who helped Georgia
Southern return to FCS prominence after a short down period - the Eagles
reached the national semifinals in each of the past three seasons - is that
Wilcox is considered an athletic beast with a 6-foot, 213-pound frame and
Russell, despite being a three-time All-America, is slightly undersized for an
NFL defensive tackle at 6-1 3/4 and 308 pounds.
When scouts descended on Statesboro in recent years, Russell sang the praises
of Wilcox, who wasn't going to be an NFL prospect on the offensive side of the
ball. Now Wilcox, who can relax with the feeling he will be drafted in perhaps
the third or fourth round, believes Russell is a player whom teams shouldn't
"Brent is a very strong person," Wilcox said, "Brent knows his abilities and
Brent understands this process. Brent helped me through this process a lot and
I helped him through this process. His mind-set is still the same. He's still
looking to get picked up in day three or through free agent. The same thing
with me. Whenever your opportunity comes, you have to make the most of it. We
have a great opportunity, a great window for us to showcase what we can do,
and a lot of people wish they could be in our shoes right now."
For much of his career, Russell appeared to be the higher prospect than
Wilcox. He was a three-time finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes
to the outstanding defensive player in the FCS and, was named the 2011 SoCon
defensive player of the year as a junior.
Constantly double-teamed, Russell's production wasn't quite the same during
his senior season, when he was suspended by coach Jeff Monken for two games
after being arrested for disorderly conduct outside a campus bar.
Russell has an excellent initial burst off the line and hustles to make plays,
but he isn't overly fast (his best 40-yard dash was five-flat at Georgia
Southern's pro day). He collected 54.5 tackles for loss and 25 sacks, even
blocked five kicks, in his 52-game career.
He most likely would be a three-technique defensive tackle in a four-man
front, but he could possibly slide out to defensive end in a three-man front.
He's even taken snaps as a center in recent months to make himself more
attractive to NFL teams.
His strength, he said, is "My toughness and meanness. People hate to say this,
but my nastiness that I play with. It definitely gives me a competitive
advantage. I'm not going to back away from anyone, I'm not going to back down
and I'm going to play to the last second.
"A lot of people say the competitive level that I played against my four years
in college, even though I had a lot of stats and a lot of tackles and a lot of
sacks, it might not be considered the same level as if a guy from Georgia had
less numbers but his competition that he played against week in and week out
(was higher). I'm just right now trying to show them what I can do. The thing
is I have tape, I had tape against Alabama, I had tape against Georgia, and
even Navy, so they have tape on me at a higher level."
"People know about me," added Russell, who has visited with the Baltimore
Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs. "It's just going to come down to who wants to
pull the trigger and take a chance on an FCS defensive tackle that might be a
bit short" (he laughs).
Wilcox has the measurables coveted by NFL teams. He also had some postseason
opportunities that Russell didn't have, showcasing his ability at the Senior
Bowl and the NFL Combine. He then returned to campus to join Russell for the
Georgia Southern pro day.
He has a strong lower body and his time on offense provides him with good
hand-eye coordination, although he must improve his range at safety. He totaled
88 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups in his senior season.
"Any time you come from offense to defense, it's a different type of learning,
it's a different type of abilities that you use," said Wilcox, who has visited
with the Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans. "Coming in,
the hardest part I think I had to do was backpedaling, getting used to people
coming at me. But on the flip side, I was always aggressive, I always had a
nose for the football and I was always a good tackler, even in high school
when I played (the position). I think it's actually helped me out, being on
"You never know about the NFL Draft. That's the buzz going around, second or
third round, (but) there's so much you don't know. When the opportunity comes,
I just want to make the best of it. I'll be ready for second, third, fourth,
fifth or sixth, whenever I get a call, I'm going to be ready. I want the team
to know that. When they pick me, they're going to have a hard-working player."
Russell and Wilcox are both represented by the same agent, Tony Agnone of
Eastern Athletic Services outside Baltimore. Russell trained for nearly three
months at Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth, Ga., while Wilcox prepared for
the draft at Athletes' Performance in Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Both players plan to watch the draft at their Georgia home. Wilcox is from
Cairo; Russell, who has a 6-year-old son, Nolan, is from Comer.
"Brent is one of the hardest workers and one of the best players I've ever
been around," Wilcox said. "He has one of the best motors that I've ever
"I knew J.J. was going to be an athlete," Russell said. "When he played
receiver, teams were asking me about who else should they look at, I was like,
'Look at J.J.' ... he can do anything."
They still sound like teammates.
The Sports Network