The Indianapolis Colts have produced big numbers at the tight end position this season as many experts have credited the team for having the best overall tight end group in football. Former Pro Bowler Jack Doyle was his typical reliable self early in the year as he paved the way both as a blocker and as a receiver.
With Doyle landing on IR after the Dolphins game with a kidney injury, free agent acquisition Eric Ebron became the number one tight end. Ebron has been remarkable this season, as he has been selected for his first Pro Bowl after leading all tight ends with 12 touchdowns on the season. Ryan Hewitt and Erik Swoope have rounded out the group for some of the year and both have been very good in their clearly defined roles.
The biggest surprise may have to be former college basketball player Mo Alie- Cox developing into a big time role player.
Cox has had a very strange path to the NFL. Cox attended VCU and played college basketball there. Fans of college basketball may remember Cox as the gritty power forward for the Rams and one of the leaders of that team. In his college career, Cox averaged 7.7 ppg and 4.7 rpg. Seeing that there was likely no career in basketball going forward, Cox elected to pursue a career in football, a sport that he hasn’t played since he was 14. Cox was signed by the Colts as an UDFA after the 2017 NFL Draft.
Cox spent time on the practice squad for the Colts in 2017 and never got the call up to the main roster. He spent some time on the practice squad yet again this year before finally getting his call up in week 4 against the Texans. In this piece, I’m going to go through the year for Cox and break down some of the film that he has put out on the season. Let’s jump into this year in review for tight end Mo Alie-Cox.
On September 1st, the Colts cut Cox from their roster as part of their final roster cut downs before the season started. Cox was then re-signed to the Colts’ practice squad the next day and remained on the practice squad until he got his first call up in week 4. Cox continually impressed coaches and other players in practice which led to his eventual call up in the following weeks. His ability to catch the ball was apparently evident early on which is no surprise for anyone who watched him at VCU the last few seasons.
Mo Alie-Cox answers Payton pic.twitter.com/ZRGqCapM0I— Michael Shamburger (@mshamburger1) March 18, 2016
With starting tight end Jack Doyle out with an injury, the Colts were forced to call up Cox to make his NFL debut. Cox played 13 total snaps (14% of the offensive plays) in the Colts’ loss and notched his first career catch for 17 yards. Although it was nothing special, this was a solid debut for the tight end. He was waived just a few days later however and brought back to the practice squad before being re-signed to the main roster yet again on October 12th.
Cox received playing time against the New York Jets, as he logged 12 total snaps (17% of the offensive plays) in the loss. He made one catch for 34 yards for the game in limited snaps. Again, it was nothing special but it was good for the young tight end to experience live action for the first time.
It was pretty evident even on Cox’s first offensive snap that he was a project. He’s lined up on the far left of the line and runs out for a ten yard hook. You can see how unnatural he looks running routes as he is very upright in his release and route running. He doesn’t really sell the route well or come out of the break that quickly. Obviously, this was never going to be a strength of his being that he is 6-7 250 pounds but he will have to improve a lot in this area going forward.
Regardless of his raw ability as a route runner or his lack of long speed or quickness, Cox flashed ability as a blocker in his first few games. Cox is the extra tight end on the right side here as the play is a designed run right behind him. His natural strength is evident early in the rep as he is able to control the block from the beginning of the play. The player he is blocking is no slouch either as that is Whitney Mercilus. For Cox to be able to move a player of Mercilus’ caliber so easily, it is easy to see what the Colts’ front office saw in him to keep on the practice squad for over a season.
On top of the flashes of blocking that Cox showed, he also showed that he can be a threat in the receiving game. Maybe not as a route runner but as a guy who can box out defenders and win jump balls. Here Jamal Adams has fairly good coverage but Cox is able to out-muscle him at the catch point and adjust properly to the ball in the air. You can obviously see the basketball background on this catch. In these first few games, Cox showed that he has some raw ability to go with his great combination of size and strength.
Cox experienced a bit of a breakout in the passing game around the midway point of the season. With Doyle and Swoope dealing with minor injuries, Cox was able to get more and more playing time. Against the Bills in week 7, Cox caught one pass for seven yards while playing 32 snaps (48 % of the total offensive snaps). He played on more snaps than both Hewitt and Swoope and appeared to be gaining the inside track towards the Colts’ third tight end spot.
In week 8 against the Raiders, Cox had perhaps the best game of his career. Cox played on 25 snaps (32% of the total offensive snaps) and notched his first career touchdown. He finished the day with one catch for 26 yards and a touchdown and showed huge improvements in the run blocking game.
In week 10 against the Jaguars, Cox had his first multi-catch game of his career. Cox played 29 snaps for the game (41% of the total offensive snaps). He notched two catches for 28 yards on the day and caught his second career touchdown. Cox steadily improved over the four week stretch and rose from roster bubble guy to solid tight end three in a good tight end group.
His in line blocking noticeably improved starting with the Bills game. Notice how Cox— on the right side of the line— turns his hips as he is engaged with his defender. This is something that he was not doing in earlier reps in the season. As he got more playing time and got more acclimated to the game, he started to improve upon the finer points of in-line run blocking. This is a very good rep here.
Perhaps the highlight play of the year for the Colts is this catch by Cox against the Raiders. Cox is covered man to man with very little separation on this route. Luck throws a back shoulder throw and loses it a little bit high. Cox is able to adjust in the air, reach back, and make the one handed touchdown catch. This is just an insane play all around and shows that Cox is slowly developing as a pass catcher. His body control and adjustment in the air is already at a very high level.
Cox was also stellar in run blocking against the Raiders. Cox is lined up as the third player on the left side of the line here in the Colts’ heavy set. Cox is down blocking the unsuspecting defensive tackle and he completely knocks him off of his feet. The defender falls right on his back opening up a huge running lane. Cox is not overly physical as a blocker— yet— but he has the strength to manhandle players when he wants to.
Again calling back to his basketball roots as Cox is able to catch the jump ball on the goaline. I do think this is likely the future role that Ballard envisioned when he signed Cox. A big, hefty blocking tight end who can win jump balls in the red zone. He hasn’t been used too often like this in this area of the field but I do think they will get him more involved in the future like this play here.
For all the good though, there is always some bad. Like I have mentioned before, Cox is quite raw as a pass catcher. To go with his raw route running and technique, he also has his fair share of concentration drops. This is not a surprise because he just isn’t used to catching balls in traffic with defenders nearby. This is certainly a mistake that cannot happen in the future though. I do think with more playing time however, we will see less and less concentration drops from Cox.
After the Raiders game, Cox’s role on the Colts became pretty routine. Cox became the team’s 3rd tight end and was already one of the better blocking tight ends on the roster. Cox played 41% of the offensive snaps against the Titans in week 11 despite not being targeted at all in the passing game. He did suffer a calf injury that sidelined him from weeks 12-14 while the team continued their winning ways.
Once he returned in week 15 against the Cowboys, his playing time actually went up due to the season ending injury to Doyle. Cox played his most snaps pf the season the past two weeks— 56% of the snaps against Dallas and 48% of the snaps against the Giants— and looked even more improved as a blocker. He has essentially filled the Colts’ blocking tight end role very well with the absence of Doyle the last two weeks.
Cox has really stepped up as a run blocker the last two weeks. When I say step up, I mean like near Doyle levels of run blocking, which is insanely high praise. Here he is pulling across the line as the pivotal lead block on this touchdown run. I love how there are no false steps and no hesitation from Cox. This is a pure timing play and Cox shows that he has developed enough to not throw off the timing of this block. Great physical block to spring the goal line touchdown.
I really like this run block by Cox as well. Earlier in the year, Cox lacked the field awareness to identify who he needed to block on certain plays. It is really nice to see the development here as Cox— right side of the line— initially helps with the double team then breaks off to kick out the defensive back flying into the box. The awareness to break off the double team once Castonzo has controlled the block and then focus on the next defender is the difference between a decent blocking tight end and a good one.
Although Cox is the backside blocker on this play, he does contribute to the touchdown. Cox— right side of the line— knocks his edge defender backwards off of the line of scrimmage and is able to drive him back a few yards. The inside linebacker false steps to the wrong side and Cox is actually able to drive his defender into the inside linebacker. As a result, the inside linebacker can’t recover in time and Mack gets an easy rushing touchdown. Cox is steadily improving each week.
Mo Alie-Cox has done so much more up to this point in his career than coaches or the front office probably imagined when they signed him. He was always going to be a major project but I expected it to be at least two seasons or so before he even saw the field. For a guy who hasn’t played football since 14 years old, he is slowly starting to make an impact on this Colts team.
Now that is not to say that he is without fault. His blocking technique is pretty rough right now and it does result in him being tossed more than he should at his size. His overall route running and quickness are pretty poor as well and they are the main reason why he doesn’t have many targets in the passing game this season. Those flaws aside though, I do think that he shouldn’t necessarily be great in those areas yet. Remember that he is a major project way ahead of schedule.
Overall, I think that Cox is steadily becoming what Chris Ballard envisioned when he signed the former basketball player. A big, strong blocking tight end with major receiving upside in the red zone. He is becoming much improved as a blocker each and every week but the next part is for him to continually develop and become a more complete player. For a project already ahead of his projected pace, Cox is doing an excellent job.