POSITION: Tall Utility
DRAFT ANALYSIS: “Cox is a tall utility with a rare combination of traits; able run all day, kick efficiently off both feet, and show clean hands both in the air and at ground level.” – Michael Alvaro
In a draft pool stocked well with key position talent, Nikolas Cox is one with many points of difference. The raw and athletic 200cm prospect is the best the Northern Knights have to offer in 2020 and has plenty of potential. At the forefront of his abundant arsenal is versatility, with Cox able to fill key position posts at either end of the ground or even push out to the wing. He was set to spend more permanent time in defence as a top-ager, all while co-captaining the Knights’ NAB League campaign alongside Ewan Macpherson. Having already earned an Under 18 berth last year, Vic Metro selection was also on the cards of Cox but like all of his fellow Victorians, he was not able to add to his exciting resume in 2020. Still, he has remained a key figure in the elite talent pathway as part of the AFL Academy, while capping off his journey at the National Combine a few weeks out from draft day.
- Overhead marking
- Kick efficiency
- Clean hands
Cox is such a unique prospect in regards to the range of assets he holds as a 200cm athlete, pointing towards enormous upside. Breaking them down individually, Cox’s versatility is one of the major talking points to arise when discussing his game. Given his ability to play like a medium-sized type, Cox has been seen running off a wing or half-back flank, but he consolidated his standing as a key position option late last season. While three bags of multiple goals, including one haul of four against Bendigo may point towards greater form up forward, Cox was poised to settle in defence this year for the Knights. His effective use of the ball and overall reading of the play would have helped the transition, with the potential to also rise as an intercept marker.
An area he will need to work on in order to properly impact in key positions is strength. Cox is still filling out his 200cm frame, especially having put on a further five kilos since preseason, but is said to be improving his bodywork. With a couple of preseasons in the gym, Cox will be able to compete against both athletic key forwards and those more brutish mature bodies. It even lends to his forward scope, as he has all the athletic traits to outdo defenders with separation, but will need to add some muscle to hold his own in one-on-one wrestling exchanges. He is prolific at marking the ball at its highest point overhead, but that in-between range will come to life with added size.
Looking at Cox’s athletic profile, it is clear that he is a terrific endurance athlete. While not as explosive or powerful as others, the 18-year-old runs 2km in a tick over six minutes – putting him in the elite category not just for his size, but for every size. He also achieved an 80cm running vertical jump at the National Combine, which adds nicely to his height advantage. Combined, these traits allow Cox to match it with a range of opponents while also seeing him work his adversaries over when necessary. Cox is not particularly quick but likes to take up the space in front of him and move on quickly when possible, with enough awareness to know when to dispose of the ball.
At the end of his short runs or overall possessions, Cox is an effective user of the ball. His kick efficiency would be right up there with players of all sizes nationwide, which is remarkable for a 200cm athlete. Adding to his strength in this area is the fact that he is dual-sided. His ability and confidence to kick on both feet borders on arrogance at times, especially when he is seen kicking set shots on both feet at a windy Preston City Oval. Another trait in the ‘elite for his size’ category is Cox’s clean hands as he thrives not only aerially, but also below his knees. It is another factor which makes him less of a loping bigman, and more a natural-looking footballer who can impact on each level and line. While he ticks a bunch of boxes, Cox is still raw and can up his output, but has so much upside to work with in an elite environment.
DRAFT PROJECTION: 15-25
Given the sheer variety of attributes Cox brings to the fore at 200cm, he makes for a unique prospect who has long piqued the interest of recruiters. Though he has not been able to properly prove his potential as a top-ager, Cox’s high ceiling will be difficult to overlook in the late-first round or early-second round. With a bunch of other key position prospects likely to be off the board at the top end of the draft, Cox could well be the best tall option in his range for a club in need of long-term cover. He should be one to impact down the line once he further develops, but could well play early given his versatility and high-level endurance. His attitude, high training standards, and leadership capabilities will also serve as big ticks for recruiters.