Cowboys Draft Profiles '09: Assessing the Safeties

Let's get to the point.  Dallas needs safeties.  Sure, they've toyed with moving Orlando Scandrick and Stephen Jones recently mentioned the team is considering moving Alan Ball to the back center, but that's shuffling deck chairs on a listing ship.  Dallas needs a talent infusion at safety.  One look at Dallas' safety template and you'll see why.

The Cowboy value five skills.

  1. They want safeties who can tackle.
  2. They want tough players, who can support the run with abandon.
  3. They want smart players, who will not be duped by play fakes.
  4. They want players who can recognize formations and route combinations and adjust on the fly.
  5. They want safeties with good coverage skills, who can cover ground and track passes in the air. 

These may seem like obvious points, but how many Cowboys' safeties can check off every one of these boxes and say, "I can do this" with regularity? 

Ken Hamlin?  He was this type of safety in '07, but his tackling was erratic last year.  The Rams fiasco and the end of the Ravens' loss show he can improve here.

Who's left?  Roy Williams is gone.  Pat Watkins isn't the smartest guy on the roster, and his coverage skills leave much to be desired.  Courtney Brown?  He gave way to the slightly-built Tra Battle, because Brown's tackling didn't assure the coaches. Balls movement to safety suggests the team wants more speed and range.

At the moment, Gerald Sensabaugh is the default strong safety.  With Watkins on thin ice, the Cowboys have three safeties with any experience -- Hamlin, Sensabaugh and Battle -- as of March 18th.

Does this list suggest the Cowboys are ready to go forward with the guys they have?  Not a chance.  Safety remains a high priority for Dallas.  The question then becomes, what type of safety do they pursue?  The  templates suggest they want an all-around type, a Hamlin clone who can play a half of the field, drop into centerfield, or fill on toss plays to his side.

The Cowboys believe that a safety candidate with only modest coverage skills has to be exceptional against the pass.   Of free safeties, they want guys who can blanket tight ends and backs in man-to-man coverage.  

Which players in this year's crop best fit the Dallas template?  To help, we should add a sixth quality Dallas values -- they want safeties who have been productive over time.  They'll move a Brown, or a Ball or a Scandrick inside, but they would much rather have a guy with some experience managing a secondary. 

If you look at two year production, a short list emerges.  Here they are, in tiers, according to where most mocks predict them to fall:

Out of Reach

Sean Smith, Utah,

King-sized prospect, at 6'3", 215 lbs.  Has 16 passes broken up and 9 picks his last two years.  Played corner in college and may be tried there in the pros.  Played out of his mind in Utah's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.  Has risen up draft charts and will likely go in the very late first or very early second.  I've heard the Cowboys like him, but they'll have to move up if they want him.

Maybes

Louis Delmas, Western Michigan

A bit smaller than ideal, at 5'11", and a bulked-up 202 lbs.  He's the top rated free safety on most lists and is all over the mocks.  Some have him going very early in the 2nd.  Others have him falling to Dallas' 51st pick or later. 

Size aside, Delmas fits the Cowboys' profile.  He's a productive four-year starter, who had a strong senior year.  He stood out during Senior Bowl practices.  Look at his profiles and you see consistent praise for his coverage skills. 

William Moore, Missouri

Prototype size -- 6'0", 221 lbs.  Posted outstanding numbers his junior year --117 tackles and 8 INTs -- and entered '08 as the top-rated safety.  Was injured a lot last year and his production dropped.  He struggled at the Senior Bowl, raising questions about his coverage skills.  He had a strong Pro Day and may be rising back up draft boards.  The Cowboys could have him as an option at 51 but will need to research him carefully.  Will good health restore him to elite status, or is he another Roy Williams?

Patrick Chung, Oregon

Another big, tough prospect who rates in the 51-69 range.  I've seen split reviews on his coverage skills.  Some profiles laud his coverage skills, while others claim he struggles matching up in space.  The Dallas scouts' tape reviews will determine how strongly he's pursued in the 2nd or 3rd.

Rashad Johnson, Alabama

Like Delmas, his reviews are all over the place.  Look at one list and he's the top rated safety.  Look at another and he's a late 3rd round talent.  He's fallen behind Delmas in the ratings, though they are very similar size-wise.  Some teams appear concerned about his size and wonder whether he can tackle aggressively and consistently at the pro level.

Nobody can deny his production.  He quarterbacked Nick Saban's pro-style Alabama secondary and posted 19 breakups and 11 picks the last two years.  He knows how to find the football. 

The Sleeper

Sherrod Martin, Troy

If Dallas passes on a safety with its first pick, and takes a pass rusher, or an offensive lineman, don't be shocked to hear Martin's name later on.  He's another tweener like Smith, who some teams project as a corner.  He played free safety in college and produced for four years.  Was rated lower initially because he has an injury history and will be 25 years old this year. Appears to be rising late:  the National Football Post put Martin among its top 60 prospects this past week.

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