Its no secret that the Cowboys have dealt with some lackluster safety play recently. It has been far to long since we had the tandem of Roy and Woody patrolling the middle of our secondary and many of us are ready to see Dallas focus on this area. That seems to have begun in the 2012 draft with Matt Johnson. Our resident scout Birddog26 was very high on the ball hawk from Eastern Washington and he seems to think that as soon as Johnson gets healthy and gets some NFL experience he will be a solid contributor for us. This trend needs to continue in 2013. This years safety class is stronger than it has been in recent years and we have a chance to solidify the safety position for the remainder of the decade. Lets take a look at a few of the prospects that the Cowboys may be considering.
First up on my list is a Texan. Kenny Vaccaro from Brownwood TX stayed at home to play his college ball as a Longhorn. He started 6 games for the University of Texas as a sophomore and became the full time starter his junior year. His efforts in 2011 resulted in his being chosen by the Big 12 coaches as a first team all conference selection and he earned honorable mention as the conference defensive player of the year. He was also chosen as first team preseason all conference this year. Kenny Vaccaro is an attack oriented safety who has proven to be a violent hitter. He is strong in run support, but has also shown himself to be solid in coverage. He is a playmaker who flys around the field and is always around the ball. Kenny plays tight coverage in both zone and man schemes and does a good job on slot receivers. Kenny changes direction well but does lack elite closing speed. Vaccaro is also a solid contributor on special teams.
Playing in the same secondary with All American Baccari Rambo has resulted in Georgia safety Shawn Williams flying somewhat under the radar.According to Coach Mark Richt except for the interceptions Williams is just as good as his better known counterpart. Thankfully Shawn does not have the off the field issues that Rambo does. In fact Georgia players consider him to be the ideal off the field teammate. He also was selected to be a team captain for his junior. Shawn Williams is a fearless and aggressive defender who hits opponents with a violent explosion up through the man. He is tough and selfless on the field and a student of the game in the meeting and film room. Shawn is a solid open field tackler who hits like a small linebacker but shows safety level coverage skills. Last year he led Georgia in tackles with 72 on the season. He has shown impressive work ethic and has put in the effort to improve his coverage skills. Like many players on well stocked teams Williams made his first contributions as a special teamer and even after becoming a full time starter he sought out special teams snaps.
Any safety who models his game after Ronnie Lott certainly has a lot to live up to and Nevada safety Duke Williams has been proving himself to be pretty decent at meeting that expectation. Although there has been some question about the quality of competition Duke has faced it should be remembered that he chose to be a member of the Wolfpack because that was the team he followed growing up, and not because big time schools were not interested in his services. Boise State, USC and Washington all offered Williams a scholarship. At 5'10" and less than 200 pounds, he is undersized but Duke Williams plays like a big safety. Not only does he bring the wood, he also wraps up solidly upon contact which seems to be a lost art at every level of the game. Last year Duke was third on the team in tackles with 78 and he was named first team All Mountain West conference. One benefit to his smaller size is that he has very quick feet and that he shows great closing speed. He is also a solid cover guy for the Wolfpack. Duke also demonstrates his speed as the return man for the Wolfpack special teams.
One guy who has helped himself recently is Florida Gator SS Matt Elam. He has been a clutch performer for the Gators all season but he really stood out when the team met the LSU tigers. Stepping up is nothing new for Elam. Last season as a sophomore and first year starter he led the team in tackles with 78 including 11 for a loss. He also had two forced fumbles and two interceptions. Matt is a very instinctive playmaking type who also shows solid work ethic both on the field and in game prep. He excells playing in the box but he is the style of player who can show up anywhere on the field making a stop for the Gators. Even though he is more natural as a strong safety Matt can fill either role. He is another guy who can be an effective special teamer in the NFL.
Each of these guys should be a solid performer at the next level. Reid and Rambo will likely be the first safeties off the board this spring but there is a lot of NFL level talent there for the taking. I would be happy if we pulled the trigger on any of these gentlemen although I think that if we can get Duke Williams in the fourth he might just be our best value overall.