Darren Woodson was one of my favorite players growing up and he is one of my favorite players of all time. Woodson was what we now call, the RKG and played the game the right way. He had a great approach towards the game and was one of the hardest workers on and off the field. Darren Woodson changed the game and he was a key contributor to the 90's Cowboys success.
The Cowboys drafted Woodson in the 2nd round of the 1992 NFL Draft with the 37th pick. Woodson was an amazing player for Arizona State, who even walked onto the football team. Woodson started out as an outside linebacker in college and became a team captain. He was recognized as an All-Pac 10 selection three times and received an honorable All American selection as a junior.
It's funny that Dave Campo was the man responsible for moving Woodson over to safety. We all consider Campo to be washed up and he is, but at one point the man was a great coach. Because of Campo's insight, the Cowboys drafted Woodson and moved him to safety.
Woodson was primarily used on special teams his rookie year, but he entered the starting lineup as a strong safety in his second season and he was a force there for many years. By the end of his career, Woodson was a five time Pro Bowler and a three time All Pro.
What Woodson will always be remembered for is his character. We all know Woodson was a great safety and probably a hall of fame candidate, but he brought accountability and character to the franchise. Look at what Woodson said when he retired.
"When I put that helmet on, I laid it on the line. Not just for this team, but for everyone here. I laid it on the line every time I put that helmet on. I wanted to win so bad, that nothing else really mattered. The most important thing was giving everything I had each time I stepped out on the field. And I think I did that."
The hunger and passion Woodson had for the game possibly made him so much better than other safeties around the league. He had tremendous athletic ability, but his approach towards the way he prepared for the game truly raised his play in my opinion. One of the reasons I believe Ed Reed is so good is because of his approach towards the game.
Gerry Fraley from the Dallas Morning News really summed it up best.
"Woodson had the run-stopping skills of a strong safety and the pass-coverage ability of a free safety. His ability to cover slot receivers made a significant difference for the defense."
Darren Woodson actually changed the safety position. Safeties were began to be looked at as more than just guys who played the deep half of the field. It's hard to find tremendous athletes of Woodson's quality, and this hurt the way the Cowboys graded the position after Woodson retired in 2004.
The Cowboys are still looking to replace Darren Woodson and it's been almost a decade since he left. The Cowboys really need to change the way they draft and grade the safety position. They are still looking for the next Darren Woodson to come out of the draft, but you are not going to find many 6'2 and 220 pound safeties with the ability to tackle and ballhawk.
Darren Woodson 2.0 isn't going to happen, and the Cowboys need to start changing the way they look at the safety position.
There has been so much disappointment and failure at the safety position since Woodson left. Roy Williams started his career off with such promise, only to deteriorate because of his physical style. Keith Davis was a glorified special teams player who never amounted to anything special. Pat Watkins was another bust in the draft. Ken Hamlin had a great 2007 season, then turned that into a lucrative contract and flamed out afterwards.
When the Cowboys signed former Jacksonville Jaguar, Gerald Sensabaugh in 2009, they thought they found the next Darren Woodson. I can see what they were thinking. At 6'1 and 208 pounds, Sensabaugh has a similar build compared to Woodson. Sensabaugh is not the athlete Woodson was, and that is the problem. Sensabaugh can actually cover pretty well, but he doesn't possess the football intelligence Woodson did and he gets caught out of position too much because of it.
I always thought Sensabaugh was a pretty good thumper at safety and could lay the wood. But he really doesn't hit with authority and is scared to mix it up due to penalties. Sensabaugh can be hurdled on and I have seen him whiff too many times coming down from the box.
Sensabaugh is nowhere near the ballhawk Woodson was either. In my opinion, Sensabaugh is playing out of position. The Cowboys played him at strong safety in 2009 and 2010 and Sensabaugh had more success playing there in my opinion. This year they moved him over to free safety and put Abe Elam in at strong safety. The problem is that both are strong safeties with limited ball skills. The Cowboys feel that Sensabaugh can play both the free and strong position, personally I feel that Sensabaugh is strictly a strong safety because his skill set is more suited for that position.
The Cowboys extended Sensabaugh in early December, rewarding him with a five year, 22.5 million dollar deal with 8 million dollars guaranteed. I felt that the contract extension was premature and a mistake. Once Sensabaugh received that deal, his play tailed off significantly. Some place blame on a nagging foot injury, others place blame on the lack of skill Sensabaugh possesses.
Jerry Jones has been burned by the safety position the last decade and I believe because of that, he is hesitant to hand out a big time deal at the position. The war room also hasn't drafted safeties high in the draft and Akwasi Owusu Ansah was the last highly invested (4th round 2010) draft pick on the position. I will say that they have not benefited from the weak safety classes the past couple of years, but they still need to start placing a higher emphasis on the position.
At some point, Jerry and the Cowboys will have to take a stab at the safety position. That could be a big time free agent or a high draft pick. Whatever the decision is, they will need to make one soon if they ever want this defense to be elite. We had average safety play last year that didn't cost us games, but we didn't win any games because of our safeties either. If they could ever upgrade the position and add a safety with ball skills, this defense would be much better off.
Well this may be the year the Cowboys finally land a quality safety in the draft.
Mark Barron was a player that I thought would go in the mid to late first round before his injury. Barron suffered a double sports hernia and I believe that would require surgery to repair the hernia. A double sports hernia would mean he aggravated both the left and right side of the hernia. Reports are saying he will be out until July or August.
If you remember offensive lineman Ben Ijalana from last years draft, he had the same injury and surgery was performed in late December of 2010. Ijalana recovered just fine from the injury, but tore his ACL early into the season.
A sports hernia isn't that serious if the right decisions are made. You get the surgery and you spend the time rehabilitating the hernia. A sports hernia can be serious if you don't spot it early enough and don't get it taken care of. Fortunately for Mark Barron, it was spotted during the Senior Bowl and he can get the necessary surgery to repair the injured hernia.
I am no doctor, so if anyone can spot anything wrong on what I said, please explain in the comment section
So what does this mean for the Cowboys? It means that once again, they may land a first round talent in the second round. The Cowboys are no strangers to taking chances on injured players in the draft. They moved up in the second round back in 2010 to select Penn State linebacker, Sean Lee. Lee was coming off a torn ACL and the Cowboys had Lee rated as a high first round pick. The risk paid of greatly because Lee turned into one of the best inside linebackers in the league in just his second season. If there was a redraft today, Lee would go higher than 54th overall.
In the second round last year, the Cowboys snatched up another highly touted linebacker prospect in the second round. North Carolina's Bruce Carter would have been a top 20 selection in the first round, but tore his ACL. He fell to the Cowboys with the 40th pick and the war room was thrilled to get another first round talent in the second round.
The Cowboys will take chances on injured players in the second round. In my opinion, Mark Barron will fall out of the first round and he could possibly be available when we go on the clock with the 45th pick in round two.
I understand Barron will be out to at least July or August, but he is the best safety in another weak safety class. Taking a risk on Barron in the second round would be a risk I would be willing to take. We desperately need help at the safety position and even though Barron is more of the prototypical strong safety, he would still be a major upgrade over what we have now.
Barron has the size the Cowboys like, 6'2 and 218 pounds. Barron has the flexibility the Cowboys like because he can be interchangeable and play both the free and strong safety positions. When I look at Barron, I believe he could be a valuable piece for Rob Ryan due to his athletic skills and versatility. Ryan likes to move his safeties around a lot and likes for them to be interchangeable. Barron has the violent streak and size to play strong safety, but he also has the ballhawking skills to play free safety.
Barron is definitely a violent hitter in the LaRon Landry type mold. He will come down from the box and hit his man so hard they will be seeing snot bubbles for the rest of the game. The violent streak will remind Cowboys fans of Roy Williams, but don't compare Barron to Roy Williams. Barron is a much better athlete than Williams and he can generate turnovers.
He will be a force in the run game and rack up plenty of tackles. His physicality is one of his best traits and he is a sure tackler.
Barron is better off in zone coverage where he can read and diagnose the play. He has a real good feel for the game and that comes from his hard work in the film room. That is what I love about this kid, he is a film room junkie and good safeties are always watching their opponent. Barron has a real high football IQ and has a true passion for the game.
As far as character is concerned, Barron looks like the total RKG and he could be a leader in this secondary for years. What I also love about Barron is that he is a leader. He made all of the secondary calls and he was a leader on a good defense. With Sensabaugh publicly announcing his distaste for making the secondary calls, having Mark Barron would eliminate the need for Sensabaugh to do that.
In my opinion, man coverage is his most negative aspect of his game. He doesn't have the fluid hips to cover like a cornerback can and will get beat in man to man coverage. Many draft guru's question Barron's speed, I think his speed is fine actually. I would imagine he is a 4.5 type of guy and that is plenty of enough speed. His problem is his hips and he is a little stiff. That causes problems for him in man coverage because of double moves and quick cuts.
Even though he has lapses in man coverage, for the most part he is well rounded prospect as a safety. He has great anticipation and can jump routes for the interception. He can go up and get the football in jump situations. His hands are really good and he will secure a lot of interceptions instead of just knocking the ball down. His aggression will lead to some big plays and he must learn to tone that down in the NFL. But overall, Mark Barron looks like a really good safety prospect that will have a long NFL career.
With NFL coaching and time, he could develop his skills even better.
Let's take a look at his college production (courtesy of ESPN.com)
- 2011- 63 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT
- 2010- 77 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 INT
- 2009- 74 tackles, 7 INT
When Barron was inserted into the starting lineup in 2009, he had a fantastic sophomore season. Barron was recognized as first team All-SEC and a third team All-American. He was second on the team with 74 tackles and his 7 interceptions showed his ballhawking ability. Back in 2009, many thought Barron was the next big prospect at safety.
In 2010, Barron had somewhat of a down season and his critics began to question him. He was beaten badly on some deep passes and people started to wonder if Barron was just a one year wonder. Barron still made first team All-SEC and was a finalist for the Thorpe Award. Barron also was a first team All-American as a junior.
Barron worked on his game and it showed in 2011. He wasn't getting beat deep badly anymore and he totally improved his game in that area. Going back to school for his senior season was actually a smart move by Mark Barron and he fine tuned some areas of his game. Barron was a first team All-American, All-SEC and a Thorpe finalist again. Barron led Alabama to another national championship and he was one of the leaders on the defense.
So Barron has the college production and awards to back up his draft stock. 12 interceptions in three years is pretty good and his tackle numbers are always very high. Barron is a productive safety that is all over the field racking up tackles and can also make a play on the football. Solid tackling safeties that can ballhawk will always be a premium in the NFL Draft.
This is a three year starter for a really good Alabama defense. He has big game experience and played in the best conference in college football. The athletic ability is there for Barron to become a really good player in the NFL. He doesn't have great speed, but he can run well enough to be a playmaker in the secondary.
I like to compare prospects to a current NFL player, it just gives us a better feel for who the prospect is similar to in the NFL.
- Kenny Phillips- Same size, 6'2 217. Both are considered strong safeties, but are interchangeable and can play both the free and strong position. Phillips is a really good player when healthy and I would love to add a Kenny Phillips type of player to our secondary.
- LaRon Landry- Similar size, Lanrdy is 6'0 220. Landry is a violent and physical player similar to Barron. Barron might have the better ball skills, but he is similar to Landry.
In the second round, Barron would be a steal. I understand he will miss a lot of time and will not be ready until training camp. But why pass on a talented safety that we desperately need? Look at the bigger picture, don't just think about the present. Sometimes draft decisions are made for the future and adding Mark Barron to our team would really beef up our secondary. You would be getting a solid safety for the next ten years, when was the last time we could say that with confidence?
Mark Barron may not be Darren Woodson, frankly I don't know if there will ever be another Darren Woodson, but I know Barron is a talented prospect who would shore up the safety position for a long time. For the first time ever, I will actually promote the idea of drafting an inured player. Mark Barron just makes total football sense for this team and I hope Jerry Jones makes this happen.
Mark Barron NFL Draft Analysis - 2010 Season (via TMBDraft)
Mark Barron vs LSU (via BrownsOrBust)