After a quiet free agent period, the Dallas Cowboys entered the 2013 NFL Draft with the opportunity to improve their football team and get younger. The goal of every draft is simple, get good football players and leave the draft with a better team. In essence, the Cowboys managed to do that and along the way they solved some needs, but also left some holes open.
If you wanted this franchise to answer every need with just six picks, well then you were going to come away disappointed. It's nearly impossible to do that, so we shouldn't expect even the best drafting teams to accomplish that feat.
The Cowboys accomplished some of their goals and found value along the way. While this isn't my favorite draft class in recent years, this year's haul is a solid one and the players acquired have the potential to all become contributors or starters.
It's extremely difficult and premature to grade a draft class this early, but the grading process is common in the NFL community. Even though we won't know how successful or unsuccessful a draft will be for a few years, I always follow up with my own grades.
J.J. Wilcox: A-
Outside of the quarterback and offensive line, there isn't a more talked about position on the Cowboys than safety. During the offseason we analyzed what Dallas had at the position and determined it just wasn't enough. Entering this draft it was obvious that we were going to have some new talent there, but we just didn't know what round that help would come in. Our new safety happens to be the first selection of the Kiffin regime on defense.
There are only a few players that the Cowboys passed on that really made sense in the third round. Damontre Moore could have been a steal that late and we definitely need more pass rushers. Now we will get an extremely close look at him when we take on the New York Giants twice a season. Shamarko Thomas was a good fit for us, but he was passed on and was eventually drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round.
Passing on Eric Reid, Matt Elam and Jonathan Cyprien earlier, the Cowboys are taking a calculated risk on Wilcox. We've seen the war room pass on established talent and select a small-school safety before in the fourth round, so hopefully we don't have another Akwasi Owusu-Ansah on our hands, but Wilcox is a different cup of tea. For starters, Wilcox played college ball at Georgia Southern. That's a smaller school, but it's a nationally recognized program that may become a Division I school soon.
Unlike Akwasi, Wilcox has better football instincts and Kiffin has enough trust in a safety that has only played the position for one year because of his intelligence and athleticism. As a former wide receiver, J.J. knows the route tree and tendencies of a wideout. It may not make him elite right away, but the experience playing on offense will help him down the road.
Wilcox is also going to be a piece of clay for Kiffin to shape and mold. Our defensive coaches can coach him the way they want to coach him. Limited time at the position means that he hasn't had a lot of time to develop bad habits. The Cowboys are getting a great athlete, but they are also getting a football player with high character and a strong work ethic. Wilcox has urgency and he wants to become a successful NFL player, and I really didn't see that type of urgency in AOA.
The size (6'0", 213) and speed (4.5 40 yard dash, 4.09 20 yard shuttle) combination are elite numbers for a safety. Regardless of where he came from, this was one of the best athletes in the entire draft. Wilcox has the fluidity and range to play free safety, but he also has the size and physicality to play strong safety. This is a solid selection in the third round. At worst, we will see him play packages and special teams in his rookie season. Wilcox is very dangerous with the ball in his hands, so he could see some time on the return team.
There is definitely some risk here, but the upside of drafting a high-ceiling safety who could become a starter is worth rolling the dice on. The Cowboys are due to hit on a safety, maybe this is the player we have all been waiting for to become the playmaker this secondary desperately needs.