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Cowboys roster evaluation: Strong safety

This is the 13th installment of a series of articles evaluating the Dallas Cowboys current roster in anticipation of the April draft. This evaluation deals with the strong safety position.

OFFENSE: Part I QB | Part II RB | Part III FB | Part IV WR | Part V TE | Part VI OT | Part VII OG | Part VIII C
DEFENSE: Part IX NT | Part X DE | Part XI OLB | Part XII ILB

SS

The Cowboys have two strong safeties listed on their roster. I’ve also included practice squad player Damarius Bilbo, who Parcells was trying to convert from a WR to a safety.

Roy Williams
Abram Elam
Damarius Bilbo

Starter – Roy Williams

It’s finally time in this lengthy series evaluating the Cowboys roster to discuss the man, the myth, the Biscuit - Roy Williams. Opinions vary widely on the value of Roy; there are harsh judgments on one side and lofty praise on the other. I fall somewhere in the middle. What I like about Roy is the obvious, his ability to make the big hit and his ability to move forward on a play and make an impact. Its conventional wisdom - and almost certainly true wisdom - that Roy needs to play closer to the line more often and he’s at his best when moving forward on a play. I’d say don’t underestimate the value of a guy who can deliver a hit that is far above the normal contact on most tackles. Roy’s ability to generate power in a small space does three things; it causes turnovers, it intimidates receivers and backs, and it fires up the defense. Emotion and attitude are big factors on defense and Roy can provide a spark in that area. He has 17 interceptions in his career, which isn’t bad. He’s good in attacking the run and can be very good on the blitz; he has the natural ability to be disruptive in the opposition’s backfield.

Now, where Roy falls down is in pass coverage and fundamentals. He’s very stiff in his back pedal and is slow to diagnose pass patterns. Too often he lets the receiver get right up on him before sensing the deep ball and turning his hips to run. He can take very poor angles in pass coverage, leaving him out of position on plays he should be able to affect. Poor angles sometimes dog him in run pursuit too; he ends up out of position to make the tackle. He also fails to wrap-up on occasion when delivering a hit and allows the ball carrier to escape.

Roy gets a new opportunity in the Phillips 34. If Wade Phillips follows through on what he’s hinted at so far, then this defense should be ideal for Roy’s skill set. Bill Parcells was wedded to a defense that required Roy to do things that he just wasn’t capable of; Phillips is wedded to a defense that seems built for Roy.

Reserves – Abram Elam

Abram Elam came out of nowhere last training camp to win a spot on the Cowboys game day roster. Going into camp, he wasn’t high on the list of safeties, and was somewhat of an afterthought. But when it became clear Justin Beriault was done, the Cowboys found that Elam was a pretty decent ball player. Personally, I remember watching and writing about how impressive Elam was in camp. He just kept popping up wherever the ball was. He turned in a good year on the special teams and remained Roy’s primary backup for most of the year, but never saw much actual playing time. Still, he has tremendous value as a special teams player and someone with potential as a regular player down the road.

As for other reserves, both Keith Davis and Ken Hamlin could play the position if needed. Also, Parcells was trying to turn Damarius Bilbo into a safety – he’s big enough to be a strong safety – so we’ll have to see if Wade Phillips continues that experiment.

Draft implications

Probably not high on their list. Roy Williams signed a four-year contract last year and will be the starter as long as he is here. They can allow Elam to grow as a player, and they have Keith Davis or Ken Hamlin for an emergency. Strong safety is a non-factor in the draft.