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Draft Watch: Whither the Safeties?

Everybody knows safety ranks high on the Cowboys' wish list.  The team lacks depth at the position.  It's missed out on top prospects like Michael Griffin, Reggie Nelson and Tyrell Johnson the last two years.  Roy Williams is due a huge payday in '09 and its not clear how much longer the team will carry his one-dimensional play. 

This year offers more interesting safety prospects, but where will they go?  The Cowboys pick 51st and 69th and depending on where you look for your draft information, that's either too late or just right to fill this need.


If you look at Scott Wright's just re-juggled draft rankings, you'll see the top four safety candidates -- William Moore, Rashard Johnson, Louis Delmas and Sean Smith -- all in the 30 to 44 range.  Understand that these are raw rankings, not a prediction of where the players will be selected. 

If history is any guide, the early second is where safety runs generally begin.  Unless a player has a top, top ranking coming out of college, as Roy Williams (8th) Sean Taylor (5th) Michael Huff (7th) and Laron Landry (6th) Donte Whitner (8th) Troy Polamalu (most teams wait until the 2nd to fill the need.  Mike Brown (39th) Ken Hamlin (42nd) Eugene Wilson (36th) Kenny Phillips (31st) Brodney Pool (32nd) and Bob Sanders (44th) were all snagged in this perennially meaty part of the draft. 

There is no consistency to the rankings.  The National Football Post's Wes Bunting predicted yesterday that Utah's Sean Smith, an early-entry junior, could be the first safety off the board -- because a team might play him at cornerback

As of now, Smith is a bit of an unknown and is being looked at more as a second-round pick. But if he runs as well as expected (sub-4.5), I can’t see many teams passing on his tremendous upside in the first round.

Delmas, Johnson and Moore all appeared at the Senior Bowl and Delmas appears to have benefitted the most. He's now listed as 31st overall on Scout's Inc.'s ratings and he moved up a good dozen spots in Wright's ratings.  If the Cowboys are serious about him, it seems they would have to consider moving up, as the Chargers did in '06 for Utah's Eric Weddle.  Right?  Here's where it gets murky. 

In his ratings of risers and droppers, Scouts Inc's Todd McShay said this about the pre-Senior Bowl favorite William Moore:

We have had concerns about Moore's diagnostic skills and stiffness in his hips. Those concerns were confirmed when comparing him to other top safeties playing in the Senior Bowl, such as Delmas and Alabama's Rashad Johnson. Moore still could be a top-40 selection because of his outstanding size-speed combination, but he won't rank that high on our board.

So Moore might go in the top 40, but rank below Delmas and Johnson.  More fuel for a move-up argument, right?  Here's McShay again, rating the safeties as a group post-Senior Bowl:

Delmas and Johnson aren't as big as some of the other prospects but you wouldn't know it from watching them on the field. They were by far the most complete players of the group...While none of these prospects are expected to come off the board in the first two rounds, Delmas and Johnson project as early second-day selections. (emphasis mine)

See what I mean?  Is McShay contradicting his own organization's ratings?  Is this belief that the safeties won't go high based on talks with actual pro scouts at Mobile? 

I'm hoping to split the difference.  I'm hoping the group is undervalued as a whole and that just one of the Smith, Delmas, Johnson group drops into that early 2nd day, where Dallas is perfectly positioned, as they own Cleveland's pick, the 5th overall in the 3rd round. 

Yesterday, the Post's Bunting gave some ammunition for this hope, with a four round deep, ten-tier board

The Meat and Potatoes Draft

The breakdown shows that Dallas, if it stands pat, will likely compile a meat and potatoes draft, one short in skill position players and one heavy on offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and a safety or perhaps two.

It won't be sexy, but if you're aware of Dallas biggest shortcomings, the breakdowns should make you smile.  The Cowboys should get strong opportunities to fill their biggest needs -- safety, nose tackle, interior offensive linemen, with their first few picks.  Using these deeper ratings as a guide, here is my latest mock.  I'll probably change as the draft approaches, but for the moment, I'm assuming the Cowboys stay in their current slots.

2nd Round -- Rashad Johnson, FS, Alabama

There's a bit of disagreement on him.  Wright and Scouts Inc. rate him in the early 2nd.  Bunting rates him as a solid 3rd rounder.  I'm a big fan of the wisdom of crowds theory, that the group's cumulative knowledge is better than any single position, and the composite rating puts Johnson in the late-2nd/early-3rd tier.

The safety spot is rather shallow.  If you want a safety with range and ball skills -- and I do -- I think the Cowboys need to obtain one of Delmas or Johnson.  Delmas, and Utah's Sean Smith, have zoomed up to the late-1st/early-2nd tier.  I don't see Dallas moving up to get them.  I think they can get Johnson at 51. 

Johnson played for Nick Saban, and gets high marks for his instincts and range. Saban plays a pro-style defense, so his players have shorter learning curves.  Laron Landry has Saban's last big FS prospect and he moved from LSU's to Washington's secondary seamlessly.

If the Cowboys go in another direction, look at the o-line beef that could be available.  Tier five, the solid 2nd rounders, includes the top center prospects Alex Mack and Max Unger, and OU road grader Duke Robinson.  I would not complain if one of them was the pick.

3rd round -- Ron Brace, NT, Boston College

He weighed in at Mobile at 329 lbs.  His BC teammate B.J. Raji stole the week, but i think Brace had the better game.  He shows raw power, can push guards and centers backwards, and showed some hustle.  In the 2nd quarter Brace started a rush, pulled off when the opposing QB threw a quick flare to a running back, and made the tackle 25 yards upfield.  Any NT Dallas acquires would only have to contribute 20 or so plays per week, playing behind Jay Ratliff.  Hope the draft board is accuate here;  Brace is rated as a solid 3rd rounder.  Dallas owns the 5th pick of the 3rd round. 

4th round -- Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas

A player whose composite rating is the mid-to-late 3rd round.  Dallas owns the first pick of the 4th round.  It's not a reach to get him here, as centers tend to drop.  The center position is deep, and Luigs seems to have the 4th overall rating, behind fellow Cs Mack, Unger and Eric Wood.  Luigs played C and both guard positions in the Senior Bowl.  He needs to get stronger, but he pulled effectively and pass blocked extremely well.  He's got quick feet and held his ground against B.J. Raji. 

4th round -- Phil Loadholt, OT, Oklahoma

Loadholt had a so-so Senior Bowl,and had trouble with speed rushers while playing at his college position of left tackle.  If he's going to make it, he'll be a right tackle.  The late 4th is a much better risk for him.  He's an extremely effective drive blocker, but he'll need a lot of coaching to smooth out his position change and of course, he'll need a lot of work on pass blocking.  He's had off the field problems that need to be checked out.




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