After spending the last couple of weeks taking closer looks at some of the players the Dallas brass hopes to acquire to bolster the offense, we now look to the guys that are as potential additions to the unit on the team that is in dire need of an upgrade: the defense. As so much of the Cowboys' troubles on D last year can be traced to the back seven, specifically the safety position, that's where we'll start--with a guy whose invitation to Valley Ranch sent many of scurrying for our draft books: North Carolina safety Da'Norris Searcy.
Who, you probably found yourself asking when it was released that he would be joining the Tyron Smiths and Prince Amukamaras of the collegiate ranks by visiting with the Garretts, Ryans and Joneses (oh, my). Indeed, he has been an under-the-radar guy for the better part of his career. At UNC, he was overshadowed by several higher-profile defensive teammates, but in 2010, he led North Carolina in passes broken up (nine) and interceptions (four) despite the fact he was suspended for the first three games.
When he returned to the field, he made an immediate impact, with a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown against East Carolina. He finished the season with a team-best four interceptions, including three in his first four games back on the field. He also posted 37 tackles and broke up four passes. Even more to the Cowboys' liking, he has the makings of a strong special teams player: Searcy served as the team's top punt and kickoff return man over the last two seasons; he scored on a 77-yard punt return vs. The Citadel in 2009.
He may not be the most athletic of defensive backs (his combine workout can be found here)--he ran a 4.57 forty at North Carolina's pro day, only .02 seconds faster than DE Robert Quinn's--but Searcy does have some intriguing characteristics. Apparently, NFL teams would agree; in a down year for safeties, he has reportedly visited seven teams in addition to the Cowboys. At the very least, this would suggest that the Dallas scouts aren't barking up the wrong tree.
Lets see what some of the leading draftniks have to say about his game--after the jump...
The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 6th-rated S; overall unknown (not in top 99)
Strengths: Searcy is a versatile and productive athlete with the ability to cover tight ends and slot receivers well in man coverage. Reads the quarterback pass well and has the speed to close in on passes in front of him. Flashes quick closing burst and is a strong tackler at the point of attack. Is dangerous in the kick-return game.
Weaknesses: Lacks the athletic ability to stay with wide receivers who are quick and agile. Does not break up passes, but rather makes the tackle after the catch in man coverage. Will get a little overaggressive as a tackler, which leads to missing tackles.
Bottom line: Searcy has some impressive athleticism and production, and he has the talent to become a starter with a few seasons of development. Look for him to find time on special teams right way, however.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 11th-rated SS; overall unknown (not in top 150)
Positives: Very good size, bulk and length. Strong to reroute receivers-put up 225 pounds 27 times at the Combine, best among defensive backs. Drops into the box with urgency and shows pop on contact. Aware in zone coverage. Has lined up in multiple spots and has experience returning kicks. Has a desirable football temperament and strong intangibles-likes to play and it shows.
Negatives: Has below-average speed and is a step slow to the perimeter. Average hip flexibility and transitional quickness. Is not sudden and has man-coverage limitations-cannot keep pace with slot receivers. Average ball production. Can be overaggressive and miss some tackles.
Summary: Tough, smart, competitive strong safety who was overshadowed on a talent-laden defense. Is dependable and hard-working and should be able to compete for a roster spot and help on special teams.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 9th-rated safety; overall unknown (not in top 130)
Production: Flashes good discipline and rarely gets caught chasing receivers in zone coverage but doesn't have elite instincts or route recognition. Can be a step late breaking on the ball. Overaggressive at other times and can bite on double moves. Can be late recognizing run.
Height-Weight-Speed: Enough range to cover deep half. Above-average foot speed and can keep receivers in front of him in underneath zone coverage. Has experience lining up over the slot in North Carolina's Nickel package. Flashes above average underneath man-to-man cover skills but can get beat over the top when left on an island. Shows some stiffness in hips when forced to open, turn and run. Recovery speed is adequate at best. Gives receivers too much of a cushion and doesn't close well enough to get away with it.
Durability: Big hands for a safety prospect and emerged as more of a playmaker during senior season. Gets head turned around and tracks ball. Long arms for a safety prospect. Can reach in and knock the ball away from the receiver without getting flagged for pass interference. Looks to rip the ball out in gang tackle situations. Can drop passes that should catch.
Safety-specific intangibles: Flashes a strong punch and the ability to get off receiver's blocks when lined up over the slot but inconsistent in this area. Not a downhill run stopper. Appears to shy away from contact and a bit of a pile inspector.
Overall Intangibles: North Carolina held him out of the first three games of the 2010 season to determine his eligibility. He has said that he was cleared by the NCAA during the process.
While Searcy does appear to be limited athletically, he also possesses some admirable qualities: he's strong, has good instincts and solid--if not bone-crushing--open-field tackling skills. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to have a knack for making plays, something that has been in short supply in the Dallas secondary in recent years. I wouldn't trust him to play free safety--and imagine NFL offensive coordinators would be eager to get him in one-on-one situations down the field. But he does seem to have the ability to do a variety of things closer to the line of scrimmage: diagnose correctly; play the run; cover slot receivers.
Because of these qualities and this year's undernourished safety class, I'm going to slot Searcy in the fifth round--about where the Cowboys picked Mike Hamlin, another ACC safety with a similar profile, a couple of years ago. If they do select Searcy, here's hoping he pans out better than Hamlin did.
Next up: Nebraska FS Eric Hagg