Since the departure of Darren Woodson in 2004, there has been a yearning for a playmaker at the safety position at Valley Ranch. Unfortunately, it won't likely come in 2015. However, it's not like the current crop of Cowboys safeties have been horrendous. In fact, both J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church have played admirably when called upon. Wilcox has only three years of experience in the position and Church was undrafted out of Toledo dues to concerns about his speed. In 2014, Church graded positively in both run and pass defense according to PFF. He also only gave up a 100+ passer rating three times. Wilcox was a different story, where he ranked negatively (76th overall) according to those metrics. He also gave up a 100+ passer rating on six different occasions.
There are many factors that go into these rankings, that is why nobody should be roasting Wilcox just yet. The pass rush was absolutely atrocious and the cornerback play from everyone not named Orlando Scandrick had suffered, too. The real dastardly perpetrator was the immense amount of time that opposing passers were allotted when facing Dallas. Now that the Cowboys have taken steps to remedy their pass rush, the secondary has a real chance to play better. That being said, the Cowboys could still add to the position. Let's take a look at this year's contenders.
SS Landon Collins, 6'0 228 lbs, Alabama
Projected as a strong, Collins is the consensus best player at the position. Much like his counterpart Mark Barron a few years ago, Collins is a rangy but forceful tackler. He has great instincts and a nose for the ball. He's very fundamentally sound and disciplined with the ability to show decisiveness. Collins is very quick on his feet but shows great balance. Dane Brugler believes he's a "top-notch cover-man" but sometimes can be easily deceived by play-action. Collins also needs better hands and often drops easy interceptions. He isn't the speediest of prospects but can deliver a blow. He's certainly a first round pick but Dallas may not be interested in another heavy-hitter.
FS Cody Prewitt, 6'2 208 lbs, Ole Miss
Definitely my favorite of the bunch, his strengths are single-high and Cover-2. That's two checks for my premature scouting notebook. He works with tremendously good technique and never shows any signs of panic. He's super consistent in zone coverage and has very polished angles in tackling. Another relentless competitor with a high motor and quick play recognition. If Marinelli is looking for an opportunistic player for the secondary, look no further. In my opinion he's the best free safety prospect hands down. Prewitt does need help to not be so over aggressive and trust his eyes better. Prewitt possesses only average speed and his tackles don't scare anybody. That said, Prewitt is one heck of a player and gives 100% every time out. Prewitt should be the first safety off the board in the second round.
FS Demarious Randall, 5'11 196 lbs, Arizona State
Randall has already scheduled a visit and spoke with Dallas. They really like his above-average speed for the position and his gaudy tackling numbers. He's another high effort guy with great leadership qualities and a consistent motor. Like Prewitt, he's refined in his angles and pursuit. He's an expert at anticipation and awareness. He excels at reading the quarterback and can jump routes with ease. Randall plays with aggression and the proverbial chip on his shoulder. He's a team-first guy that plays bigger than his frame would suggest. Some will doubt him due to his size and believe he should play corner. However, the team that gives him a shot at safety won't be sorry. He'll certainly need work in his technique and patience but he's a solid prospect for development. Randall should be a late second or early third round pick.
FS/CB Eric Rowe, 6'1 205 lbs, Utah
Rowe could immediately be converted back to his rightful spot at the free-safety position. Bryan Broaddus believes that since he played free-safety most of his college career, he would be a better fit there than corner. Rowe has great balance and hand-eye coordination, shows no panic when the ball is in the air. He plays with confidence and decisiveness to attack the ball. Great awareness and is a special teams ace. Very aggressive in run support and has a very keen eye to the ball-carrier. Has slight issues using his arms and can be flagged at times, needs work capitalizing on interception opportunities. He's likely to get selected as a corner but is an intriguing prospect at both positions. Rowe will be selected in between the third and fourth round but could go earlier in some minds.
SS Jaquiski Tartt, 6'1 221 lbs, Samford
Tartt is getting comparisons to Barry Church according to some NFL scouting profiles. He's a got a nicely built frame and power to boot. Tarrt is another decisive-angler tackler with the ability to get downhill rather quickly. He's got impressive muscular definition and should be able to hold up well against big NFL receivers. Brugler calls Tartt a very "intimidating hitter." He's got decent closing speed and body control to make unbelievable types of interceptions. His hand-eye coordination is impeccable. He'll need more development at the position in order to deal with the speed of the game. He can sometimes let routes get behind him and has limited coverage ability. Tartt showed his commitment and production in college and could go as early as the third round.
SS James Sample, 6'2 209 lbs, Louisville
I actually had Sample mocked to the Cowboys in my latest. Sample certainly has the framework to play NFL safety, but like J.J. Wilcox in 2012, he lacks the production in the position. He's a rangy safety that likely fits better as a free but can play both positions in the 4-3. Sample flashed a lot of ball skill at Louisville and had a relentless motor as a competitor. He'll need some fine tuning in certain areas such as run-defense and has the tendency to bite on fakes. He's however a proficient tackler and has a nose for the ball at all times and can get downhill in a flash. His lack of experience will leave him to be had in the fourth or fifth round. He does show the physicality to thrive as a safety in today's NFL, just needs the right polishing.
There are other prospects that could be had in the later rounds, but these are the ones that interest me. It just seems as though the safety classes are getting less appealing each year. I threw in a curve-ball with the Eric Rowe profile but he would be intriguing at the position. He has the college production at free safety, but will still likely be selected as a corner.
In our next series, we will take a look at the linebackers. Even with the retaining of Cowboys fan-favorite Rolando McClain, and the signings of Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar, the Cowboys should not be deterred from taking one and possibly early, too.