The Dallas Cowboys' defense took a step back in 2015. Despite signs of improvement from guys who will have key roles in the future like Randy Gregory and Byron Jones, the Cowboys generated less pressure on the quarterback and they failed to get stops when it mattered most. Without Tony Romo, it was harder for Dallas to sustain drives on offense, which in turn kept the defense on the field for longer. The Cowboys will have to improve on the defensive end in 2015 and a way to do that will be to make improvements to the safety position.
While Byron Jones did play mainly cornerback in his rookie campaign, it's clear that his future will be at free safety. However, the Cowboys could run into a problem in their secondary if they decide to designate Brandon Carr as a post-June 1st cut and let Morris Claiborne walk in free agency. If that is the case, the Cowboys may have to keep Jones at cornerback for the meantime. This would leave the Cowboys with a problem in the defensive backfield.
PFF released their annual ratings for each position and the Cowboys' safety duo of J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church didn't impress at all. Church was ranked as the 66th best safety with a 62.0 rating, while Wilcox was ranked as the 78th best safety with a 55.6 rating. Interestingly enough, despite limited snaps at the position, Jones was ranked as the 22nd best safety with a 79.9 rating. Depending on what happens this offseason, the Cowboys may be in the market for a safety. Let's take a look at three players who would make sense.
Darian Thompson, Boise State
A Senior Bowl player, Thompson is an extremely intelligent safety that makes his money using his athleticism and size at 6'2, 215 pounds. The Cowboys got an extended look at the prospect, as they were the staff that coached the former Boise State product. Talking about Boise State, the Cowboys are no stranger to liking players from that program. Orlando Scandrick, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Tyrone Crawford are three key players on the defense, and all are former Broncos. Interestingly enough, Boise State's 4-2-5 defense has given the Cowboys a few quality players for their 4-3 scheme.
Boise State's defense gave the opportunity for Thompson to roam around and patrol the back end of the secondary. This led to 14 interceptions during his college career. There are times where Thompson takes bad angles to the football and his poor tackling skills lead to big plays, but he still gives the Cowboys something they've lacked over the past few years, the ability to create takeaways. Thompson's stock went up this past week at the Senior Bowl and one team that should definitely have an eye out is the Cowboys.
Justin Simmons, Boston College
Another athletic safety, Simmons is a guy that played for one the more unheralded defenses in college football this past season. The Cowboys went with an athletic freak in Jones last year and because speed and range are so important for a secondary, I wouldn't be surprised if Simmons is a guy that could intrigue the Cowboys. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Simmons is an interesting product. The common logic behind bigger defensive backs is that they struggle turning their hips and their strides in small spaces are a bit elongated. However, Simmons moves extremely well.
Like Thompson, he can get beat by taking bad angles to the football and not breaking down, but Simmons displays unbelievable ball skills and range in the secondary. Just because a guy is athletic doesn't mean he has great range. The ability to follow the eyes of the quarterback and recognize the offense are just a few things that make Simmons such a fascinating player. He's a terrific center-fielder and by pairing him with Jones, the Cowboys would have two athletic guys with range and speed. That's a combo that sounds really enticing.
Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
The blue-chip prospect on this list, Ramsey may end up being the Cowboys' first-round pick when it's all said and done with. Despite taking a cornerback in the Top 6 of the 2012 NFL Draft, and getting rid of their second-round pick in the process to move up, the Cowboys may be faced with the scenario again of taking the consensus top defensive back in the draft as they did in 2012 with Morris Claiborne.
Ramsey looks to be one of the safer defensive back prospect in recent memory. He was arguably the best player on the best defense in the nation in 2015. Like Jones, Ramsey might come into the league and immediately contribute at cornerback, but his skillset is best suited to play the strong safety position. The love for Ramsey could be real simple. He plays with swagger, he knows how to succeed playing on the proverbial island, and he's adept at using his combination of length and ball skills to create takeaways.
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