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Dallas Cowboys Draft Prospects: Su'a Cravens

Dallas once had great success converting a linebacker to safety. Does this USC product bear the inevitable comparisons to Darren Woodson and Trojan alumnus Troy Polamalu?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As we look at possible draft targets for the Dallas Cowboys, it's important to remember that misinformation abounds and the actual draft is likely to be full of surprises in many directions. Mock draft simulators are great fun, but hilariously inaccurate (earlier this morning I drafted Joey Bosa, Paxton Lynch, Jaylon Smith, Chris Jones, and Tajae Sharpe in a four round "On the Clock" mock).

Byron Jones, Aaron Donald, and Chris Johnson are just a few names that I remember being projected as "a nice value in the third" while supposed draft experts said things about them that a modicum of research showed to be false. Everyone, including your intrepid author, has biases, limitations, and makes simple mistakes. There is no substitute for looking yourself. Make sure you watch entire games, too, not just highlights, to get a more complete picture of the player.

And the player I'd like to look at today is one I've not heard many mention here at BTB. Dallas fans should take a real interest in him, however, as he could be a very interesting fit for this defense and create a great improvement. I have suggested on more than one occasion that Barry Church is the odd man out at safety for Dallas. He's the most physically limited, he's the most expensive, and he took a significant step backward in his tackling in 2015. With the thought that Byron Jones will move to the deep single high safety, many have assumed that J.J. Wilcox would move into the box. And he might, but in my many defenses of Wilcox over the years, I have repeatedly pointed out that his talents and skills are better suited to deep play. He is more fast than agile and is not the physical, enforcing, strong player many seem to think he is.

Long story short, I do not particularly like Wilcox as an in-the-box guy. Now if Dallas wants to go cover 2 and start playing two deep guys, Wilcox and Jones make an interesting pair. Or, if Dallas wants to disguise who is going to be the deep guy (as they seem to want to do in a lot of the play I've watched), then Wilcox and Jones make a very intriguing pair, as they both have good size and speed for the deep middle and have some ability to play forward in a physical fashion.

But Rod Marinelli has stated that he wants to look like the Super Bowl champion edition of the Seattle Seahawks, with Earl Thomas roving the backfield deep and Kam Chancellor acting as in-the-box enforcer who can run, but still has linebacker-type physical strength. Su'a Cravens is not Chancellor-sized, but he brings that kind of physicality and also plays extremely fast. USC routinely placed him in man coverage against slot receivers and he ran down more than one play from the opposite side of the field, showing excellent speed and agility. But he also showed a lot of strength on the point at linebacker and was both fearless and strong in taking on offensive linemen, able to hold the point and turn plays back inside.

Here's a nice play off the edge against an option read. He shows discipline, stays home and makes the clean tackle. It's worth noting that he got beat on this same play earlier, so he showed an adaptability here.

On the very next play, Cravens showed some of that physical play ability to hold the edge, stringing out  the play, while simultaneously maintaining outside leverage, and drawing a holding penalty as well. I love this play.

His short area quickness allows him to make nice zone plays like this one, an essential for an in-the-box safety. Note that he covers the slot receiver first, then breaks off to hit the RB who drops the ball in squaring up to meet the coming hit.

But what I really like is his ability to play backwards, another essential trait for an in the box safety. He's covering the slot receiver (lined up at the bottom of your screen) deep, forcing the QB to come underneath. Watch too, how quickly he closes on and helps corral Will Fuller, a highly rated draft prospect, and his lateral speed in preventing Fuller ( a speedster himself) from getting outside.

Now, do these plays have the splash of a Troy Polamalu? No, they do not. But Cravens shows that type of quickness and reaction. Remember that I am not choosing highlights here, but plays that show something that I want to see from my in-the-box safety. Cravens also shows an intelligence and discipline that, while it doesn't necessarily remind of Darren Woodson, was a hallmark of Woodson's greatness. He plays both quick (in the short area) and fast (across large distances) and his agility is top notch. He has a lot more physical strength than his 6'1", 225lb listed playing size would have you expect, although that size would be just about perfect for a Dallas free safety (Dallas uses the free safety in the box more than the strong). He also has a tremendous ability to play backwards and then come forwards suddenly and explosively to disrupt plays.

While he is nothing special as a pass rusher, he succeeds in blitzes where his speed allows him to get in unblocked. He is strong against the run and athletic enough to cover very well, even on fairly deep routes. If you are looking to upgrade the Dallas defense, and you are one of those in love with Myles Jack's athleticism, I think you would do well to consider the possibilities offered by Su'a Cravens.

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