Over the next few months, we’ll be looking at prospects in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft from a decidedly Cowboys point of view. Taking the Cowboys current personnel, draft position, scheme, and needs into consideration; defensive line, linebacker, defensive backs, as well as complementary offensive pieces at wide receiver, tight end, and perhaps right tackle, we hope to profile the majority of the potential prospects that could realistically end up as Cowboys within the first two rounds. Once the “official visits” start to leak we’ll add prospects that are possibilities in the later rounds.
#32 - Budda Baker - Safety - Washington - 5-10, 195
Games Watched: Arizona, Alabama, Rutgers, USC, Stanford, Arizona St., Colorado
Pros: Absolutely tenacious defender who flies around, is willing to take on blockers and throw his body around despite his size. Plays with an edge and a chip on his shoulder, seems to love the game and the competition from how he carries himself on the field. Shows excellent burst and closing speed once he diagnoses a play. Very quick and uses his speed to work through traffic on his way to the ball carrier. Can flip his hips smoothly to turn and carry receivers or tight ends across the field. Explosive tackler when attacking downhill. Shows impressive instincts and timing as a blitzer, especially coming off the edge. Good instincts when playing in short/shallow zones. Excellent short-area quickness and agility, quick twitch athlete. Has good long speed (4.45 40 at the Combine) to play as a single-high safety but he will have to improve on his footwork and technique when dropping. Shows good instincts in zone coverage although at times times lacks the ball skills to finish the play. Played as a half-field safety in 2-deep looks, single high, and in shallow zones near the line of scrimmage, although he was primarily used in the slot, almost as a slot cornerback.
Cons: Takes poor angles at times when pursuing ball carriers and his tackling form can get lazy due to over-aggression and recklessness. Footwork is choppy and not very fluid when dropping backwards in coverage, especially the further he gets from the line of scrimmage. Looks mechanical at times when dropping back, looks much more fluid and comfortable moving forward and side-to-side. Limited range/length to play the deep, single-high type of safety role in the NFL due to his lack of size. He struggled at times with bigger receivers in jump ball situations in college due to his height, which will likely continue in the NFL, and the fact that he isn’t an explosive leaper (32.5 inch vertical at the Combine) doesn’t help matters. When watching the games I questioned his long speed, although he ran a 4.45 40, this could be due to poor coverage technique the further he gets from the line of scrimmage. Will struggle to take on blockers at the next level due to the lack of size, there were times where he really struggled to shed at the collegiate level.
Conclusion: Baker looks like he projects best as a hybrid safety/nickel and dime linebacker/slot defender who is at his best when blitzing, attacking downhill, and covering receivers laterally out of the slot, or in shallow zones. I believe he could function quite comfortably as a slot cornerback of sorts in certain match-ups. He looks more versatile in coverage to me than Jabrill Peppers who doesn’t have nearly as much experience as Baker does as a traditional safety (2-deep, single-high, etc.). With that said, his size is obviously a huge concern and I wonder if he will be able to hold up physically at the next level with his style of play. He is very similar in size and play style to Bob Sanders, the oft-injured but elite safety for the Colts in the mid-2000’s who only had two seasons out of eight where he played more than six games.
Another major concern is that his lack of size/length will limit his potential as a single-high/deep safety. The clear argument against that are guys like Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu who are two of the best at the position in the league, but Baker does not show the same ball skills that they did in college.
For these reasons he isn’t a slam dunk at 28 for me, but he is in the conversation, and if the options along the front seven are limited at that point I think you could do a lot worse than a player like Baker at that spot. He would seamlessly fit into the role that Barry Church played last year, as a traditional 2-deep safety in base packages who plays down in the box and closer to the line of scrimmage in nickel and dime formations. His ability to cover and blitz out of the slot would give the Cowboys great versatility with two safeties who could potentially cover the slot in Baker and Byron Jones.
I do not have access to coach’s film or anything of that nature, I just watch plenty of football (television broadcast version) and go off what I see out of a prospect. I started this odd fascination of mine in 2011 when I sent my breakdown and links to videos of Tyron Smith at USC to the excellent Cowboys blogger Bob Sturm (April 28, 2011 - Even More Tyron Smith Tape). Since then I’ve continued watching prospects closely, but I’ve never taken the initiative to actually formally write my thoughts until I became a writer for BTB. I hope that I can provide an interesting, and accurate perspective on prospects from a Cowboys-centric point of view.
Special thanks to DraftBreakdown for posting the videos that help provide a more in-depth look at this year’s prospects.