clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jeff Heath will be the Cowboys most improved player on defense in 2017

Unicorns aren’t for real, but the Cowboys new strong safety is.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

The offense of the Dallas Cowboys is awesome. They just are. Last season they were fifth in points scored, averaging 26.3 points per game. This year, with a more experienced Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, they will be even better. It’s going to be fantastic.

The defense of the Cowboys is getting better. They just are. Last season they were also fifth in points allowed, giving up only 19.1 points per game. That was a nice jump, considering they were ranked 16th the previous season and 26th in 2013. It’s no secret that the defense has been the teams Achilles heel for several years, but as this unit gradually improves, so does the collective greatness of the entire team. And this season offers even more reasons to believe they can be even better in 2017.

First there is that beautiful 2016 draft class. I’m not talking about the two offensive stars, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Sure, we all know how great those two are. I’m referring to the defensive guys - Maliek Collins, Anthony Brown, and oh yeah - that Jaylon Smith fellow. And that’s not even including whatever Charles Tapper gives the team. He’s a free-roll as far as I’m concerned.

Man, what a piece of work that 2016 draft was. Take a moment to bask in all of it’s glory.

Collins had a great rookie season at defensive tackle and looks like he could emerge as a legit defensive stud for the Cowboys.

If you’re worried about missing the everyday services of Brandon Carr or the every-once-in-awhile services of Morris Claiborne, it will all dissipate when you see how well Brown is going to show for the team this year. He’s a good corner.

And Jaylon Smith. I don’t need to add anything here. His name alone should suffice.

All these second-year players could take nice steps forward and help the defense become even better. And there’s another guy who can help them be better too. But he was drafted last year. In fact, he wasn’t drafted at all.

Some could claim that Jeff Heath was one of those carbon-copy guys that the team grabbed just in case. For example, the team drafted slot receiver, Danny Coale in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. But that didn’t stop them from doubling down and signing Cole Beasley as a UDFA that same year. Coale struggled to stay healthy and his career never took off in Dallas, but the same is not true for Beasley. The Cowboys got their guy, it just wasn’t the guy they thought it would be.

James Hanna had such an important role as a blocking specialist that the Cowboys had to get themselves another one in the 2015 draft. They traded up to select Geoff Swaim so they wouldn’t risk losing him to the undrafted free agent signing frenzy.

And that’s where Heath comes in. After fourth-round pick Matt Johnson had injury problems his rookie year, the team grabbed Heath the following year. You remember Johnson? Maybe you’d recognize him by his other name. As our own Dave Halprin indicates, he can be a little hard to remember at times.

He's the unicorn. The most mysterious of all Dallas Cowboys. We may have to send out a team of Bigfoot hunters to find him. He's Matt Johnson, the Cowboys secret weapon at safety who is so secret that he never plays.

The fascination with the unicorn was understandable. He was a great athlete. He had all the traits of a successful safety. As OCC informed us way back in 2012, Johnson’s physical traits were impressive.

But guess who also had great measurables? Here is a side by side comparison of all the parameters that Johnson was in the green.

What a striking resemblance. These two have a lot more in common than just being a couple of guys from small schools who happen to play safety. Johnson had great production in college. But so did Heath.

He played his college ball at Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State, where he earned All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors after posting 77 tackles and seven takeaways.

Seven takeaways?

His propensity to take the ball is something that’s always been with him. His big plays get downplayed at times because some fans think he’s just lucky being in the right place at the right time. Sure, that’s what happened here when he went from being on his knees to Orlando Scandrick giving him a nice little gift to take to the house.

And there have been several deflected passes that end up finding their way into his hands. But this kid makes his own luck. He’s always around the ball. And if you’re not careful, he’ll snatch it from you!

Of all the similarities these two have, there is one glaring difference. Heath is always available. Okay, maybe not always. He missed two games in 2014 with a broken thumb, but that’s all. 62 out of 64 games is pretty good.

Heath has come a long ways since being that guy who Adrian Peterson ran over and drug with him five yards to the end zone. Yeah, that was terrible. But with each new season he keeps getting better. He’s learning. And if you couple that experience with his athleticism, Heath makes an intriguing option for the Cowboys at safety. Don’t be surprised if he takes another step forward and makes even big plays for the defense this season.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Blogging The Boys Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your Dallas Cowboys news from Blogging The Boys