We’ll be continuing our offseason target candidate series today with the tight end position. Last Thursday, we discussed the wide receiver position. Tuesday, the left guard spot. Wednesday, the tight end position. Today, we will talk about the safety position.
After getting contributions from three rookie defensive backs in 2017, the Cowboys have a promising future at the back end of the defense. With Kris Richard coming over from Seattle to be the team’s defensive backs coach, the Cowboys are in great position to keep improving that side of the ball. Obviously Dallas will need to bring back Demarcus Lawrence, and hopefully David Irving, but the Cowboys have a nice-looking secondary with guys like Byron Jones, Anthony Brown (if he can take more steps forward than steps backwards in 2018), Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Orlando Scandrick if he stays.
On Tuesday, it was reported that the Cowboys may move Byron Jones back to cornerback, a position he played in the past. When the Cowboys drafted Jones, they utilized his versatility, as he has shown the ability to play both cornerback and safety to some degree.
Ironically enough, his versatility has actually hurt him. Dallas will need to see some more consistency before thinking about picking up his option for a fifth year.
With Jones possibly going back to cornerback, the Cowboys could be changing up their safety position. While the team may opt for Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods to be the starters, or even put Kavon Frazier in the mix, the possibility of the Cowboys drafting or signing a safety is not out of the question. Let’s take a look at some prospects and impending free agents that could fit the bill at the safety position.
We can start with an obvious one here. With Richard coming over the Cowboys could make a play for Seattle safety McDougald.
He has shown range for a safety as well as the ability to cover tight ends. In a division with Jordan Reed, Zach Ertz, and Evan Engram, the Cowboys need to get better in this department. McDougald stands at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. With good athleticism to go along with his frame, he could be a nice alternative in free agency if the Cowboys do not want to use a premium draft pick at the position.
Speaking earlier on the Cowboys and how they love versatility, Burnett is another guy who does just that. At 29-years-old, the long-time Green Bay Packer has struggled to stay healthy, but he’s a guy who has played every position asked in the secondary.
To go along with his versatility, Burnett is a more-than-capable special teams player. While special teams may not be something that is valued league-wide, the Cowboys are a team who stresses the ability to play two-ways, whether that is offense and special teams or defense and special teams.
Texas product Vaccaro as a Cowboy? Hmm... sounds familiar. No really, the Cowboys have been linked to him for a long time. Even in the 2013 draft, the Cowboys liked Vaccaro a lot. That interest has continued in Vaccaro’s short NFL tenure. Just last year, the Cowboys were reportedly linked to him when he was on the trading block.
Dallas was wise to hold back, as Vaccaro now enters free agency and will likely head elsewhere after an off-and-on relationship with the Saints. In 2017, Vaccaro was quietly having a solid year. A groin injury led to a prolonged absence and a lesser version of himself.
With the Cowboys looking for a center-fielder in their defense, Vaccaro’s range and ability to leave the back-end of the defense and come down and cover options in the slot could be massive for Dallas.
Derwin James is the top safety in the draft, but lets talk about some other possibilities like DeShon Elliott.
Another Elliott in Dallas? Well, it has worked out well for the Cowboys so far with Ezekiel. Just like Vaccaro, Elliott is a Texas product who is starting to see his stock rise leading up to the draft. For much of the season, Hook Em’s defense was awesome to watch and Elliott’s presence at safety was a huge reason why.
Elliott is excellent at diagnosing plays and using his athleticism to make plays near the line of scrimmage. On film, there are times where he is overzealous in his decision-making. Nevertheless, he is excellent in pursuit, but he will need some work on his coverage skills. His physicality allows him press tight ends and receivers at the line of scrimmage. He should go late on Day 2, but a good combine will help his stock.
Remember Kevin White from West Virginia? Well, this is his little brother. West Virginia is not known for producing quality defensive players, but they have had some decent secondary talent in recent years. White is absolutely awesome when the ball is in air. Here’s a clip of his range:
Kyzir White covers a ton of ground on this pass breakup. Definitely an inaccurate throw by Rudolph, but I love White's hip turn and acceleration to put himself in a good position pic.twitter.com/8nhcu8mI6F— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) January 31, 2018
In Morgantown, White was a wild card for the defense. He came to school a little undersized after a few years at JUCO. Knowing that, West Virginia deployed him in a role where he could be of use as a linebacker and a safety. Going forward, however, White will be a safety. To pair with his ball skills, White also is a contributor against the run.
With the combine coming up, White will not necessarily have the most crazy numbers. But if you turn the tape on, you will see a player who is everywhere across the field.
Jason Garrett has stressed his preference of choosing players who are team leaders and do all of the right things. Sure the Cowboys have their ‘headache’ type of players, but White could come in this locker room from Day 1 and fit in.
The best part about the Senior Bowl is that it awards small-program players the ability to showcase their talents against players from more well-known football programs. A smal-school guy who helped his case tremendously was Neal.
A product of the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, Neal is excellent as soon as the ball is snapped. He is great at ‘stabbing’ at the line of scrimmage, disrupting receivers and throwing them off their routes. Due to his bigger nature at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Neal may get taken advantage of by smaller, quicker receivers.
Regardless, Neal is going to be a prospect Kris Richard finds interest in. His technique and approach reminds one of what the Seahawks stressed to their defensive backs in the heyday of their defenses. With his performance at the Senior Bowl, Neal’s stock is going up. And if he explodes at the combine, his stock will really rise
Which safety most interests you for the Cowboys in 2018?