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Cowboys draft 2018: Finding a quality safety for the Cowboys

It’s time to weigh our options at safety, who would fit the Cowboys need at the position?

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As we wind down the final days before the 2018 NFL Draft, we’ve been weighing the pros and cons of prospects at each position of need for the Cowboys. With some mixing of our scouting reports compared to those of respected draftniks’ Lance Zierlein of, and Dane Brugler of, we’ve learned quite a bit. We’ve already completed these works for receivers, linebackers, offensive linemen, and defensive tackles.

That brings us to the safety position. Whether it’s finding a starter or just some quality depth behind Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier, we’ve got you covered here in this post. Let’s first look at a chart comprised of the usual suspects in this draft:

Name School Tackles TFL's Sacks Ints PDs Fumbles 40 time Pos. Ranking Proj. Round Pro Comp.
Derwin James (6'2, 215 lbs) Florida State 186 15 5.5 3 15 2 4.47 1 1 (Top-10) Eric Berry
Minkah Fitzpatrick (6'0, 204 lbs) Alabama 171 16 4.5 9 35 2 4.46 2 1 (Top-10) Antrell Rolle
Ronnie Harrison (6'2, 207 lbs) Alabama 177 7 3.5 7 24 1 4.63 3 1-2 Adrian Wilson
Justin Reid (6'0, 207 lbs) Stanford 179 10.5 1 6 20 0 4.4 4 1-2 Michael Griffin
Rashaan Gaulden (6'1, 197 lbs) Tennessee 140 9.5 0 1 10 4 4.61 5 2 Morgan Burnett
Jessie Bates III (6'1, 200 lbs) Wake Forest 172 9 0 6 9 2 4.5 6 2-3 Justin Evans
Tarvarius Moore (6'2, 190 lbs) Southern Miss 104 3 0 5 12 1 4.32 7 3 Michael Huff
Marcus Allen (6'2, 215 lbs) Penn State 321 17 3 1 10 5 4.63 8 3 Clayton Geathers
Terrell Edmunds (6'0, 217 lbs) Virginia Tech 196 8.5 1.5 6 14 1 4.47 9 3-4 Delano Hill
Kyzir White (6'2, 218 lbs) West Virginia 152 14.5 4 3 9 4 4.69 10 3-4 Michael Boley
Tracy Walker (6'1, 206 lbs) Louisiana-Lafayette 269 11 0.5 8 19 2 4.51 11 5 J.J. Wilcox
DeShon Elliott (6'1, 210 lbs) Texas 105 11.5 2.5 9 13 3 4.58 12 5 Darian Thompson
Joshua Kalu (6'0, 203 lbs) Nebraska 215 9 2 7 27 3 4.58 -- 7-FA N/A
Nick Orr (5'11, 179 lbs) TCU 205 7 1 9 20 2 4.58 -- 7-FA N/A
Jason Hall (6'2, 219 lbs) Texas 162 7 5 3 10 2 4.61 -- FA N/A

First Round

Derwin James, FSU

Positives Negatives
Alpha-type personality, leader Needs to anticipate better
Reliable tackler, amazing athlete Focuses on receiver, needs to watch QB
Can be used like a weapon, rangy Limited experience (26 games)
Great pursuit speed Cautious in run defense at times, needs to hit
Film junkie, solid in run & pass coverages Slow reactions, step late sometimes

Cowboys fit: He’s not likely to be an option unless Dallas wants to trade up into the Top 10. However, it’s widely known that he’s the next awesome Seminoles defensive back to come out of DBU. James is a better athlete than he is a football player but he certainly plays with passion and love for the game. He’s one of the most versatile players in this draft and can find a role in any defense in the league. Whoever is able to draft Derwin James will be able to use him as a certified weapon, which will be bad news for the opponent.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

Positives Negatives
Extremely competitive/ loves the game Allows too much separation on occasion
Nice chess piece with experience everywhere A little tight in the hips
Hits top speed quickly, very rangy Comes in too hot, takes himself out of play
Great awareness in zone or press More quick than explosive
Production, 9 picks, 4 for TDs, playmaker Needs more patience, dial it back

Cowboys fit: The first of two awesome defensive backs on this list from the Crimson Tide, Fitzpatrick is another incredibly talented and versatile player. He can play either safety spots admirably but also has corner and slot experience. Fitzpatrick is a slam-dunk Top 10 selection that may fall a little due to the trade ups for quarterbacks. If he falls past 10, the Cowboys should think about giving Kris Richard the best gift ever. Fitzpatrick was super opportunistic and productive in his collegiate career.

Ronnie Harrison, Alabama

Positives Negatives
Outstanding combo of size/speed Too ansy, overreacts willingly
Experience/comfort at playing high/low Allows backs to beat him back inside at times
Reads QB's eyes well, reactionary speed great Leads with shoulder way too much
Rangy player, punishing tackler, blitzer Complex routes give him trouble
Great route anticipation & easy transitions Needs to wrap up more on tackles

Cowboys fit: Harrison is more of your strong safety type that is best played near the line of scrimmage. He’s extremely physical but also has the speed and size you look for in the guy you want bringing the wood. Harrison could fill the Cowboys starting strong safety position from day one as he’s a punishing tackler against the run with good vision to keep a watchful eye on the quarterback. He’s not a sure first-round selection but he’s certainly deserving of consideration.

Second Round

Justin Reid, Stanford

Positives Negatives
Great versatility, high football IQ Backpedal is a little rigid and slow
Rarely out of position, can cover TE's & slots Gets behind on crossing routes
Single-high master, impressive ball skills Gambles a lot, can be baited & beat by quicker WRs
Has NFL-caliber recognition, very speedy Needs to trust technique, can be a little grabby
Physical at all catch points, reliable wrap-up tackler Downhill angles need improvement

Cowboys fit: If Dallas is looking for a single-high safety but don’t want to go up for one in the first round, Reid is a more than serviceable consolation prize. He’s ready-made to play centerfield for a team in need. He’s got some technique things to iron out plus he sometimes has a reputation of a gambler. However, Reid has a ton of upside and is still learning how to master the position. The Cowboys will like that Reid rarely finds himself truly exposed because his football acumen is very good.

Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee

Positives Negatives
Finely tuned athlete, great top-end speed A little leaner than desired
Very decisive reactor, loves contact, physical Arrives hot and overruns the ball carrier
Good blitzer, more juice in his game, strong Unbalanced jamming/ needs refinement in technique
Dependable tackler, great lower body burst Underwhelming production with only one INT
Versatile player, QBs have to plan for him Immature discipline, needs to control emotions

Cowboys fit: Gaulden is a pet cat of the Mothership’s Draft Show hosts Dane Brugler and Bryan Broaddus. He’s certainly got the range and top end speed to be your last line of defense. He’s another very versatile defensive back that reacts quickly and makes decisions. He’s not afraid of contact and will take guys on plus he’s also a very dependable tackler. There are questions about his production as tackles aren’t his issue but he has 20 passes defensed in college with only one interception.

Jessie Bates III, Wake Forest

Positives Negatives
Fluid mover, loose hips, sudden feet Only two years experience
Great in coverage transitions/recognition Needs to add some muscle/ could left vulnerable
Processes well at speed of QB, good instincts Must improve discipline when playing single-high
Volume tackler, will take ball away and house it Overpursues and allows cutback lanes
No stalled movements, finisher, instant trigger Doesn't have a second gear in closing speed

Cowboys fit: Bates is definitely a fit in single high duties. He’s got great instincts and can see plays developing to know where to be. He’s a finisher in the tackling department with little wasted movement. Bates plays very loose and quick in coverage, seems like a natural cover guy. There are some questions about him needing a little bit more muscle for the punishment of the NFL. He also has just two years of experience and can take a few wonky angles. For the Cowboys, Bates could man the job but it depends on how much they like Xavier Woods.

Third Round

Tarvarius Moore, Southern Miss

Positives Negatives
Genetically/athletically superior, explosive athlete One season as full-time starter in FBS
Great length (33 in. arms), 4.32 speed verified Hands are average despite ball skills
Can cover man, zone, slot/ smooth backpedal Needs to high point the ball, tendency to sit & wait
Speed & ball skills show up on tape Could use more muscle mass
Reliable tackler, physical/ willing hitter Ducks head too often when tackling

Cowboys fit: He’s becoming the favorite safety option of this community after he caught fire late in the process. Blazing is the correct word for Moore, he clocked in at 4.32 not just once but twice at his pro day. Though many missed on him early, he sent folks back to the tape where shockingly his performance there matched up with his athletic profile. He’s got that position flex too being comfortable in all types of coverage duties. He’s a little lean and inexperienced but he’s an explosive playmaker. It doesn’t hurt that he also has the physicality for the job and showed to be quite the reliable tackler.

Marcus Allen, Penn State

Positives Negatives
Forceful striker with NFL-ready aggression Instincts are average, needs work on anticipation
Triggers downhill and commits to stopping run Must improve footwork and burst to challenge throws
Controlled athlete with good mirror skills Only one interception and 10 PD's
Improved route reading with DaeSean Hamilton Takes false steps in coverage, runs past the tackle
Can match up with TE's, Team Captain, leader Change of direction is limited, lacks fluidity

Cowboys fit: Not too many folks are that high on Allen, myself included. He’s an aggressive player and forceful tackler that could fit as a box safety. To his credit, he was aware of many of his flaws, even working route concepts with teammate and route-running extraordinaire, DaeSean Hamilton. The improvement certainly showed this season and he does match up well with tight ends (a position Dallas has struggled to cover lately). Still, he doesn’t make many plays on the ball and has so much technical mechanics to work on that suggest he’s not ready just yet to compete for a starting spot.

Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Positives Negatives
Impressive size/speed combo, quick-twitch athlete Tendency to take worst of collisions
Former CB, quick change of direction, sudden burst Inconsistent angles at times
Can carry TE's, multiple types of athletes Lacks instincts for deep coverage duties
Reliable hands for INTs, plays with energy, smart Bites on fakes, becomes too aggressive
Looks for tackles and makes them Fails to find the ball when his back is turned

Cowboys fit: Now, here’s someone the Cowboys brought in for a 30 visit that could be a solid fit at strong safety. Edmunds was a lead dog in the Hokie defense and his combination of size, speed, and physicality are great fits for a Richard coached secondary. The Cowboys don’t have a clear-cut leader in the role that Barry Church once filled. Edmunds can set that tone on game days, he looks to make statements to the opponent.

He’s also got more agility and fluidity than Church played with. He can carry multiple receiver types with no stiffness from this former cornerback. He desperately needs to protect himself better as he’s an overload in the aggression department and plays a bruising style. Something tells me that Richard could see a little Kam Chancellor in Edmunds and will like that profile on this defense.

Late Round

Kyzir White, West Virginia

Positives Negatives
Looks the part of an NFL safety, very physical Average play speed, better for downhill role
Comes from lineage of athletes/ true leader Needs strength in hands, only average athleticism
Quick to diagnose, plays every down with intensity Inconsistent open-field tackler
Vigorous run defender, forceful hitter Lacks fluidity and explosiveness
Will make plays on the ball when targeted Can be sluggish, limited in man coverage

Cowboys fit: White is a hard guy to figure out because he’s so quick to diagnose the play and plays with unmatched intensity. White is also a really good run defender and makes the most of opportunities that come his way. All of those things make you like him but in the Cowboys defense, he doesn’t have the desirable athleticism or explosiveness to be that guy consistently. He can lay the hit down on somebody but he doesn’t tackle consistently enough with play speed also being a huge concern.

Tracy Walker, Louisiana-Lafayette

Positives Negatives
Good length and great range Missing instincts to stay ahead at next level
Opportunistic playmaker, eight career picks Build up speed a tick slower than desired
Great leaping ability to challenge catches Hips are tight, lacks agility making recovery hard
Forceful hitter, loves to send a message Needs additional strength added
Good feel for run defense, leverage, patient Tendency to hit and slide, needs to wrap up

Cowboys fit: Another late-riser that the Cowboys took some time with to see what he’s about. These coaches will love his length and range as it’s a prerequisite for the new secondary coach. Walker has a good feel for the game and likes to send messages to the opponent much like Edmunds does. Walker was very productive too having 19 passes defensed and eight interceptions. Though he likes to put a licking on somebody, he has to work on finishing the tackle. He also lacks the ideal instincts and play speed for a position in the Cowboys secondary. Safety prospects that have problems wrapping up tend to break your heart.

DeShon Elliott, Texas

Positives Negatives
NFL-readymade frame for the position Experience is lacking, tight in the hips
High football IQ, is QB of the secondary Needs better knee bend, duck-footed
Quality trigger on hitch throws or running plays Change of direction takes work, too passive
Finisher as tackler, welcomes contact Interceptions came off easy pop ups, fell into lap
8.5 TFLs in 2017, 9 picks in only 26 games played Struggles with pace in route breaks of man coverage

Cowboys fit: Another hard to decipher prospect because he was super productive but most of those came off easy pop ups and just floated to him. Nobody is going to turn their nose up at a guy with 8.5 tackles for loss last season at safety or his nine picks in only 26 career games. Elliott just has so much work to do because he lacks the experience as a starter. To his credit, he’s raved about as easily coachable and most certainly has the upside to become a full-time starter in this league. Dallas would have to find a role for him to play while they develop him into the player he can become.

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