The Cowboys will begin training camp before we know it. In this series, we will look at some key positional battles that could define how successful America’s Team is this upcoming season. Today, we will look at the safeties.
Earlier in this series, we took a look at the wide receivers position. Dallas will likely keep six players listed at wide receiver, in addition to the versatile Tavon Austin, who will be on the roster under running back. As you can see, there is no shortage of competition for the pass catchers making up America’s Team.
What about the opposite side of the field?
The safety position has been a major topic of discussion among Cowboys fans this offseason. While Dallas addressed needs at wide receivers, offensive line, and linebacker in free agency and the draft, for whatever reason, the safety spot has yet to be properly addressed.
The newly-hired Kris Richard, the architect behind the Legion of Boom with the Seahawks, had a big say in moving Byron Jones to cornerback. The athletic, rangy 2015 first-rounder looks to have a big opportunity at his new position in 2018, but it leaves a hole at safety for the Cowboys.
The top three safeties on the Cowboys’ roster aren’t exactly a strong trio: Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier.
Woods, a sixth-round selection in 2017, showed tons of potential during his rookie campaign, such as his diving interception in the first quarter of week 10’s loss to the Falcons. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound defensive back out of Louisiana Tech is just one of three defensive backs taken in last year’s draft that the Cowboys are extremely high on. If he continues to improve, Woods could become ‘the guy’ at free safety for Dallas.
At strong safety, the Cowboys could start Jeff Heath. Heath is often referred to as “The Goat” and has his moments of awesome play — such as preventing Derek Carr from reaching the end zone and assuming kicking duties against the 49ers after Dan Bailey went down. When Dallas opted against selecting a safety this past April, The Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel suggested that The Goat may be the biggest winner.
With more needs than available picks, the Cowboys were not able to address their continual need at safety in the 2018 NFL Draft. The team passed on trying to trade up to acquire Florida State’s Derwin James, who was selected with the 17th pick by the SoCal Chargers, two slots ahead of Dallas.
The Cowboys need plays from their safeties and this crew has not given any indication they can make but more than a few.
And there you have it — the best safety for the Dallas Cowboys remains Jeff Heath.
The Cowboys are hoping Heath can be a veteran presence for Woods while also building on his 2017 season in which he made 71 tackles, picked off three passes, and forced three fumbles.
The other safety on the Cowboys’ roster is Kavon Frazier. The 6-foot, 220-pound third-year defensive back out of Central Michigan is known as a solid special teams contributor, a big aspect that Jason Garrett and the staff love. As season ago, Frazier made 33 total tackles and forced one fumble in 15 games. While he lacks skill in coverage, Frazier is an in-the-box safety that is not afraid to lay the boom on a ball carrier. Heath is the projected starter at SS, but don’t be surprised if Kavon Frazier makes a push before season’s end.
While the aforementioned trio may be the only safeties kept on the roster come September, there is an undrafted free agent with some talent and who could potentially make a push with a strong offseason and preseason.
Kameron Kelly, a DFW native from Wylie, played his collegiate football for the San Diego St. Aztecs. Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing just over 200-pounds, Kelly played corneback his sophomore and junior seasons before moving over to safety for his final year in California.
Kelly is not the fastest defensive back, likely a factor in why he went undrafted this spring, but he is a rangy defensive back that recorded nine interceptions in three seasons for the Aztecs. Richard knows a thing or two about rangy DBs, and Kelly believes that the defensive backs coach is trying to turn him into Richard Sherman.
“I think he’s trying to turn me into his next Richard Sherman or something,” said Kelly of Richard, via the team’s website.
“Right now they’ve got me playing corner, but then I asked Coach Richard after practice if he wants me to learn safety, and he said yes because at any time he could just plug me back there,” said Kelly. “I went up to the receivers coaches and was like, ‘Hey, if you want me to play receiver, I’ll play receiver for you all, too.’
Turning into an All-Pro defender is highly unlikely, obviously, but Kelly’s frame, ranginess, ball-skills, and competitiveness — along with his versatility in the defensive backfield and the ability to be a contributor on special teams — gives him an opportunity to sneak onto his hometown team’s roster with a productive summer and August.
Easy to appreciate the competitive toughness #SanDiegoState CB Kam Kelly brings to the field. Some teams want him to return to safety, but press-heavy teams will want this at corner. pic.twitter.com/S4UrEhIQ3Y— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 20, 2018
As of now, barring a trade for Earl Thomas or signing a safety in August, the three safeties that will likely be on the Cowboys 53-man squad are Woods, Heath, and Frazier. While those aren’t flashy names, those three have the chance to be solid contributors in 2018, especially under the tutelage of Kris Richard. And if Kelly can find his way onto the team, Richard would have another toy to play with.