We have covered the needs of the Dallas Cowboys here at BTB, and it seems pretty clear that bringing in a safety to play next to Xavier Woods would be a logical move to take this defense to the next level. All eyes are on Earl Thomas, but what if the Cowboys opt to grab a safety through the draft instead?
It is not a particularly deep safety class this year; however there are more than a few quality names that the Cowboys can consider when on the clock. It does hurt that the Cowboys have to wait until pick 58 at the earlier to take one, but there is a potential that one of the top-tier defenders at this position can fall.
Here are three different type of safety prospects that the Cowboys can target this spring.
Johnathan Abram is a prospect that has been all over the place in mock drafts. Some, such as Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks, have the Mississippi State Bulldogs product going in round-one. Others, like Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, have Abram falling to the middle of the second round. Things will be clearer following the combine, but it is clear that is value is weighed differently.
Abram’s hard-hitting and violent style of play makes him an intriguing prospect for a team looking for talent on the defense. Abram has made a name for himself for the way he tries to take ball-carriers’ heads off, which comes with both the good and the bad. He does struggle in coverage, especially when compared to his run support, but I do not believe it is so bad that it will hinder him on the next level.
A former top-400 recruit, Abram originally signed to play football with the Georgia Bulldogs. After spending two years there, Abram decided to transfer back home and play JUCO in Mississippi. The talented defender used that to garner more SEC offers, ultimately deciding to play for the in-state Bulldogs. There, Abram blossomed into one of college football’s most feared defenders on the top-ranked defense in college football.
I’m at the airport waiting to board a flight & studying Miss State safety Johnathan Abram...Really fun player to watch. Big, explosive and athletic dude. Happy New Year! pic.twitter.com/a7L4RZW23q— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 1, 2019
Abram totaled 170 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two interceptions, ten passes defended, and three forced fumbles through his two seasons in Starkville. His high-flying playing style is truly a high-risk, high-reward type of game, although Abram proved to be more a high-reward kind of player in his college days.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Johnathan Abram. He’s 99 mph all the time. (Burrow’s got to pull away from that though) pic.twitter.com/CoOauLzbCk— Matt Wyatt (@RadioWyatt) October 23, 2018
If the Cowboys want to add a player that has the swagger and football intelligence — while also possessing the ability to force receivers to think twice about running over the middle of the field — then Abram is the guy.
Imagine having a safety duo featuring Abram and Xavier Woods. My thoughts and prayers go out to anybody who takes a hit from either one of them.
One of the biggest criticisms of Jeff Heath is lack of ranginess and how it has impacted the Cowboys secondary. Because of that, it would be smart for the Cowboys to target a defender that can cover multiple areas of the field. Enter Juan Thornhill.
Thornhill, a three-year starter for the Virginia Cavaliers, is one of the more rangy safeties in the draft class. While he may lack a prototypical build, Thornhill makes up for it with his length and instincts. The Virginia native blossomed from a reliable starter on the back-end during his sophomore season to an All-American defender by the time that he graduated. Thornhill’s 2018 campaign saw him record 98 tackles (team high), 4.5 TFLs, and six interceptions (team high). That earned him consensus first team All-ACC honors and even an honorable mention on USA Today’s College Football News All-America team.
Virginia Tech tries to run post-wheel on Virginia. Bryce Hall takes the post. Juan Thornhill trails the wheel route and breaks up the pass. pic.twitter.com/v4A7EleLwD— Fed Scivittaro (@MeshPointScout) November 23, 2018
Thornhill is a safety that has shown that he can play in more than one way. Need him to cover the deep ball? Done. Need him to come up and defend the run? Easy. Need him to even play corner in certain situations? He can do that too. He even played basketball, as well!
Big fan of what I’ve seen from #Virginia FS Juan Thornhill on film.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 17, 2018
No surprise he was legit on the basketball court too - he was part of five state HS championships (three in basketball, two in football). pic.twitter.com/Nz7RWDtEaD
Thornhill is not a burner and likely will not tear up the combine or anything, however he is a very smart, rangy, and productive player that can make an immediate impact on the right team. If the Cowboys see the Virginia product on the board at 58, they should think long and hard about adding him to their franchise.
The Versatile One
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is one of the more interesting prospects in this draft class, coming in all over the place in mock drafts. The former top-50 recruit can find himself in the first round or still be available when the Cowboys finally come on the clock on day two.
What makes CGJ an intriguing safety prospect is his ability to play and be productive all over the secondary. Gardner-Johnson began his career with the Florida Gators at corner before eventually transitioning to safety. The Florida native is coming off of his most productive season, making 71 stops, 9 TFLs, three sacks, four interceptions, and two pick-sixes. All career highs in Todd Grantham’s system.
Similarly to Thornhill, Garnder-Johnson is a rangy defensive back that can cover a lot of ground. Similarly to Abram, he plays an aggressive style of game that can both help and hurt him.
He sees the field well and has the football IQ to read the quarterback’s eyes, resulting in nine career interceptions and 12 career passes defended. CGJ is a prototypical nickle corner in today’s NFL as defenses look to find ways to limit offensive attacks.
All-in-all, Gardner-Johnson is a prospect that offers positional versatility to go along with a high football IQ and athleticism to be a productive defensive back at the next level. If Gardner-Johnson falls to 58, could he be a choice for the Cowboys?
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson manhandled Riley Ridley pic.twitter.com/Yo7aOCpZPG— Wipems (@trelyday23) February 25, 2019
If the Dallas Cowboys strikeout in the Earl Thomas sweepstakes, which of these safeties would you to see in silver and blue next season?