When the Cowboys opened up training camp the battle that everyone thought they might see was George Iloka challenging Jeff Heath for a starting job next to Xavier Woods. That hasn’t been the case as Iloka hasn’t been able to get much notice and Heath’s job hasn’t even been questioned. That was until an amazingly-timed, instinctual heads up interception by Donovan Wilson turned a few heads:
Interception ➡️instant sideline celebration @donlwilson6 keeping the defense on | #HOUvsDAL pic.twitter.com/tKrOwKeslj— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) August 25, 2019
That’s certainly not the first big play made by the rookie Wilson, who the Cowboys drafted in the sixth round out of Texas A&M. However, that’s unteachable instinctual effort to not only get the pick but also drop your toes in bounds and make sure it counted.
Wilson has been on the pet cat list of many Cowboys fans and a few BTB writers this offseason. Perhaps it’s because he’s brought something this preseason that the Cowboys desperately need...ball-skills. Jason Garrett alluded to his playmaking ability several days before Wilson made that spectacular pick in the Texans game:
“He’s done a good job. He’s been around the ball throughout training camp,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told reporters about Wilson. “You just want to see guys play. We’ve talked about this guy’s out, this guy’s out ... those are great opportunities for us as a team, so we really try to embrace those things. Donovan’s done some good things.”
Wilson also received praise from his position coach Kris Richard, who has a history of developing some of the best defensive backs the league has ever seen:
“He’s a guy that has a nose for the ball, that’s first and foremost,” he said. “He’s got a great energy about him, he’s a tenacious. He loves to hit, he loves to run so he fits.”
Garrett doubled down on his praise for the rookie this week after his outstanding preseason performances have started to gain attention:
Jason Garrett talked about rookie Donovan Wilson being a ball guy, someone who routinely makes plays on the ball: “If you have that trait to knock the ball out, or make plays on the ball when it’s in the air, you have a good chance to play in this league for a long, long time.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 26, 2019
For what it’s worth, PFF posted their Top-25 Rookies of the Preseason and Donovan Wilson earned the top honors, coming in at #1:
Guess who has been @PFF's No. 1 rated rookie in the preseason? #Cowboys FS Donovan Wilson. https://t.co/w32MfiTXjl pic.twitter.com/VkRAAkvgV1— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 26, 2019
When was the last time a Cowboys defensive back was able to accomplish the above? Wilson has only been targeted three times and intercepted two of those targets? Wilson was also instrumental in another takeaway by teammate C.J. Goodwin:
Texans QB Joe Webb throws deep down the field and has his pass intercepted by Cowboys CB CJ Goodwin pic.twitter.com/lZJR8tU1VF— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) August 25, 2019
Donovan Wilson’s intrigue throughout the draft process was his ability to make plays on the ball with eight interceptions in three seasons at Texas A&M. Wilson also had 21.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in his collegiate career. Wilson has a skillset that the Cowboys defense really needs and that’s why he deserves consideration for more playing time.
Is he ready to challenge Jeff Heath for the starting role? Well, that may be a hard sell for some coaches but why not? The Cowboys defense was pretty darn good last season but were only 20th in takeaways. Out of the 12 playoff teams, the Cowboys ranked 9th, the two teams in the Super Bowl combined for 58 takeaways in 2018. If there is one area keeping the Cowboys defense from graduating to the elite status, it’s their inability to force turnovers.
Donovan Wilson and Xavier Woods are cut from the same cloth as Woods was also a ball-hawk in college. Both guys have those interchangeable traits that the Cowboys require from the position. Woods also got plenty of playing time as a rookie and his supporting cast wasn’t nearly as good on paper as the Cowboys defense currently is. The front office did their homework this offseason to fortify their front-seven.
The ferocity of this pass rush was on display notching eight sacks against a completely outmatched Houston offensive line. All eight of those sacks as well as four takeaways were done without premier pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, without Tyrone Crawford, without Robert Quinn, and without breakout cornerback Byron Jones on the field. Think about the possibilities now with all of those guys off the PUP list and back on the field. Now is the time for the Cowboys to take that risk of starting the rookie Donovan Wilson at safety as he’s got plenty of great players around him. This Cowboys defense already has a handful of superstars at pass rusher, cornerback, and linebacker. Adding Donovan Wilson’s opportunistic abilities in coverage, not to mention his physicality as a tackler, seems like a no-brainer for the Cowboys.