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NFL Draft 2020: An early sizing up of this year’s safety class & best potential fits for Cowboys

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An early look at the prospects at safety for the Dallas Cowboys in this year’s draft.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Michigan v Alabama Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

[In this NFL Draft series, we will spotlight several positions of interest for the Dallas Cowboys. Scouring the landscape of draft gurus, we will put together mini scouting reports and weigh the pros and cons of many available prospects to find the right fit for the Dallas Cowboys come April 2020.]

Let’s start with this year’s safety class as it seems to be a popular position where the Cowboys may hope to strike early. We know that the Cowboys’ front office is very fond of Xavier Woods but could use an upgrade for the role currently filled by Jeff Heath. The Cowboys have flirted with the safety market for the past few years but have been hesitant to actually dip more than their feet into the pool. Perhaps with new defensive concepts under new defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, the Cowboys are ready to make a move to upgrade the back end of their defense.

First, the following chart will give you a snapshot of some of the most worthy candidates in this year’s draft and their current projections (subject to change):

SAFETIES SCHOOL CBS RK PROJ. RD TCKL TFL SCK FF INT PD
GRANT DELPIT LSU 12 1 199 17.5 7 2 8 24
XAVIER MCKINNEY ALABAMA 21 1 175 13 6 6 5 15
ASHTYN DAVIS CALIFORNIA 41 1-2 166 2 0 2 7 12
ANTOINE WINFIELD JR MINNESOTA 74 2-3 172 7 4 2 9 6
KYLE DUGGER LENOIR-RHYNE 79 2-3 237 6.5 0 6 10 36
TERRELL BURGESS UTAH 80 2-3 116 9 0.5 0 1 9
J.R. REED GEORGIA 82 2-3 199 9 3 2 5 14
BRANDON JONES TEXAS 118 4 232 14 1 2 3 7
JULIAN BLACKMON UTAH 128 4-5 158 8.5 1.5 2 9 20
BRIAN COLE II MISS. STATE 140 4-5 67 7.5 2 1 1 2
JARED MAYDEN ALABAMA 143 4-5 81 3 1 0 4 6
K'VON WALLACE CLEMSON 154 5 156 5.5 2 2 5 15

By now, there are plenty of recognizable names and we’ll start with a dive into one of the most frequently mocked Cowboys:

GRANT DELPIT, LSU

14 GP, 65 TCKL, 4.5 TFL, 2 SACK, 7 PBU, 2 INT, 2 FF (2019)

It’s easy to see why Delpit is on the top of many Cowboys fans draft wish list. Delpit’s production for the Tigers was a key contributor to the build and execution of their national championship run we just witnessed. When you have an enforcer like Delpit that also has the versatility to cover, it’s a tremendous weapon for any defense. Delpit is the real deal and could be a major upgrade for the Cowboys regardless of where they decide to put him:

GRANT DELPIT
JR-LSU 6'3 203 LBS PROJ RD: 1
Strengths Weaknesses
Versatile, prototype for NFL, excellent athleticism, flexible & coordinated, good read & reaction, 100% effort in run DEF, very instinctual, A+ ball skills, hunts the football at every opportunity
Though physical enough, needs refinement as tackler to wrap up, sufficient overall but needs to greatly improve in man coverage assignments

XAVIER MCKINNEY, ALABAMA

13 GP, 95 TCKL, 5.5 TFL, 3 SACK, 5 PBU, 4 FF, 3 INT, PICK-6 (2019)

If the Cowboys are favoring a true strong safety type that plays in the box with Xavier Woods in coverage, this would be an ideal match. McKinney is not the versatile player that Delpit is and that might hurt his stock with some teams. However, this is a guy that does his job very well and is a very assignment-sound defender. The Cowboys have struggled recently in run defense but McKinney would be an instant boost for them. Another plus about McKinney is that he does read and react well. He can draw a quarterback’s eyes to force mistakes, and he has the awareness plus ball skills to take the ball away.

XAVIER MCKINNEY
JR- ALA 6'1 200 LBS PROJ. RD: 1
Strengths Weaknesses
Superb athleticism, decent versatility, good closer, reads well, manipulates QBs, master in zone, hard hitter, A+ blitzer
Not particularly fast downhill, focuses more on hit than tackling, not sure how to use athletic capabilities yet, comes off flat with angles at times, not sure he can hold up at FS, best position is SS

ASHTYN DAVIS, CALIFORNIA

11 GP, 55 TCKL, 1 TFL, 4 PBU, 2 INT, 1 FF (2019)

Much like McKinney, Ashtyn Davis has a defined safety role to play and he does it very well. Davis is a better fit at free safety but has covered in many areas when asked. What makes him such an intriguing prospect is the combination of athleticism and range. Davis’ ability to cover on the back end is unmatched in this class though he does leave tackles on the field at times. He’ll need some polishing and refinement with technique but could immediately step in and play single-high.

ASHTYN DAVIS
SR-CAL 6'1 200 LBS PROJ. RD: 1-2
Strengths Weaknesses
Exceptional range, covers large radius, good w/ leverage & squeezing routes, impressive quickness, versatility, excelled at every DB position played, single-high ace Tackling is still inconsistent, better cover guy than closer, needs major technique cleanup as run defender

ANTOINE WINFIELD JR, MINNESOTA

12 GP, 83 TCKL, 3.5 TFL, 3 SACK, 7 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF (2019)

One of the true stars of college football this past season, Winfield made watching the Golden Gophers fun again. A lot of guys on this list make plays but Winfield re-defines the word playmaker. He plays the position like a hunter and when he strikes, he is likely to take the ball the other way for a score or two. Winfield’s best position is wherever you want to put him because he’s a chess piece for any defensive coordinator as he ticks the box as a trustworthy tackler. The one area for concern is his lack of second-level speed, when he’s struggled it’s because he was forced to chase.

ANTOINE WINFIELD JR
SOPH-MINN 5'10 205 LBS PROJ. RD: 2-3
Strengths Weaknesses
Rising star, definition of playmaker, an opportunist w/ the ball, superb ball skills, good special teams player, reliable tackler in run support Not slow but doesn't have 2nd gear speed in chase mode, occassional poor angle taker, still coming into his own as a prospect, lacks length

KYLE DUGGER, LENOIR-RHYNE

7 GP, 31 TCKL, 1 TFL, 6 PBU, 2 INT (2019)

There is a lot to like about Dugger, he’s a high-character guy, a former team captain, and has added value for special teams. One standout attribute to Dugger’s game is that he is the epitome of a closer. If he’s involved in the play, the play is over. He almost never whiffs on a tackle and though he’s not the most athletic player, his agility is enough to keep him in every snap. There are some concerns about Dugger’s inconsistent footwork, he is easily thrown by plays that are kept in front of him. He’s a bit slow-footed and has been labeled a tweener.

KYLE DUGGER
SR-LEN-RHYNE 6'2 220 LBS PROJ. RD: 2-3
Strengths Weaknesses
2X Team Capt., high character, locker room leader, played all 3 phases at Baylor, DB, LB, RB, & Kick returner, elite agility, outstanding closing speed, if he hits you, play over Slow footed, back pedal is delayed, quick trigger but tends to slow play action in front of him, tweener, might be best as box defender or even linebacker, needs to work on timing in coverage

TERRELL BURGESS, UTAH

14 GP, 81 TCKL, 7.5 TFL, 0.5 SACK, 5 PBU, 1 INT (2019)

Burgess is an excellent tackler and plays the game with outstanding awareness. He’s a reliable guy, having played every game in his Utah career. He really became a matchup weapon for the Utes due to his ability to cover tight ends so well. Burgess is a great fit for any zone defensive scheme but there are concerns about play strength. If he is going to make the transition to the NFL as a box safety, his frame may not hold up.

TERRELL BURGESS
SR-UTAH 6'0 198 LBS PROJ. RD: 2-3
Strengths Weaknesses
Played every game for Utes, contributed on special teams, reliable tackler, fantastic downhill defender, great spatial awareness, tight end eraser, makes big plays in zone defense Didn't start until 2019, not versatile enough to be trusted as FS, lacks bulk & play strength, will need to add muscle to take on punishment or be relaible tackler in NFL