The NFL draft will be here before you know it and the Dallas Cowboys will be on the clock. Which direction will they go in the first round? If it’s safety, you might be hearing the name Grant Delpit. So let’s dig in a little.
Name: Grant Delpit
School: Louisiana State
Weight: 201 lbs
2019 stat line: 14 games, 65 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the season is over and the Cowboys need to upgrade at safety. Yes, the Cowboys once again suffered from a lack of value in the safety position, but a new coaching staff could change that. Dallas hasn’t drafted a safety in the first round since they made Roy Williams the eighth overall pick in 2002. In this century, Dallas has only taken a safety in the first four rounds four other times besides Williams: Tony Dixon, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Matt Johnson, and JJ Wilcox.
In short, it’s high time the Cowboys invest in the position again, and there’s no greater year to do so than this one. The 2020 class is loaded with talent at safety, and is headlined by recently-crowned national champion Grant Delpit.
There are very few things wrong with Delpit, so let’s get those out of the way first. Heading into the 2019 season, he was considered by some to be a potential top five prospect. But after spending the majority of the year playing through a nagging sprained ankle, his tape had some rough spots, specifically around his tackling.
It can’t all be attributed to his ankle injury, though, as Delpit sometimes just looked plain hesitant to make tackles or wrap up with his arms. He often got sloppy in tackling, and it resulted in plenty of missed tackles. However, Delpit looked markedly better in that aspect in the College Football Playoff, so maybe his ankle really was the source of his spotty play?
Either way, tackling is more or less the only issue with Delpit. The first thing that sticks out about this prospect is his versatility. LSU played him at pretty much every position they could in the secondary. He took snaps as a single-high safety in both Cover 1 and Cover 3, played pattern matching quarters, lined up in man coverage against slot receivers and tight ends, worked as a robber in the box, blitzed off the edge, and sometimes even played as an extra linebacker. Delpit can do it all and has done it all.
With good height and length, Delpit is able to fill all these different roles much easier than most. Despite being fairly big for a defensive back, he hasn’t sacrificed any athleticism; when he breaks on the ball, he’s gonna get to where he’s going fast. That kind of burst is consistent across all the roles he plays, though it’s best on display when he’s in some sort of zone. Just look at the range he shows on this play as a single-high safety:
Grant Delpit flashing his range in coverage. Near INT for the All-American. pic.twitter.com/xdTH2BpoXt— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) October 13, 2019
This ability to get to the ball also speaks to Delpit’s football IQ, which is off the charts. Evidenced just in the fact that he plays so many different spots, he shows time and again how smart he is. When he is allowed to face the quarterback and read his eyes, it effectively takes away any area Delpit is near. He processes plays so quickly and combines it with tremendous athleticism to get wherever the ball is going.
And once Delpit gets to the ball, he demonstrates terrific ball skills. He does a great job of getting physical at the catch point, and his size and length aids him here. Delpit is good at knowing when to swipe through the ball or go for the big play; when he does go for the pick, he shows off his good hands and timing, as he snagged five picks in 2018 and eight total throughout his three-year career at LSU.
But don’t let Delpit’s impressive zone play fool you, he can play in man just as well, if not better. Obviously he has a smaller sample size of man coverage snaps, but there are few times he’s looked bad. LSU typically asked him to play man coverage in the red zone, playing him against bigger slot receivers and tight ends. This is where Delpit’s athleticism flashes the most. He’s super smooth in his footwork and flips his hips with ease, keeping his man in front of him without getting overly handsy.
If you can chalk up Delpit’s 2019 struggles to his nagging injury, then it’s easy to still consider him a top ten prospect. Some teams are bound to get scared off, which could help him fall into Dallas’ lap like Derwin James nearly did a few years ago. The skill set is similar as well; new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could deploy Delpit all over the back end and bring even more unpredictability to his defense. Delpit’s ballhawk traits should help, too. He could become an impact starter next to Xavier Woods right from the start.