With the NFL evolving into more of a passing, high-scoring league, it is more important than ever to have secondaries ready to combat whatever opposing offenses are throwing at them.
Defensive backs must be able to defend the big wideouts like Julio Jones and Mike Evans while also be prepared for the smaller speedsters such as Tyreek Hill and Tyler Lockett. Add in all of the talented quarterbacks across the league, and you have big challenges for defenses.
The challenge of defending the passing game will only grow for the Cowboys when corner Byron Jones signs with another franchise in free agency. While Jones does not have many interceptions to his name, the former UConn Huskies defensive back was able to shut down his side of the field time and time again.
Bringing in help in the secondary — whether it be at corner, at safety, or at both — needs to be a big priority for the Cowboys this offseason. Here are three different options for Dallas to target through the draft.
The First-Round Option
The Dallas Cowboys have been heavily linked to a pair of safeties during this year’s draft process: LSU’s Grant Delpit and Alabama’s Xavier McKinney. Delpit, especially, has been a name that many Cowboys fans have had their eyes on for a while now. The 2019 Jim Thorpe Award winner had a very impressive first two seasons in Baton Rouge and brings a certain swagger to him that is hard to not like.
However, Xavier McKinney turned in the better 2019 season of the two potential first-round safeties. The Alabama product became a top prospect at the position under Nick Saban’s coaching in Tuscaloosa. A safety that likes to play in the box, McKinney made 95 tackles, totaled three sacks, and grabbed three interceptions during his final season on the collegiate level.
I’m a big fan of Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. He does it ALL. pic.twitter.com/QAgml7hxAg— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) January 7, 2020
The Cowboys desperately need to add a safety next to Xavier Woods and, as BTB’s DannyPhantom wrote, McKinney could be an ideal pair with Woods:
If you can get past all the fun we could have with the Xavier/Xavier name thing, what you then end up with is two safeties who are each good at different things. Woods is a good free safety to roam around in coverage, whereas McKinney is more of a close to the line of scrimmage swarmer. The combination of these X-men would give the Cowboys one of their strongest safety duos they’ve had over the last several years. Talk about a sight for sore eyes.
McKinney is nowhere near the flashy pick that a Javon Kinlaw, CeeDee Lamb, or CJ Henderson would be, but the former Alabama safety could be a nice addition to the Cowboys secondary.
The Trade Up For Candidate
Another name that has been mentioned in regards to the Cowboys is former Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. Winfield, Jr. — the son of former Minnesota Vikings defensive back Antoine Winfield, Sr. — was a major reason why the Gophers found themselves ranked in the top-10 last season and beat Auburn in a New Year’s Day bowl game.
Perhaps the biggest criticism regarding the Cowboys’ secondary is there lack of takeaways. Dallas has struggled to intercept passes and create turnovers. That is not the case for Winfield, Jr.
Antoine Winfield Jr. = TOO CLUTCH pic.twitter.com/3dN2ER1iZm— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 9, 2018
The Minnesota product proved to be a big time playmaker during his final season on the collegiate level: 83 tackles, three sacks, seven (7!) interceptions in 2019. Winfield, Jr. also has a history of returning punts, and he forced two fumbles a year ago.
When PJ Fleck’s squad needed a play to be made, it was the NFL legacy that made it happen time and time again.
In Antoine Winfield Jr. we trust. 〽️ pic.twitter.com/KVIjOlxiwL— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) September 8, 2019
The problem for the Cowboys is that the former Gophers defensive back’s stock may be too high now for Dallas to wait until pick 51 — meaning a move up would likely need to be in the works, should the Cowboys have their eyes on him. Winfield, Jr. turned in a 4.45 40 at the NFL Combine and is a certified playmaker, something that Dallas needs.
The Third-Round Choice
What about a local player? Former Texas Longhorns safety Brandon Jones could be an option for the Cowboys should the team wait until late day two to take a safety. Jones, a former blue-chip recruit, turned in a solid career during his time in Austin.
Jones earned a reputation as a physical player that can contribute to a defense in multiple ways. The Nacogdoches native totaled 86 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and grabbed an interception for the Longhorns in 2019. Jones does struggle in coverage, but he is not afraid to make plays in run support.
#Patriots Draft Target: S, Texas - Brandon Jones 6’0 205 lbs— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) February 17, 2020
Great run stopper who has great burst and tackling skills. Best part of his game is his physicality and tracking speed, gets downhill and gets involved. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/n7pSzb10uu
Dane Brugler wrote that the Lone Star State prospect’s ranginess and toughness could translate.
To handle both run and pass duties from deep alignment, a safety must trust his vision to play fast and that is what makes Jones an appealing prospect for the next level. He has the speed to turn and run with slot receivers vertically, but he played more confident as a safety than nickel – the closer he was lined up to the line of scrimmage, the more he struggled in coverage. Overall, Jones’ lack of length and ball skills are concerns and he must harness his aggressive nature, but the rangy athleticism and toughness are what will earn him an NFL role as part of a team’s safety rotation.
While The Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs used the word “violent” to describe Jones’ tackling.
Tackling - Violent, impressive player. Really like what he brings to the table as a potential nickel linebacker in sub-package role. He’s got a really good tackle radius, although he can look to lay the hit stick and fail to wrap up in the open field and produce some busts as a finisher.
My goodness, Brandon Jones, what a hit... pic.twitter.com/BrWFSz7iBS— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) June 13, 2019
The Texas product has some concerns in coverage as he can get lost and is slow to react, but the Cowboys could use some physicality and toughness on the defensive side of the ball. Could Jones be an option for Dallas in round three?