The Dallas Cowboys have a very strong safety group. With the big three of Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Donovan Wilson, they pretty much have things covered in the secondary. And when you throw in third-year player Israel Mukuamu, who showed some promise in the slot late last year, well, you can almost tie a bow on the team’s depth chart at the position.
Of course, things can unravel in a hurry when injuries start rearing their ugly head, and it wasted no time showing up for the Cowboys safeties. Last week, both Wilson (calf) and Mukuamu (hamstring) suffered injuries and are expected to be out for several weeks, Wilson maybe longer. The timing is good in the sense that it allows them enough time to be ready for the regular season, and it also creates some new opportunities for the next man up, Markquese Bell.
Bell was an undrafted free agent from Florida A&M who was signed last year. And while we didn’t hear much about him during the 2022 season, some may be surprised to learn that he was actually on the 53-man roster for all 17 games. Granted, he was only active for five of them, and just 22 of his 102 total snaps came on defense, but it does go to show that the Cowboys valued him enough to keep him on the roster.
His lack of playing time last season isn’t a knock on him because of just how deep and healthy the Cowboys' safeties were last year. In fact, it was good for him to have a year where he could develop his game as this is the part that is holding him back right now.
From an athletic standpoint, he has the gifts. The 6’2”, 78 1⁄4 wingspan provides him the length that Dan Quinn loves in his defensive backs, but he also comes with 4.41 speed. Those long strides can get him from point A to B in a hurry. He does a good job getting wide, planting, and striking with enough power to provide a jolt or two, and he uses his long arms well to shove away would-be blockers and plays with enough physicality to be a viable asset near the line of scrimmage. His length also expands his range in coverage.
Bell’s weaknesses are centered around his instincts and football IQ. Against the run, he’ll take bad angles and flail about without having the proper discipline and balance to stop ballcarriers in their tracks. These flaws exacerbate his already lean frame, meaning he’s not the most powerful tackler. In coverage, his reaction can be a little slow as he’ll get caught looking in the wrong spots, and while his long speed is good, those long legs don’t stop on a dime and his change in direction is sluggish.
When you look at a player like Bell, there is all kinds of potential. Athletically, he has the makeup to be an NFL-caliber safety. And with injuries to a couple of guys ahead of him, it’s going to provide more opportunities for him to show what he can do. Having a player like Bell emerge would help this team down the road as both Kearse and Hooker are in the final years of their contract, so the Cowboys would love to have a youngster step up and give them a reason to be hopeful about the future state of the safety position.