It's been 17 years since the Dallas Cowboys spent an early draft pick at the safety position. In 2002, Dallas used the eighth overall pick to select Roy Williams out of Oklahoma. Since then, the highest a safety has been drafted by the Cowboys is in the third round. Could the 2019 NFL Draft end that streak?
As the backdrop to our discussion, here's a list of all the safeties that the Cowboys have drafted from 2003-2018. To emphasize the point of how the team has invested draft picks, we'll organize it by the round they were taken in.
- 3rd Round
- 2013 - J.J. Wilcox
- 4th Round
- 2010 - Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
- 2012 - Matt Johnson
- 5th Round
- 2006 - Patrick Watkins
- 2009 - Michael Hamlin
- 6th Round
- 2005 - Justin Beriault
- 2009 - Stephen Hodge
- 2016 - Kavon Frazier
- 2017 - Xavier Woods
- 7th Round
- 2014 - Ahmad Dixon
You might be immediately asking, "Wait, what about Byron Jones?" Keep in mind that Jones mostly played cornerback his rookie season and then spent just two years at safety before Dallas moved him back to CB.
Yes, Dallas drafted Jones with thoughts that he might play safety eventually. But they didn't immediately dedicate him to that spot and he has since been moved away from it, so that doesn't really change the point we're making.
Context is important over all of these years and picks, so let's do a quick history lesson.
From 2002-2003, Dallas paired Williams with the great Darren Woodson. In 2004, Woodson missed the season with an injury and then retired in December. The starting role was split between journeymen Tony Dixon and Lynn Scott.
Dixon and Scott returned in 2005 to compete for the starting role, but they were bested by special teams ace Keith Davis. Davis started 15 games that year but then was challenged by rookie Pat Watkins in 2006. They split time as starters.
In 2007, Dallas decided to take a free agency gamble on Ken Hamlin. A second-round pick by Seattle in 2003, Hamlin had two promising years but then began to have major concussion issues stemming from an off-field incident in 2005. He played all 16 games in 2006, but the Seahawks allowed him to become a free agent when his rookie contract ended.
Hamlin had a Pro Bowl season in 2007 for the Cowboys, and his partnership with Roy Williams gave Dallas their most dynamic safety duo since Williams and Darren Woodson. But their glory would be short-lived as Roy became disgruntled with his role in Wade Phillips' defense, and he was released in 2009.
The Cowboys looked to free agency again to solve their safety need, signing Gerald Sensabaugh away from the Jaguars. But while Sensabaugh would be a four-year starter from 2009-2012, the other safety spot immediately crumbled. Hamlin struggled with injury and declining play in 2009 and was released just two years into a big six-year contract.
Dallas converted Alan Ball from cornerback to safety in 2010 and he started all 16 games. In 2011, veteran Abram Elam was signed as an upgrade and he started the whole season, but then was signed away as a free agent.
It's here where you start to see how the Cowboys unfortunate drafting and general bad luck continued to hurt them. Remember being excited by guys like Pat Watkins and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, who flashed great athletic potential but just didn't have the skills to start?
Remember the hype around Justin Beriault and Matt Johnson, who sounded like absolute studs from training camp reports but then never could get on the field due to injuries?
None of these guys ever emerged to give Dallas a solid long-term player, let alone a couple of decent years. But that's the risk you run when you don't draft high.
You just might get what you paid for.
Given their history, the Cowboys probably thought they were making a big move when they spent a third-round pick in 2013 on J.J. Wilcox. But again, Wilcox was never more than what most third-round picks turn out to be. He was a decent starter but ideally a primary backup and special teamer.
Ironically, it was undrafted Barry Church who gave the Cowboys their best value at safety over all these years. He wound up being a four-year starter from 2013-2016 and leader for the defense despite no draft investment; just the kind of bargain they'd been hoping for over an entire decade.
The Cowboys enter 2019 with perhaps their best bargain find since Church in Xavier Woods. A sixth-round pick in 2017, Woods moved into a starting role last year when Byron Jones was converted back to corner. And while far from perfect, Xavier flashed some great potential with big hits and two interceptions.
That hasn't stopped fans from clamoring for Dallas to make a splash signing like Earl Thomas or Landon Collins this offseason. Now that that window has closed, focus is turning to the draft and the Cowboys' first pick in the draft; 58th overall (2nd Round) thanks to the Amari Cooper trade.
This is largely due to Jeff Heath, a starter the last two years, who has been serviceable but flawed. Another undrafted player, Heath has overachieved but there is a general perception that he's not good enough if the Cowboys are serious about trying to win a Super Bowl.
But like any other year, the 2019 draft is about more than just the team's need at one position. Debates about biggest needs and priorities go on for months, and elements such as the depth and strength of a draft class or the belief that a player can have immediate impact, versus needing time to develop, all factor into the final decisions.
Also, you have to remember that Dallas did just sign veteran George Iloka to a one-year deal. They may very well be looking at a three-way competition for the two starting roles, content with whoever emerges between Iloka, Heath, and Woods for those spots.
A big reason they signed Iloka was to avoid feeling handcuffed by position need in the draft. The Cowboys love feeling free to draft based on talent.
What's more, the team certainly has other potential uses for that 2nd-round pick.
They could take a tight end to learn from Jason Witten and take over the role full-time in 2020. Or perhaps they want to find a second running back to taken some burden off Ezekiel Elliott and improve the team's negotiating position with Zeke in the coming years.
Maybe they want a potential upgrade at defensive tackle, having similarly not made any big draft picks there for many years. Dallas could not only use some better talent at DT but they have several guys with expiring contracts and need some security for the future.
If we've learned anything from all this history at safety, it's that the Dallas Cowboys seem to give higher priority to most of their other positions. They've been content to try to get things done with mid-round picks, undrafted gems, and bargain free agents and focus on other roster spots with the higher picks and big contracts.
And let's be honest; a safety taken with the 58th pick in the draft probably isn't going to give us the next Darren Woodson. Even though Woodson himself was a second-round pick, you can only hope for those kind of outcomes. Even guys taken in the Top 10 can easily become busts, let alone guys taken on Day Two of the draft.
So yes, you can make a great case that the Cowboys will take a safety earlier than they have since 2002. The need is there and the talent across the rest of the roster allows for it.
But given their history and the Iloka signing, don't be surprised if Dallas stays true to form.
Cowboys Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise
Throughout the post draft media process, the Cowboys' decision makers have been adamant that they found multiple draft-able players in undrafted free agency this year. Each of which, of course, will have an opportunity to compete for a roster or practice squad spot this summer.
One of those players who almost certainly had a draft-able grade despite fall through all seven rounds, is Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise.
At 6'3" and 290 pounds, Wise projects as a 3-technique in the NFL, and should compete for that very role on the Cowboys defense. Wise is not an overly bendy or athletic player, but he has a good initial quickness which allows him to penetrate gaps well. Wise plays with excellent effort, having the type of motor that I'm sure Rod Marinelli valued highly during the pre-draft evaluations.
A strong and powerful interior presence, Wise can offer some upside as a pass rusher as well. He has quick, active, and heavy hands. When combining his hands with his get-off, Wise is a real threat as a pass rusher. Maybe his most impressive pass rushing quality, however, is the effort which he plays with. Never giving up on a play, you'll have to block Wise until the final whistle or he will threaten for effort sacks.
In college, Wise was often asked to be a two-gap defender from the 5-technique, but that's just not where he'll be at his best. Rather, he should be used in the role the Cowboys likely envision for him, allowing him to play with power at the point of attack and disrupt the running game.
But what are Daniel Wise's chances of even making the team?
The Cowboys made a concerted effort to improve their defensive line this offseason, specifically on the interior. By adding free agents like Kerry Hyder and drafting Trysten Hill 58th overall, Dallas has improved what was considered a weakness during the postseason a year ago.
Not all of these talented defensive tackles will make the team, though, it's simply a numbers a game. And cutting an undrafted free agent will certainly be easier to do than cutting someone who will be owed real money, or was acquired through premium draft capital.
Regardless, Daniel Wise will have the chance to prove his worth during training camp and the preseason. And based on how he projects through his college tape and physical attributes, he'll likely make those final decisions very difficult on the Cowboys' staff.
Pre-Draft Visitors Highlight Dallas Cowboys 2019 Rookie Class
The Dallas Cowboys are "officially" adding 21 rookies to their roster, eight of which they drafted and the remaining 13 are undrafted free agents. The number of rookies the Cowboys are bringing in isn't all that surprising, but what did surprise me was how many of them were pre-draft visitors.
You may or may not know, but the NFL allows 30 allotted pre-draft visits for each team around the league. Teams don't have to use all 30 visits of course, but the majority of them take advantage of the opportunity and generally use up all 30 visits. It's a chance to introduce these rookies into the atmosphere they could be playing in and work them out in more of a one-on-one basis.
The Dallas Cowboys of course are known as a team who take their 30 pre-draft visits very seriously. Over the past several years they've drafted several players who were brought in for pre-draft visits, and 2019 was no exception.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, paying attention to the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visits is a good idea because the odds of them drafting one or more of them is pretty high. That's why I decided to run a pre-draft tracker this year, and because of it I was able to confirm 27 of the possible 30 pre-draft visitors for the Cowboys.
Here are 2019 pre-draft visitors currently on the Cowboys roster:
- DT, Trysten Hill
- RB, Tony Pollard
- RB, Mike Weber
- WR, Jon'Vea Johnson
- CB, Chris Westry
If you're doing the math, 5 out of 30 equates to 17% of the players the Dallas Cowboys brought in as pre-draft visitors. But, if Dallas only brought in 27 that percentage rises to 19%. To say that the Cowboys value these pre-draft visits would be an understatement, at least as far as 2019 is concerned.
The first three of Trysten Hill, Tony Pollard, and Mike Weber were of course all draft picks and have the best chance to stick around on the final 53-man roster, but I wouldn't rule out Jon'Vea Johnson and Chris Westry. Both were draftable players, but somehow fell through the cracks right into the lap of the Cowboys as UFAs.
I don't really know if it's a good idea the Dallas Cowboys are so transparent with how valuable the treat these 30 pre-draft visits. We've seen teams time and time again trade up right in front of them to draft a player the Cowboys could've possibly been eyeing, and this year was no exception.
After drafting Running Back/Wide Receiver Tony Pollard with the first of their fourth-round draft picks, it looked like the Dallas Cowboys had their sights set on small school Defensive End/Defensive Tackle John Cominsky out of Charleston with their second pick in the fourth. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Falcons traded up a spot ahead of them to draft Cominsky.
This of course isn't the first time the Falcons have done this, which begs the question as to how they knew the Cowboys could have possibly been targeting Cominsky. We can throw a conspiracy theory out there that Atlanta might have been inside source, but that's highly unlikely. More plausible theory is they were paying attention to Dallas' 30 pre-draft visitors as well.
It may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to deploy a little more smoke and mirrors when it comes to who they bring in for pre-draft visits in the future. But regardless, there's no denying the Cowboys pre-draft visitors highlight their 2019 rookie class.
Are you surprised the Dallas Cowboys added so many pre-draft visitors to the roster?
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Grades
Another year, another draft come and gone. The difference was that this year the Dallas Cowboys were without a first-round pick thanks to their trade for Amari Cooper with Oakland. Their de facto first-round pick would obviously earn an A+ from how well he meshed with Dak Prescott and gave this Cowboys offense another dimension.
Given how well the Cowboys have done in the first round in recent history -- all but two of their first round picks since 2011 have been in the Pro Bowl, a trend that continued with last year’s pick, Leighton Vander Esch. This season, the Cowboys only had picks from round two and on. So this year was all about finding value and hoping it would fall into their laps.
Obviously time will tell if any of these players work out or not. For the time being, we can grade the picks based on what we do know. Some picks were worth it, while others raised questions, as well as eyebrows.
58 Overall: DT, Trysten Hill
In what has been considered the best defensive line draft in decades, the Cowboys took a bit of a risk with their first “official” pick. Trysten Hill is a first round talent out of UCF, but reports questioning his love for the game had some give him a third round grade.
Dallas has already had an off-season dealing with talented defensive linemen with questions around their passion for the game (i.e. David Irving) and so obviously people didn’t love this pick.
It’s a high risk, high reward move that we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.
90 Overall: G, Connor McGovern
As far as value goes, McGovern was probably the team’s best pick. In my pre-draft rankings, Connor McGovern was my fourth overall interior lineman; a player who you can play anywhere in the interior and start immediately.
However, guard didn’t really seem like a need. This was obviously a “best player available” pick. What this pick has done instead is raise a bunch of questions.
Who’s job could be on the line?
Does this imply the team won’t re-sign La’el Collins?
Is Connor Williams going to play tackle like he did in college?
Is one of them going to get traded?
Is Travis Frederick really ready to go?
So many questions surround this pick, but there’s no questioning the player. Connor McGovern is likely a future starter on the line and Cowboys fans should be excited about that.
128 Overall: RB, Tony Pollard
If you follow me on Twitter, you know my feelings about Tony Pollard already.
Tony Pollard might be my favorite #Cowboys pick. Has experience at both the RB and WR position, plus had 7 career kick return TDs in college. He addresses all 3 needs in 1. #NFLDraft
Returner has been a need for a year now. I never liked the team trading away Ryan Switzer because it created a huge hole on special teams, as well as the receiving core.
The team also needed a backup running back to take the load off Ezekiel Elliott a bit. With Tony Pollard, they get all three positions filled in the form of a player who's 6'0" 210 pounds, ran a 4.52 40 and compiled 25 total touchdowns. Terrific value in the fourth round.
158 Overall: CB, Michael Jackson
This is the type of corner Kris Richard loves; big and tall. At 6'1" 200 pounds, Michael Jackson fits the profile.
His 2017 tape was actually better than his 2018 tape, and all four of his career interceptions came in '17. However, the team is obviously betting on his potential, especially with corner being a serious need.
With the Cowboys' four primary corners coming into contract years the next three seasons, odds are that at least one will be gone. MJ doesn’t fill in day one as a difference maker but, given some time under Kris Richard, he could be a nice player.
165 Overall: DE, Joe Jackson
Take Joe Jackson, new Cowboy, as well as Michael and Darius Jackson, and the team is just two short of a Jackson 5 reunion.
The team has been very busy trying to rebuild the depth at edge and Joe Jackson is icing on an already stacked cake. In an off-season that saw the retirement of David Irving and another suspension for Randy Gregory, the team was able to extend DeMarcus Lawrence and trade for Robert Quinn.
The edge room was already full but you can never have too many.
Joe Jackson is a fun, productive player from The U, who was teammates with the previous pick, Michael Jackson. In his career, he totaled 24 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss all in three seasons. He’s not the fastest edge rusher in the world but has plenty of power to make up for it. With the team only for sure having DeMarcus Lawrence guaranteed beyond 2019, it’s good to have as much talent as possible.
213 Overall: S, Donovan Wilson
The team really needed a safety and it enraged most people that they didn’t pick one earlier. Especially with Taylor Rapp, Juan Thornhill and Amani Hooker all available at different times.
Donovan Wilson is an interesting pick. His career has been a rollercoaster while at Texas A&M, with a highly productive 2015 season, a dip in 2016, a fractured foot in the 2017 opener, and a rebound 2018 season.
Had his career not been derailed by his injury, he’s likely gone way before the sixth round and the Cowboys are obviously betting on his potential. Meets a need, but not a plug-in right away type of pick.
218 Overall: RB, Mike Weber
Tony Pollard is going to get first crack at the backup running back spot. However, given that he’s also the team’s likely return man as well, it makes sense that they’d want to deepen the running back room to give the team a true RB2.
Mike Weber was Ezekiel Elliott’s teammate at Ohio State, but didn’t come close to the impact Elliott had. Only topping 1,000 yards once in college, Weber is likely in competition with Darius Jackson for the backup spot.
He’s not as flashy as Zeke but can pick up the slack when asked to and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. If Weber can’t beat Jackson for the backup spot, then Weber is a likely candidate for the practice squad.
241 Overall: DE, Jalen Jelks
Jalen Jelks falls into a similar boat that both Hurricanes players are in. Like Joe Jackson, he’s a good solid edge piece (fifth round draft grade), but like Michael Jackson, his prior season's tape was better than his final season.
It's interesting that the Cowboys would pick a player who seems to be better suited to play in a 3-4 as a OLB, but has plenty of starter potential. Otherwise he’s a player that’s likely headed to the practice squad that the Cowboys wanted to make sure they get first crack at. Still, a good value in terms of where he was picked.
Dallas Cowboys Overall 2019 Draft Grade: B
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