It was clear the safety position was one of importance for the Cowboys heading into the 2019 NFL draft. The flashy picks of Juan Thornhill and Taylor Rapp were there for the taking in round two, but the organization instead opted to beef up the defensive line by selecting UCF’s Trysten Hill. Better late than never, in round six the Cowboys picked Texas A&M safety, Donovan Wilson.
You have to take advantage of every opportunity as they present themselves in the NFL, and Wilson just recently received a huge one.
Fellow safety Kavon Frazier will be sidelined for the next few weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee. This setback could see him rehabbing and resting until training camp in late July, and missing the upcoming mandatory mini-camp. This comes at a not so ideal time for Frazier with this season being a contract year and having not yet proven himself on a consistent basis that he’s anything more than a solid backup and special teams player. He’s ultra-competitive and has spent time at both safety spots in his first three years, but potential only gets you so far, you have to show and prove when called upon.
With this being said, now the door is wide open for Wilson. He has the position flex that is much salivated over by Jason Garrett and the coaching staff. In addition to playing safety, he spent a lot of time at nickel corner at Texas A&M as well. He can play down in the box versus the run just about as well as any safety entering the league this season, as evident by his 21.5 tackles for loss in college. Sprinkle in eight interceptions and you can see why the Cowboys turned in his draft card in the sixth round.
This won’t be an easy climb up the mountain for Wilson, though, especially in a safety room packed with bodies. Jeff Heath is the starter, for now, much to the dismay of Cowboys fans who have been frustrated with his inconsistency in coverage. His ability to head hunt, and be an excellent special teams player, has allowed the often maligned six-year pro to keep potential heirs to his strong safety throne at bay.
George Iloka was signed during free agency as a potential upgrade from Heath, although the first few weeks of OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) hasn’t shown that with him still being second on the depth chart, even though that isn’t set in stone at this point. Nonetheless, there’s no substitute for experience, a major feather in his cap that he has over Wilson. Not only is a potential starting position on the line, but a spot on the 53 man roster as well. This gives the seven-year veteran all the incentive to keep the rookie on the sidelines.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli already sees something in his new piece of clay waiting to be molded.
“He’s got a chance to be a very physical presence, but right now, it’s about, ‘Where do I line up? What’s my assignment? Where do I look?’
“Our mindset is to get him prepared to know what the movement is, the skill is, and what the drills and assignments are. You’re investing a lot of money in these guys. I have to find ways–can he do what I want him to do,” Marinelli said.
Wilson’s intangibles are a big reason that I think he’ll seize this opportunity. He was named Defensive Captain in 2018 and got the calls directly from the Aggies defensive coordinator. You want effort, desire, and competitiveness? Well, he has that too, as he was the recipient of the Aggie Heart Award given to the player that exhibits said qualities. While this doesn’t guarantee him anything on the pro level, however, it is a good starting point going forward.
Donovan Wilson should attack this situation head-on. Heath hasn’t shown the regular consistency to instill full confidence in his abilities. Iloka is only on a one year deal, essentially making him a short term rather than a permanent answer at the position. And now, Kavon Frazier won’t even see the field until training camp more than likely.
This makes mandatory mini-camp this week that much more important for the youngster. The only thing he’s lacking is simply the reps to develop and reach his ceiling. If Donovan Wilson wants to follow in the footsteps of another teammate Xavier Woods as a sixth-round steal, he has to make every snap count.