It’s only February, but when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys first-round pick (17th overall) fans and media alike seem to have tunnel vision. It doesn’t matter if you’re listening to a podcast or the radio, reading an online or printed article, or watching television everyone seems to have their eyes set on the top two safeties in the 2020 NFL Draft, Grant Delpit and Xavier McKinney.
It makes sense of course. It is one of the Dallas Cowboys “needs” this offseason, especially with Jeff Heath hitting free agency and the entire Trysten Hill debacle last year. It’s only natural to assume the Cowboys will draft a safety at some point in the 2020 NFL Draft, so why not go with the top two rated players at the position in Delpit or McKinney. But, which one?
Well, that’s a question not easily answered. Both players are good in their own right, but neither is without their warts. Then, you have to take into account schematic fit. Which one fits the best into what Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan and Defensive Back’s Coach Maurice Linquist want in their safety prospects? Right now, your guess is as good as mine.
Doing a deep dive into Mike Nolan and Maurice Linquist’s past coaching history could provide a clue for what they’re looking for in a safety, but even that would be nothing more than an educated guess. For all we know they could be planning to do something entirely new with the Dallas Cowboys, so that doesn’t really help us either.
So, what do we know? All we really have to go on right now is what Nolan and Linquist have said and fortunately it sounds as if they’re both on the same page.
“As most things do, it does start with the player. Typically there are players that have a knack for getting the ball and some that don’t, but at the same time a coach’s job is to work on that. It’s the number one thing in winning football games, getting the ball for your offense, and as a defense that’s what we’ll strive to do all the time. Outside of that it is getting your opponent to third down so you can get off the field. Like I said, some players have a knack for it (turnovers) but the ones that don’t I think you can improve their skill and that comes through practice and making ball awareness and things like that.”
The above quote was Mike Nolan’s response when asked about the Cowboys defense creating more turnovers. It’s pretty much the generic answer we have come to expect from any coach around the NFL, whether from a defensive coordinator or not. They never want to tip their hand about a player they may be targeting, especially so early in the draft process. Fortunately though, Maurice Linquist is a little new to the game and may have shed a little more light on the topic.
When asked about what kind of safeties he wants, Linquist replied:
“Ballhawks. Ball players. I mean obviously you want guys who can affect the ball. You want guys who can separate, whether its a running back or receiver, from the ball. You want guys who can go get the ball. I think a lot of defensive football is about attacking the football. It’s about your ability to be a ball disruptive player. At all 11 positions if you are looking at an elite defensive player, you want somebody who can be aggressive to the ball and go make plays on the ball.”
It’s not much to go on, but it doesn’t really sound like Mike Nolan or Maurice Linquist is looking for a traditional strong safety type who plays mostly around the line of scrimmage. To me, it sounds like they want a versatile chess piece on the backend of the defense who can be aggressive and attack the ball. Believe it or not, but that fits both Grant Delpit and Xavier McKinney.
I really don’t think the Dallas Cowboys could go wrong with either Grant Delpit or Xavier McKinney, but I do believe one fits in a little better than the other. I’ve studied both players and have them ranked neck and neck with one another, but I believe Delpit has a slight edge over McKinney. I think he has the potential to be something special.
If you look over my scouting reports on both players, you will see I believe Xavier McKinney is at his best when he’s playing around the line of scrimmage. Grant Delpit on the other hand is at his best when he’s playing as a deep safety in coverage where he can use his range and instincts. It’s his ability to neutralize a receiver or tight end in coverage that makes him a better fit with the Dallas Cowboys in my opinion.
If Mike Nolan can clean up Delpit’s tackling technique, the former LSU Tiger has the ability to become one of the best young safeties in the game and be an immediate impact player as a rookie. Whether or not they think the same is up in the air. They may not like either one of these safety prospects, but that’s a discussion for another time.