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If Jeff Heath Can’t Go in Week 12, is it Time to See Donovan Wilson?

The Dallas Cowboys Rookie Safety Brings a Playmaking Ability that Could Lift the Defense

The Dallas Cowboys had to play without Jeff Heath on Sunday against the Detroit Lions and that meant Darian Thompson got the start in his place. Unfortunately, Thompson didn’t rise to the occasion and struggled in coverage against the Lions. If Jeff Heath isn’t available when the Dallas Cowboys travel to New England this week, the Cowboys will have to make a decision. Do they continue to roll with Thompson despite a poor showing, or give preseason standout Donovan Wilson a shot?

Last week, Kris Richard stated that Thompson was a player that the defensive staff trusted to fill in for Heath at strong safety and it’s possible they still feel that way moving forward. Thompson is a veteran player and has the ability to be disruptive in the run game. Against the Lions assortment of pass catchers, however, Thompson had a difficult time. Pro Football Focus gave Thompson the lowest coverage grade of any player on the defense in week 11 and there were times it was evident he was the weakest link in the secondary.

Since the 2019 NFL Draft, Cowboys fans and analysts have been intrigued by the prospects of Donovan Wilson starting at safety alongside Xavier Woods. Wilson had shown a penchant for making plays on the football while at Texas A&M. The excitement about Wilson in the secondary was only furthered when he had three interceptions in four preseason games.

Though the Cowboys defensive coaches may consider Wilson more of a free safety type, he and Woods both provide a lot of versatility that could allow Kris Richard to mix and match them in coverages to keep the offense guessing. With Woods and Wilson, it wouldn’t be so simple to diagnose who is the box safety and who is the deep middle until after the snap.

The Dallas Cowboys’ defense has been inconsistent in creating turnovers this season and Donovan Wilson could help that. With Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on the horizon, I find it unlikely that the Cowboys coaching staff would go to a rookie, but if Darian Thompson struggles in week 12 as he did against the Detroit Lions, Richard needs to be willing to make a change in the secondary.

The Dallas Cowboys don’t have much margin for error over the remainder of the schedule with a tight NFC East race with the Philadelphia Eagles. Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind, even if that means putting young, unproven players on the field. The Cowboys coaching staff can’t keep Donovan Wilson’s playmaking intangibles on the sideline much longer. To make a deep run in the playoffs, defenses have to be able to create turnovers and Donovan Wilson is just one of those guys that can create turnovers. This week might be the time to unleash that ability.

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John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.


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  1. Wasn’t Wilson ranked the top preseason rookie player across the NFL? Seriously, let him have his chance. He can’t get burned any more often than Heath or Thompson and he will at least get turnouts u never see from the others.

  2. Excellent points John, as not taking a chance on lower round drafted players unless they are forced into playing time seems to be the historic problem of the Dallas Cowboys. They are willing to sell the farm for someone else’s proven lower draft picks, while not feel comfortable with their own, as they go to other teams & excel!!!

    • You’ve picked up on it too. This coaching staff doesn’t rely on rookies unless it’s been Zeke or the offensive linemen.

      Dak Prescott wouldn’t have started right away if not for injuries to Romo and Moore.

  3. If Thompson looked so bad against the Lions, how do you think he will do against the Brady/Bellicheck attack up in Foxboro? We know what we got from Thompson last week, so lets see what we can get from Doovan this week.

  4. Thank you guys. It’s time for change. Jeff is a special teams maven, not a starter in this league. Get Jones or Wilson in the game. It’s not like the safeties can get any worse!

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