It’s been a question that’s been asked for years now. “When are the Dallas Cowboys going to address the safety position?”. Donovan Wilson emerged in 2020 with a stellar second year that saw him register 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in 10 starts. He’s set to be the starter at strong safety for the foreseeable future, however, there’s a big question mark opposite him at the free safety position.
2020 was a contract season for Xavier Woods. He recorded over 70 tackles for the second consecutive season. However, he was a liability in coverage far too often. Woods has always been able to lay the big hit, but he hasn’t been a consistent playmaker at free safety, and that was on full display, unfortunately, in 2020.
Woods was only credited with one pass deflection this season. What’s even worse, he didn’t record a single interception, forced fumble, or fumble recovery. The Cowboys will run a single-high safety scheme under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn which requires the free safety to be able to be a center fielder and make plays in the deep passing game and patrol sideline to sideline. Unfortunately, Woods hasn’t shown the ability to that regularly.
NFL Media Analyst Bucky Brooks addressed the challenges the Cowboys face under Quinn’s scheme without a top-flight free safety, and it spoke to what Wood’s lacks in his game.
“If the Cowboys are planning to succeed with Quinn’s scheme, the front office needs to find a five-star free safety to make it work,” Brooks said last week, via the team’s website. “The free safety position is critical in a single-high safety scheme and the player occupying the role must be a centerfielder-type with an exceptional set of skills. From instincts and awareness to numbers to numbers range to ball skills and hands, the free safety in this defense must be more than the ornament on the top of the Christmas tree. He must be able to discourage quarterbacks from attacking down the field with his range and playmaking ability. In addition, the Cowboys’ prospective free safety should be a dependable tackler with the capacity to get big-bodied runners or shifty pass catchers to the ground in the open field. After ignoring the position for years, the Cowboys will need to make free safety a marquee position on the defensive priority list.”
What’s so surprising about Wood’s decline is that he was a playmaker in college. In his last three seasons at Louisiana Tech, Woods recorded 16 pass deflections, 14 interceptions, and six forced fumbles. For whatever reason, that has not been the case on the professional level.
Woods is an unrestricted free agent. He’s been reliable with 44 starts since 2018. Nonetheless, the decline in his performance after a promising start to his career can’t be denied, and if the Cowboys want their defense to bounce back from a historically bad 2020 outing, one of the moves may be to move on from Woods.