For the first time since 2009, the Dallas Cowboys secondary will not feature either JJ Wilcox or Barry Church at safety. After both players left Dallas for franchises in Florida, the back-end of the Cowboys defense is looking very barren.
It would appear to the naked eye that Dallas will almost have to draft a safety high in the 2017 NFL Draft. With just three safeties currently on their roster and guys like Washington’s Budda Baker and UCONN’s Obi Melifonwu who could be worthwhile in round one, the Cowboys’ draft direction seems obvious.
The Cowboys don’t want to ever feel forced to do anything on draft day, however. They like to bring in replacement-level players, like Damontre Moore and Nolan Carroll, to fill positions of need and allow themselves freedom in the early rounds.
Considering they haven’t signed a safety to this point, Dallas might actually feel comfortable with their three current safeties.
Who is left at Safety for the Cowboys?
Let’s play general manager for a minute, and evaluate the Cowboys current depth chart. As mentioned, they have three safeties, two of which have had serious game experience to this point.
Byron Jones, Free Safety, Third-Year
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.
A Richard Rodgers season-ending reception clouding the judgement of the masses should not let you doubt Byron Jones’ ability. Currently, Jones is the best defensive back on the Cowboys, and this should not scare you.
After a successful rookie season in 2015 where he moved all around the defensive backfield, Jones made his home at safety in 2016 and looked comfortable doing so.
Byron Jones is one of the most reliable, consistent, and steady defensive backs the Cowboys have had in years. Of course, we would all like to see him get his hands on the ball more often, force more turnovers, and come away with some interceptions. Despite this lack of takeaways, Jones has still emerged as a consistent force in the Dallas secondary.
And he will be for a long time.
Jeff Heath, Strong Safety, Fifth-Year
A fan favorite, Jeff Heath has been a hard-working and under-appreciated player for the Cowboys since 2013. Though he started as a special-teamer and fringe player on the roster, Heath is now slated to be the starting strong safety in 2017.
While most of the Cowboys’ defensive backs have not been able to turn the ball over, Heath seems to always be in the right place at the right time. Leading the team in interceptions in 2015, Heath continuously made big plays whenever his number was called.
The Cowboys signed Heath to a four-year extension last April, and at just 26 years old, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Cowboys entrust Jeff Heath with a starting role, and envision him as the long-time starter at strong safety.
This doesn’t mean he won’t have competition for that role, however.
Kavon Frazier, Safety, Second-Year
The sixth round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, former Central Michigan stud Kavon Frazier will have a chance to prove he was the steal of that draft as soon as this season.
After the selection of Frazier, I reviewed his game tape and saw the he could be a direct successor of four-year starter Barry Church. Frazier does a great job of coming downhill and making tackles, and showed the ability to utilize angle tackling while in college.
At 6′ 217 pounds, Frazier has the build and frame of a starting strong safety. He has great size and strength, and knows how to use it to his advantage. Considering Byron Jones’ coverage skills on the back-end, Frazier could serve as the Kam Chancellor to Jones’ Earl Thomas, playing in the box and making sure-tackles.
Of course neither Jones nor Frazier are on par with those Seattle safeties just yet, but the mold to build from is definitely there.
No matter how much I like both Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier, there is no question the Cowboys must address the safety position on draft day. It doesn’t have to come in round one, but it does need to come at some point, most likely on the first two days.
It certainly would’ve been nice to keep a team captain and veteran leader in Barry Church around, but not at the price which the Jacksonville Jaguars raised.
Now, the Cowboys must play with who they’ve got, or add some more talent through the NFL Draft. Either way, there is going to be some inexperience in the back-end of this defense.
Hopefully, it won’t come back to bite them.