There has been quite a bit to talk about the Dallas Cowboys safety position this offseason, especially in regards to the possibility of trading for Earl Thomas or moving up in the draft to select Derwin James. Unfortunately, I don't really think either one of these moves happen, but that shouldn't discourage you.
The Dallas Cowboys already have a few safety options on the roster, but that shouldn't keep them from looking for an upgrade. Jeff Heath could reprise his role at free safety this season, but the other safety spot opposite him is completely up for grabs with Byron Jones moving back to cornerback.
Personally, I would like to see Xavier Woods get a shot at one of the starting positions, but that's something to debate and speculate about once we get a little further along into offseason workouts. That is why today I want to share with you the top 10 safeties I think the Cowboys could target after the first-round.
Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee
Round Grade: 2nd
Rashaan Gaulden was a two-year starter for the Volunteers and was part of the No. 3 nationally ranked pass defense in 2017. He is a bit of a Swiss Army knife defensive back and has lined up at several different positions in the secondary during his time in college.
Gaulden was primarily the starting nickel or inside corner, but I think he projects better as a free safety in the NFL. He has the speed and toughness to play the position, but needs to become a little bit more disciplined. He has all the traits scouts look for in a safety prospect and a good foundation to build upon.
Jessie Bates, Wake Forest
Round Grade: 2nd
Jessie Bates played in 20 career games and has two years of starting experience during his time at Wake Forest. His decision to enter the 2018 NFL Draft is somewhat of a head scratcher since he had two years of eligibility remaining, but he looks like a surefire second-round draft pick.
Bates was the starting strong safety for the Demon Deacons, but probably projects better as a free safety in the NFL. He has a slight frame which could lead to durability issues down the road. Despite this, he is fearless in run support and shows good range and coverage instincts. He fits the mold of the kind of free safety the Dallas Cowboys are in search of.
Justin Reid, Stanford
Round Grade: 2nd
Justin Reid is the younger brother of Eric Reid, the former San Francisco 49ers safety. He was a two-year starter at Stanford and although he was listed as a free safety on the depth chart, he played several different roles in their secondary.
I believe Reid can be an interchangeable safety in the NFL who is capable of playing deep in coverage or in the box around the line of scrimmage. At Stanford he primarily played in the box or in man coverage in the slot. His smooth athleticism and versatility make him an intriguing second-round option for the Dallas Cowboys.
Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh
Round Grade: 3rd
Jordan Whitehead is a three-year starter at Pittsburgh and lined up primarily at strong safety. But, he also showed off his versatility by playing free safety, cornerback, and even played on offense. He is a premium athlete, but there are some concerns with him as a prospect.
He doesn't have the ideal frame NFL teams look for in a safety prospect and there is a little bit of concern with his character. He also needs to clean up his technique in coverage and play with better eye discipline. As a run defender he is an inconsistent tackler at times because of poor technique, which will need to be cleaned up in the NFL. Overall, he has starting ability, but there are a few things that need to be cleaned up before he is trustworthy.
Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Round Grade: 3rd
Terrell Edmunds is the brother of Tremaine Edmunds, a projected first-round linebacker who a lot of Dallas Cowboys fans would love to see available at 19. Terrell is a three-year starter at Virginia Tech and bounced around their secondary throughout his collegiate career.
Terrell is a sound run defender and has shown he can make plays on the ball in the passing game, but good route runners will eat him up. He is probably best suited to play in a defensive scheme that utilizes a lot of zone coverages because he really struggles when he's asked to play man to man.
Marcus Allen, Penn State
Round Grade: 3rd
Marcus Allen is a four-year starter at Penn State and helped lead them to a national championship. Despite being listed as a free safety on their depth chart, he played primarily around the line of scrimmage as a box safety.
Allen is an aggressive downhill tackler and finished his collegiate career with 321 tackles, ranking 5th overall in school history and only four behind Dallas Cowboys own, Sean Lee. He has the speed and athleticism to be a coverage safety, but he is much more comfortable making plays in front of him than he is when he has to play in reverse.
Dane Cruikshank, Arizona
Round Grade: 3rd-4th
Dane Cruikshank was a two-year starter at Arizona. The former Wildcat first started his career at cornerback before making the transition to a hybrid safety role last season. He looks most comfortable as a overhang safety where he can blitz, defend against the run, or cover tight ends and receivers in the slot.
Cruikshank projects to be a strong safety in the NFL and has starting potential. He will struggle early on in coverage, but with time to develop could improve in this area. With the Dallas Cowboys, he would likely end up being a player similar to Barry Church, but they may already have that type of player in Kavon Frazier.
Tracy Walker, Louisiana Lafayette
Round Grade: 3rd-4th
Tracy Walker was a four-year starter at Louisiana Lafayette and was primarily used as a boundary safety. He is a former basketball player and as the frame to match. He needs to put in the work in the weight room in order to fill out his frame, but has starting potential.
I believe he could become an interchangeable safety in the NFL with little time to develop. He has the athleticism to become a rangy free safety and has the physicality to play down around the line of scrimmage in the box. He could compete for playing time as a rookie, but he might not be ready for a full-time starting gig.
Tarvarius Moore, Southern Miss
Round Grade: 3rd-4th
Tarvarius Moore is a former junior college transfer and one-your starter at Southern Miss. He put up eye-popping numbers and his pro day and has the potential to become the best free safety in the entire 2018 draft class.
Moore has yet to play his best football and will only continue to get better the more coaching and playing time he receives. His on-field athleticism and range really stand out when watching his game film and he shows really good pursuit angles when chasing down the ball carrier. He also isn't afraid to mix it up in the running game.
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Round Grade: 4th
For many Dallas Cowboys fans, DeShon Elliott's name probably stands out the most on this entire list. The Cowboys have already met with him and worked him out, so you know there is an interest in him in some capacity.
Elliott is a bit of an enigma as a safety prospect. At times he looks like a top prospect, but then in the next instant looks completely lost. He has only average athleticism and play speed, but he has a knack for finding himself in the right place at the right time. He looks more comfortable around the line of scrimmage than he does in coverage. He will likely be a special teams standout as a rookie while he develops.
Any of these 10 safety prospects make sense for the Dallas Cowboys?
Cowboys Draft Target: Nebraska RB Devine Ozigbo
NAME: Devine Ozigbo
POSITION: Running Back
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
JERSEY: No. 22
RECRUITMENT RATING: 3-star
By the end of the season, Ozigbo had rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games. He became Nebraska's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ameer Abdullah in 2014. He also ended with an average of 6.98 yards per carry, which put him at fourth in the Big Ten among players with at least 100 carries.
Devine Ozigbo looks the part of a prototypical NFL running back. He has a well muscled/thick frame, with a strong lower half. He is a physical runner capable of playing in a power/gap or zone blocking scheme, but probably projects best as a zone runner. Has the skill set to be a three-down player, with starting potential. Low tread on the tires, only 419 career carries at Nebraska.
Ozigbo runs with good patients on film, "slow to, fast through", which gives his lineman time to secure their blocks. Runs with good power and leg drive, but also has nimble feet with the elite ankle flexion that allows him to make quick lateral cuts to evade defenders. Finisher in short yardage situations. Shows good vision. Waits for defenders to commit to their run fits before hitting the cutback lane. Has surprising burst and elusiveness for a RB his size.
Can be a threat in the passing game both out of the backfield and split out wide. Has shown the ability to run basic route stems when split out wide. Is a solid hands catcher and has shown he can catch passes thrown outside his frame. Quickly goes from receiver to runner and is surprisingly elusive in the open field. His size helps him in pass protection. He has a strong punch and long arms to keep defenders at bay, but also understands how to absorb contact.
One-year wonder? The lack of production at Nebraska might be the biggest concern about Devine Ozigbo as a running back prospect. He had to finally transform his body in 2018 to get on the field, but found success once that happened. Can he maintain that kind of discipline in the NFL? There are also concerns about his long speed.
As a runner, Ozigbo may be only a zone runner in the NFL. Might be scheme dependent. There are times on film where he struggles with his vision, especially when there are multiple offensive lineman pulling. Will also struggle with his reads at time. Better when his reads are clearly defined pre-snap. Takes time to hit top speed and it looks lackadaisical at times. Might take time to adjust to the speed of the game at the next level.
In the passing game he has struggled with passes thrown at a high velocity. Has double caught, bubbled, and dropped a number of high velocity passes. This could be an issue, because he doesn't have the softest hands to begin with. Needs to clean up his technique in pass protection. Will telegraph cut blocks, allowing defenders to easily avoid and pressure the quarterback. Could stand to become a better route runner to be more of a factor when split out wide as a receiver.
Devine Ozigbo is reportedly one of the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visitors, suggesting the former Cornhuskers running back is already on their radar. He would immediately become the RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott as a rookie and give the Cowboys a formidable one-two punch to wear down opposing defenses. He possesses an intriguing skill set, but isn't the change of pace/got back many have wanted to complement Zeke in the running game.
Ozigbo is a physical runner with a surprisingly nimble feet and flexibility for a RB his size. At Nebraska, he was at his best one running inside zone plays, which just so happens to be a staple in the Cowboys zone blocking scheme. He is also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and a solid pass protector. Overall, he has a three-down back and someone who could help lighten the load on Zeke's shoulders. He could be a steal for the Cowboys on Day 3, which is where he's projected to be drafted.
Cowboys Mock Draft: 2 Different Simulators, 2 Different Outcomes
The Dallas Cowboys have done an outstanding job of filling holes with some cost-effective free agents so far in free agency, which should allow them two approach the 2019 NFL Draft without any glaring "needs". This should free them up to take the best player available if they so choose, but they still have to keep the future in mind as well. After all, there are several players on a one-year deal or entering the last year of their contracts.
For this 7-round Dallas Cowboys mock draft exercise I decided to use the mock draft simulators for Draft Network and Fanspeak. I was curious to see the difference, if any, between the two. I have to say, even though I used two different draft simulators, I was pretty happy with the way things turned out.
Let's take a look…
|Rd 2 (58)||DE, Christian Miller||DE, Christian Miller|
|Rd 3 (90)||DT, Trysten Hill||S, Amani, Hooker|
|Rd 4 (128)||OT, Bobby Evans||TE, Kahale Warring|
|Rd 4 (136)||S, Marquise Blair||RB, Rodney Anderson|
|Rd 5 (165)||WR, Jalen Hurd||DT, Michael Dogbe|
|Rd 7 (241)||RB, James Williams||WR, Cody Thompson|
Even though I used two different draft simulators, you can clearly see the positions I was targeting for the Dallas Cowboys. I think each one of these players I selected can challenge for a starting job in 2019, but at the worst can be solid depth this year and then become starters in 2020.
Let's dive into this a little deeper so I can tell you why a selected each one of these players…
2nd-round (58th overall)
Christian Miller is the only player I drafted in both mock drafts for the Dallas Cowboys. He is one of my "pet cats" this year and someone who I believe fits the criteria the Cowboys look for in their defensive ends. I believe he could challenge to be a starter as a rookie, but at worst would be a really good rotational piece with starting potential down the road.
3rd-round (90th overall)
Trysten Hill is a penetrating DT who could challenge Maliek Collins to become the starting three-technique as a rookie, but at the very least be a really good rotational piece with starting potential.
Amani Hooker is someone who I believe could start next to Xavier Woods as a rookie, even after the Dallas Cowboys added George Iloka to the mix.
4th-round (128th overall)
Bobby Evans has the ability to play the left or right tackle position in the NFL and could immediately challenge La'el Collins at RT. At worst, he would be Collins' replacement in 2020.
Sitting behind Jason Witten and learning for a season would be ideal for Kahale Warring, because he does have the potential to become the Dallas Cowboys TE1 in 2020 despite his lack of college production.
4th-round (136th overall)
Marquise Blair is an underrated safety in the 2019 draft class and someone who would also pair nicely with Xavier Woods. He played mostly strong safety at Utah, but as the ability to be a factor in coverage as well.
Rodney Anderson would immediately step in and become Ezekiel Elliott's backup as a rookie. He is an upgrade over Rod Smith and has starting potential if he can stay healthy.
5th-round (165th overall)
Despite signing Randall Cobb, the Dallas Cowboys could use a slot receiver for the future. I personally really like Jalen Hurd as a "big slot". He gives the Cowboys some size at the WR position and a big target for Dak Prescott to throw to in the slot.
Michael Dogbe is another potential three-technique with starting potential for the Cowboys. He'd likely be a rotational player as a rookie, but could take over for Maliek Collins in 2020.
7th-round (254th overall)
James Williams would bring an intriguing skill set to the Dallas Cowboys as Zeke's backup running back. He is arguably the best receiving RB in the entire draft out of the backfield and when split out wide like a WR.
Cody Thompson reminds me of LA Rams WR Cooper Kupp and would play a similar role with the Cowboys. He needs to fine-tune his route running, but I think he can become their future slot receiver.
Cowboys Draft: Evaluating the Need for a Tight End
Tight end has become a very intriguing position in Dallas. For the first time in 15 years, the Cowboys went through a season without Jason Witten lining up with the offense in 2018. Instead, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz took over and didn't contribute much to a struggling offense. They both had a few flashes here and there, but TE production wasn't really special for the Cowboys last season. Now, Witten is back from retirement and he'll work with the younger guys to upgrade the offense.
However, tight end still feels like a team need at this point. Jason Witten will be 37 years old when the season begins. His speed was a problem during the last years of his career and that problem will likely show on the field now that he's back. The Cowboys made a good decision bringing him back, but he's clearly not a long-term answer.
It seems like Witten will get the starts, but don't expect Blake Jarwin to have no say on who's the most important TE on the team. Jarwin didn't have the best stats in 2018 but, how could he? There were only three games last season in which he was targeted more than three times. In those games, he had 229 yards, including a three touchdown performance versus the New York Giants (when he was targeted eight times).
With Kellen Moore taking over as the offensive coordinator, tight ends might be more involved on the Cowboys offense than in previous years. If that's the case, the Cowboys will have Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz on the roster. All three of these guys will be able to contribute. Schultz is the one who's still unproven, but he did a decent job as a rookie both as a blocker and as a receiver on the rare occasions a ball was thrown his way.
We talk about drafting a tight end for the future when the Cowboys might see their future in Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. These two along with Jason Witten are virtual locks to make the roster. The Cowboys would need to carry four tight ends for it to make sense to draft one in the first place.
Fortunately, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position of need this offseason, giving them flexibility to take a "best player available" in April. I truly won't be surprised if the front office doesn't prioritize the need for a young TE. If they do, let's hope they get a very good one.
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