Dallas Cowboys Draft Needs Analysis: Safety



My previous analysis was on the defensive line HERE. Now I want to look at another area of the defense that needs to get better next season. The safety position.

Last season the Cowboys were weak at coming up with interceptions as they only had 7 which was tied for last with the lowly Chiefs. That number matches a franchise low that has occurred in 1997 and 1989. That must be improved next season and a ball hawking safety could do the trick.

The Cowboys struggled with injuries at the safety position losing Barry Church early in the season. Church appeared ready for a breakout season before suffering a torn Achilles in the third game of the season against the Bucs. Next season, a healthy Barry Church should serve as a very dependable strong safety.

Gerald Sensabaugh played the free safety position and had 0 INTs last season. It was the first season since when he was a rookie in 2005, that he has played a full season with no INTs. The Cowboys would be wise to look for a free safety for the future. I get the impression Sensabaugh doesn’t have a lot of tire tread left.

With the injuries, Danny McCray was forced to play safety and his performance was poor. PFF pointed out that McCray allowed 22 first downs and TDs when the ball was thrown his way. That was the worst among safeties in the NFL. However he did come up with one of their 7 INTs. McCray is a free agent this year and it is expected that Dallas will probably bring him back for his special team play. But they still will need more depth at safety.

Last year, Dallas drafted safety Matt Johnson but the rookie injured a hamstring in preseason and was not able to contribute. Matt played at Eastern Washington so it is not yet known how he will handle the adjustment from sub division football to the NFL. In video at Eastern, he appeared very physical and didn’t hesitate to blow up WRs that came in his area looking to make a catch. May be more of a strong safety than free safety but perhaps can play both. How much Matt can help remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the Dallas coaches see something in him they like.

The Cowboys are going to the 4-3 Tampa 2 defense under Kiffin which safeties play a major role. Safeties will be asked to blitz and need to cover deep too. Also the Tampa 2 is designed to force turnovers. At USC, Kiffin’s defense was effective at getting interceptions ranking high in that category. I think Dallas will be looking for a ball hawking free safety to help in the Tampa 2 next season.

A look at safeties available in the draft.

1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: Kenny is the top ranked safety in the draft and is expected to be drafted between 10 and 15 of the 1st round. That’s a little earlier than Dallas picks at 18, but it’s possible that he could fall to them and if he does, I don’t see how Dallas can pass him up.

Vaccaro is capable of playing both safety positions in the NFL. Outstanding speed with a 4.49/40. Vaccaro is all over the field coming up with sacks, interceptions, and he lead his team in tackles too. He also was a big contributor on special teams. An able in the box safety and good in pass coverage as well.

My Take: Vaccaro is clearly the best safety in the draft and Dallas should cross their fingers that he falls down to them.

2. Eric Reid, LSU: Reid is ranked as a 2nd round pick and in 2011, Reid played along with current Cowboys CB, and last year’s top pick Morris Claiborne.

Reid is very active and moves all over the field. I like the way he keeps things in front of him like a safety should but I have concerns too. His tackling leaves a lot to be desired as he often fails to wrap his arms around the receiver. I observed him spying the QB and when the QB ran, Reid missed the tackle. And the QB was no RG3 either. Also I saw pass cover skills that looked inconsistent to me. Reid is slow to back pedal when asked to cover.

My Take: A good prospect but based on my observations, I wouldn’t feel good about giving him 2nd round status. Reminds me of current Cowboy safety McCray who came from LSU. Should be more like a 4th round pick.

3. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia: Rambo definitely is a ball hawk safety with 16 career interceptions. Watching video of Rambo, he doesn’t mind coming up in run support and can be a big hitter too. Rambo reads the QB well and is the type that will make plays creating turnovers but occasionally he will guess wrong, and get burned. I like the way he breaks on the ball in pass coverage.

Rambo fits the part for a Tampa 2 defense however the Cowboys will need to be aware that he comes with off field issues. Which means, he will fit right in with the Cowboys. But seriously, he served a four game suspension for violation of Georgia’s drug policy.

My Take: He is expected to be drafted in the 3rd round. I think he represents value in the third round if he can get the issues straightened out.

4. T.J. McDonald, USC: McDonald played for Monte Kiffin at USC who is the new defensive coordinator at Dallas. That experience in the Tampa 2 defense must be viewed as an asset. On video, McDonald was moved around a lot and was asked to blitz frequently. His blitzing and run support were solid however his pass covering skills need developing. In the senior bowl, McDonald was beat for a TD when covering a TE. That’s just one game, but most experts agree that he will need to get better at pass coverage.

My Take: McDonald should come off the board in the 3rd or 4th round. I like the fact that he is familiar with the Cowboys new defense, has ideal size for safety at 6-2, 211, and he is also a good special teams contributor. However I’m not convinced that he will be able to help right away in pass coverage.

5. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina: Swearinger moved from strong safety to free safety in 2011 and played well. He is a little small for the position at 5′ 11, but he brings a big hit on RBs and WRs that have the misfortune of coming his way. He is known for delivering a big hit. VIDEO of one he put on Clemson’s Ellington.

My Take: Aggressive but can get flagged with some of the hits. But I like the physical, nasty attitude he can bring to a defense. As a 4th round prospect, I think he is a pick to consider at safety.

Conclusion: To have success in the 4-3 Tampa 2, the Cowboys will need help at safety. If Vaccaro should fall to them, they can’t afford to pass on the best safety in the draft. If they can’t get Vaccaro, then I like the play of Rambo but his off field issues will need to be looked into a little closer before investing a pick in him. In the middle rounds, McDonald presents good value but will need to develop pass coverage skills. Swearinger is under rated and an intriguing pick that may prove to be a sleeper pick in the draft.


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