First it was Tony Romo back in 2003. Next it was Miles Austin in 2006. Then Dan Bailey and Barry Church in 2010, and last year it was Ronald Leary, Cole Beasley and Lance Dunbar. Every year the Dallas Cowboys find a few undrafted players that make the squad against long odds and produce. Could safety Jeff Heath be the next diamond in the rough that the Dallas Cowboys have unearthed? They might be on their way.
An undrafted player out of Saginaw Valley State University, Jeff Heath wasn’t anywhere near the draft radar for many experts and analysts. CBS Sports NFL Draft Expert Dane Brugler had Jeff Heath ranked as the 56th safety in the draft class. And that’s not a knock against Brugler, but more of an indictment of just how under-the-radar Jeff Heath was coming out of SVSU. Heath was signed by the Cowboys after the draft as a prospect who if he performed well in practice and in the games, could possibly find his way onto to the practice squad. And again, Heath shattered expectations.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jeff Heath graded out as the team’s best safety per snap, albeit against second and third teamers. Heath finished the preseason with 16 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and one forced fumble while playing a total of 204 snaps. Jeff Heath demonstrated this preseason that he can be a valuable safety in the run game, with his best performances coming against the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals.
Athletically, Jeff Heath compares very favorably to his competition currently on the roster.
One thing to keep in mind with this graphic is that Will Allen was a rookie in 2004. He most likely has lost a step or two since then and probably doesn’t play to his 4.44 speed anymore. Heath has phenomenal lower body explosion for a man of his size. The 37″ vertical and the 10’06” broad jump are evidence of that. Physically, Jeff Heath and third round pick J.J. Wilcox are similar players and Wilcox was widely considered one of the most athletic safeties in the 2013 draft class. This just goes to show how impressive of an athlete Jeff Heath is.
When comparing players, I like to use measurables to see what kind of athlete a player is. And obviously, there is much more to being an NFL safety than just a bunch of numbers. But sometimes numbers can help you find players like Jeff Heath. Heath ran an unofficial 4.40 at the school for a local scout and was then immediately on the radar for most teams. Not too often do you find a player who is 6-1, 210 lbs and can run a 4.40. Without even seeing film of his games, teams put him on their draft lists just because of his impressive measurables.
But there is a lot more to Heath’s game than just sheer measurables. I believe he has some play-making ability in him. During the team’s fourth preseason game, Heath made a spectacular hit on wide receiver Cobi Hamilton on a reverse. Hamilton picked up the first down, but Heath jarred the ball loose and Dallas recovered the fumble. This hit probably went a long way towards sealing his spot on the Cowboys final 53 man roster.
Jeff Heath will have to make his money on special teams in 2013. But if he gets called into action at safety during the year, don’t be surprised if we see more plays from Heath like we did against the Bengals in the preseason. Heath has the tools to become a serviceable NFL safety and with a little bit of luck, Dallas may have found their next great undrafted free agent.