This is precisely why safety prospects like Hasean Clinton Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville, both underclassmen, make little, if any, sense for Dallas in Round 1.
In recent years, safeties have come and gone for the Cowboys. Consider the following names, which only date back to 2010: Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball, Ken Hamlin, Michael Hamlin, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Danny McCray, Abram Elam, Barry Church, Matt Johnson, Mana Silva, Will Allen, Jakar Hamilton and Jeff Heath.
Now, that’s a lot of safeties to have come in and out of Valley Ranch in about four years. After all of those guys, only Church seems to have locked down a starting job for the future, and rightly so.
Is this just remarkably bad luck for the Cowboys—or is there a greater problem that lingers year after year?
Dallas must first decide how to force more third-and-long situations. This process begins with stopping the opposing rushing attack, not generally the responsibility of a safety. Further, Church fits the mold of a strong safety who’s already on the roster as a capable run-stuffing secondary defender. The four-year veteran led the team in tackles last season with an incredible 135.
Assuming that there’s no change in Church’s job description or position, and I can’t imagine why there would be, the Cowboys need to be looking for more of a coverage safety—or do they?
Let’s shift to the offense right quick: The Cowboys spent a sixth-round selection on tight end James Hanna in the 2012 NFL Draft. But instead of addressing much more important issues as early as the second round of the ’13 player selection meeting, there was Dallas spending a premium draft choice on another tight end, Gavin Escobar. The former San Diego State pass-catcher ended up amounting to a third-string player at his position.
Back to the defense: Dallas spent a third-round pick on free safety J.J. Wilcox last April. Like Escobar, Wilcox wasn’t exactly seen as an opening day starter primarily due to his level of competition in college. A lack of experience at his respective position was also an issue for Wilcox. Still, the rookie inspired the Dallas coaching staff to release Allen in favor of a younger, more athletic prospect early on last season.
So, now what?
Well, Wilcox needs to be on the field as much as possible heading into his second season as a pro. Drafting yet another guy at his position not only stunts his growth—remember he’s a Round 3 acquisition—but would also cost the Cowboys another player at a position of much greater importance, like defensive tackle, defensive end or offensive guard. Even offensive tackle outranks safety as a potential position of need given the fact that right tackle Doug Free enters a contract year as we speak. I expect Free to be next season’s version of veteran defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, a veteran who’s play has improved when it counts but also a guy that Dallas likely won’t be able to afford moving forward.
A safety in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft in May?
No way—there’s simply too many other glaring holes for the Cowboys to try to fill and not very many chances or them to do that. Dallas needs to find out if either Wilcox, Johnson or Heath can be the answer before investing in yet another safety that might not even be good enough to surpass the players that the Cowboys already have at the position. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones must stop drafting depth players during the first couple of rounds of these selection gatherings, especially when there is never any cash for free agent spending.
If Dallas wants to fix its defense, the trenches are where that project has to begin. The good news for the Cowboys is that the coming draft is very well stocked with candidates to fill numerous voids for a defensive front seven that needs an infusion of youth and talent.