Oct 6, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys strong safety J.J. Wilcox (27) during the game at AT&T Stadium. The Denver Broncos beat the Dallas Cowboys 51-48. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys Are Relying Too Heavily On Safety J.J. Wilcox

Imagine being an offensive weapon for a majority of your college career. Averaging seven yards per carry and recording nearly 1,000 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns for your first three seasons. Throw in 45 receptions and nearly another thousand yards receiving and four more scores as slot receiver. That’s a fairly decent start towards a good career on offense.

Then, in your senior year, you are switched to the defensive side of the ball as a strong safety. You play well enough to make the Senior Bowl and get drafted in the third round by the Dallas Cowboys. And after an impressive offseason, you fail to meet lofty expectations in the regular season as a starter. This has been the career, so far, for Cowboys second-year safety J.J. Wilcox. And for the second year in a row, Dallas is doing Wilcox no favors by placing way too much pressure on the 23-year old.

First, let’s consider that entering the 2014 offseason, the safety position was considered by many to be the Cowboys biggest area of need. The exodus of defensive end DeMarcus Ware and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher adjusted the Cowboys focus as the offseason rolled on. Still, the safety position was a major concern. And it’s one that Dallas still refuses to address. It appears no matter what, the team is all-in on Wilcox.

The Cowboys could have found veteran safety help in free agency. They still can with the recent release of troubled New York Giants safety Will Hill. But it appears the team will stand pat.  The Cowboys could have drafted a safety high in the first round in last month’s NFL Draft, with players like Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s HaHa Clinton-Dix available with their top pick (16th overall). But Dallas opted to draft a offensive guard instead. In fact, the Cowboys didn’t address their safety position until their third pick in the seventh round! (Ahmad Dixon, Baylor)

No, the Cowboys are stubbornly standing behind Wilcox. And whether the young man can step up in his second year or not is not the point. The point is, by taking little to no action to improve their roster at the safety position, they are doing themselves and Wilcox a major disservice.

The Cowboys inaction this offseason clearly puts undo pressure on Wilcox, a prospect who has spent a total of two seasons playing on the defensive side of the ball. Secondly, there isn’t a fall back plan currently on the roster if this experiment fails. Or really even if a starting safety succumbs to the injury. Behind projected starters Barry Church and Wilcox are Jeff Heath, Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton and the rookie Dixon. They have also signed two undrafted rookie free agents in San Jose State safety Keith Smith and Auburn safety Ryan Smith. But I wouldn’t expect either to make it past final cuts.

Heath, an undrafted free agent himself out of Saginaw Valley State University last season, was forced into starting duty prematurely in 2013 due to injuries. Although he showed flashes of potential, Heath was and still is very green. The truth is he had no business being a starter in the NFL last season.

Johnson’s tale is well known amongst Cowboys fans. After being a fourth round pick by Dallas in 2012 out of Eastern Washington, Johnson has yet to see action in the regular season due to various injuries. Many consider this season to be his final chance to make the squad. And things haven’t started out well this offseason as Johnson has recently been sidelined with yet another hamstring injury.

Hamilton has been making a bit of splash this offseason. And a lot of experts and fans alike were fond of him coming out of South Carolina State last year as an undrafted free agent. But the young man failed to make a positive impact in 2013, playing in just three regular season games last year. Hamilton is a definitely someone to watch going into training camp in late July, but still seems far from NFL starting material.

And Dixon…well, he’s a rookie. The safety out of Baylor was seen as more of a special teams player going into the draft. He’ll have the opportunity to showcase his skills in training camp, but he’s more of a Barry Church-clone than the ball hawking, playmaking cover safety the Cowboys desperately need right now.

No, the Cowboys have earmarked Wilcox for that role. And by their inaction, Dallas has placed a huge amount of expectation and pressure on that young man’s shoulders. And by not making the safety position a priority in 2014, Dallas is taking a big risk with their defensive secondary as a whole. And there is no safety net.

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Tags: Dallas Cowboys J.J. Wilcox Safety

  • Old Frog

    I have more faith in Wilcox from the 3rd round to meet expectations than Claiborne in the first.

    • David

      You are one of a very few.

      • Old Frog

        At least Wilcox has the right attitiude. Claiborne still has to prove to me he’s not weak minded and weak willed. It would be one thing if he’d been taken in the 3rd round as well but at number 6 he needs to play better and more often. We should have “reached” for DeCastro and kept the 2nd round pick.

        • David

          I love the right attitude guys as well but not at the cost of legit talent. I hope Wilcox makes the jump to the next level but I am not overly confident in that fact. Its not like the Safety position has on been a problem for a couple or few years. Its been over a decade..

          • Russ

            Right on, David. The author’s point that JJ simply refuses to address this woeful hole in the defense is stupefying. Wilcox “might” be decent, but hasn’t shown anything yet. Heath is literally the worst safety I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve been an NFL fan for 55 years. If we’re honest with ourselves, even Church is nothing more than a journeyman, who couldn’t cover my mama. Draft a safety you morons!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          • David

            I could not agree with you more bro. I mean even if Wilcox turns into something legit they still have crap for depth. Most fans remember when Dallas had a bad O-line and really it was not good for years with a few exceptions on there. The line was filled with FA’s and mid round draft picks. The back ups were project type players with some being from smaller schools. Well they finally changed that philosophy and started drafting O-lineman from legit powerhouse schools.. They now can have one of the best O-lines in the league. They need to have that philosophy with the safeties now.

  • Raymond Tippett

    what do we have to lose with what we got? were younger and heath Hamilton and Wilcox got a year under there belt.none of us know how there going to do this year were not in camp yet. im giving the coaches the benefit here they know what they have better then we do. so to say were putting to much on the shoulders of Wilcox well that is just plain stupid. this the nfl not college there should be more pressure on him. look, all im saying is if the coaches feel we got something here then we should feel the same way. lets wait and see whatwe really got before we start judging

  • David

    The issue I have is not just in Wilcox but in the entire safety group as a whole. The group is made up entirely of UDFA’s or mid round picks like Wilcox and Johnson. That is problem number one but then it gets compunded by the fact that all lof them are from smaller schools.
    Barry Church- UDFA from Toledo
    JJ Wilcox- 3rd round from GA Southern
    Jakar Hamilton- UDFA from South Carolina State
    Jeff Heath- UDFA from Saginaw Valley State
    Matt Johnson_ 4th round from Eastern Washington University
    Im sorry but if you look at any of the top defensive teams you will not see so many UDFA’s and small school players. Especially not as the starters. Now as Cowboys fans we have to hope they play better but lets face it they were not drafted for a reason. Or they were not drafted in the first two rounds for a reason..

    • Old Frog

      Wow looking at that list if I believed in conspiracies I’d say Jerry has intentionally set the defense up to allow teams to score lots of points through the air because that makes for exciting TV.

      • David

        Conspiracy or Incompetence??

  • aprado

    South Carolina’s Calvin Pryor???? I’m guessing the Louisville Pryor must have a brother or relative with the same name. Lol

    • LandryHat

      Thanks for the catch. This isn’t the first time I’ve got that confused. I got that stuck in my brain for some reason.

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/What-would-Joe-Say Wasnt Mee

    I have less faith in secondary coaches being able to coach a guy up than the player. They can’t teach how to make a play on the ball. Doesn’t matter how good a coach was; being the worst pass/ defense in history nearly should result in being terminated. We don’t have anyone who actually made plays on the ball or find it in the air. First one who can find the ball in the air wins the job unless it’s Johnson bless his injury prone heart.

  • IBleedBlue

    You could write the same article for nearly every single player on this defense, save one or two. And a defensive backfield is only going to be as good as it’s line up front. You remember that guy we paid what some of you seem to think was a ba-jillion dollars to a couple of years ago, Brandon Carr? Yeah, he was awful last year too.

    I’ve watched J.J. Wilcox play since he was in high school in Cairo, Ga. The kid is a pure athlete. I mean “pure” in well, the purest sense. He comes from good family and a good upbringing. In case you haven’t been paying attention, that is EXACTLY what Coach Garrett is stocking his roster with from top to bottom, offense and defense.

    Wilcox will be fine. Remember, he lost his mama last year and still came back and contributed as much as anyone else did on that historically awful defense. And he probably knows the difference between “their” and “there” (6th paragraph, dude. You’re on the EDITORIAL staff for crying out loud).

    Articles like these serve no purpose, imo. The entire defense has nowhere to go but up or re-invent how the NFL defines “worst”. Let us all hope it is the former we see once the season begins and not the latter. One thing I’m sure of though, if it is the latter, the last person I would foresee being blamed is Wilcox.