Should sixth round selection and current rookie safety Xavier Woods replace starter Jeff Heath in the Dallas Cowboys secondary?
Following an offseason in which they lost several starting players on the defensive side of the ball to free agency, the Dallas Cowboys used the 2017 NFL Draft to restock themselves with young, hungry defenders.
The Cowboys used their top three selections in this year’s draft to pick Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton (first round, 28th overall), Colorado defensive back Chidobe Awuzie (second round, 60th overall) and Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis (third round, 92 overall).
With their fourth round selection, 133rd overall, Dallas considered drafting Louisiana Tech safety Xavier Woods. Instead, they opted to pick up wide receiver/punt returner Ryan Switzer out of North Carolina. Since they did not possess a fifth round pick due to a previous trade for quarterback Matt Cassel, the Cowboys all but figured Woods was lost.
Imagine the team’s surprise when Woods was still available in the sixth round! Fearing the talented safety would not reach them late into the round, Dallas opted to trade a future fifth round pick to the New York Jets in order to grab him 191st overall.
The 22-year old would go on to have a breakout game in Week Two of the preseason for the Cowboys, leading the team with seven total tackles in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams. But with both Byron Jones and Jeff Heath cemented as starters ahead of him, Woods has had limited opportunities to shine through the first four games of his rookie season.
In Week One, Woods played just 13 snaps. All of which were on special teams. That number jumped way up in Week Two to 34 defensive snaps, 43 in Week Three and just 16 against the Rams over the weekend. Woods has recorded five total tackles and one pass defend in his last two games.
One Cowboys insider believes the rookie will actually overtake Heath as the starter in Dallas very soon.
"“When you talk about Jeff Heath, that’s a four-year player they thought was ready to start and it’s pretty clear he’s not,” Ticket SportsRadio host Bob Sturm explained on SportsDayDFW’s “Ballzy” podcast. “I expect Xavier Woods to take his job very, very quickly.”"
Heath was the Cowboys special teams ace prior to being promoted to the starting safety role after the exodus of longtime veteran Barry Church via free agency this offseason. The fifth year veteran played well in the Cowboys lone playoff game last season, recording three tackles, a sack and two interceptions (one called back) against All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
But Heath’s playoff success has not translated to the regular season. He’s recorded a total of 20 tackles and one pass defend despite playing over 93% of the Cowboys defensive snaps so far this year.
Jeff Heath certainly earned the chance to become the starting safety for the Dallas Cowboys. But poor tackling, inconsistent play and having no impact in causing takeaways will likely land him back in his special teams role soon. If so, sixth round rookie Xavier Woods seems primed to be his replacement.