Did the Cowboys unearth another sixth-round safety gem?

Israel Mukuamu #24 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Israel Mukuamu #24 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

For years, the Dallas Cowboys have faced criticism for their lack of investment when it comes to their safety position. But they’ve also had success finding day three gems in the draft.

Since 2014, the Cowboys haven’t drafted a pure safety higher than the sixth-round. Yet the three safeties they’ve landed in that round, Kavon Frazier (2016), Xavier Woods (2017), and Donovan Wilson (2019), have all turned into solid contributors for the defense.

Of the three, Woods was the biggest find having started 48 games during his run in Dallas. That includes starting in all but four regular-season contests over the past three years. Woods signed a one-year deal to join the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent this offseason.

To fill the void left by Woods, new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn brought in one of his own. The Cowboys inked former Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee to his own one-year deal recently. Kazee co-led the NFL with seven interceptions in 2018.

Wilson and Kazee figure to be penciled in as starters for Dallas in Week One, although the latter is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury. Yet their presence wasn’t expected to inhibit the Cowboys from drafting a safety high in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Yet, once again, the Cowboys choose to ignore this positional need despite ending the annual selection event with a whopping 11 draft picks. Instead, they decided to shift their sixth-round selection, South Carolina defensive back Israel Mukuamu, from corner to safety.

According to DallasCowboys.com, here’s what Mukuamu was told a couple of hours after he was drafted on a phone call with the team’s new defensive coordinator himself …

"“[Quinn] said he’s going to start me at safety. And we’ll just go from there. I’m just excited to be here. I’m ready to go work. Safety, cornerback, special teams, I’m just trying to get on the field … Wherever they put me on the field, I’m ready to compete and do what I’m asked.”"

At 6-foot-4, 212-pounds, Mukuamu certainly has the frame to become an NFL safety. As a sophomore at South Carolina in 2019, he recorded 59 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, nine pass deflections, four interceptions, and a defensive touchdown in 12 games. Last year, he posted 10 tackles and two picks in six games while struggling with a groin injury.

In an upset win over the No. 3 ranked Georgia Bulldogs back in 2019, Mukuamu intercepted quarterback Jake Fromm three times, including one for a pick-six, to help seal the 20-17 victory for the Gamecocks. That performance put him on the national radar.

NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein calls Mukuamu a human skyscraper due to his 34-inch arm length, which should aid his ability to shut down passing lanes and knock down deep balls. But Zierlien also questioned his football instincts and believes Mukuamu must be a more aggressive tackler against the run, especially if he’s shifting over to safety.

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The Dallas Cowboys have had recent success finding safeties in the sixth round, although the lack of overall talent at the position is a real concern. And South Carolina’s Israel Mukuamu is just the latest candidate the Cowboys will try to push to perform beyond his draft status.