Mike Zimmer could rejuvenate prominent Cowboys defender who struggled in 2023

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys
Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

After worries that the Dallas Cowboys fumbled another contract negotiation they reached an agreement with Mike Zimmer to become their new defensive coordinator on Monday. Reports indicated the only reason contract talks got delayed is because the Jones family was in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl.

In a vacuum, the Zimmer hire is extremely exciting. Not only has he historically boasted strong run defenses, but he's scheme-versatile depending on the opponent and demands accountability. That isn't to say Dan Quinn didn't hold players accountable, but Zimmer isn't a "players coach."

With that in mind, it stands to reason Zimmer's arrival could spell bad news for certain members of the defense. Conversely, though, he puts players in the best position to succeed. Multiple players figure to benefit from Zimmer's arrival, but safety Donovan Wilson could maybe be the biggest beneficiary.

Vikings safety Harrison Smith morphed into a star under Zimmer's watch. Zimmer deployed Smith in a variety of roles, including as a blitzer. Per William Steele of AtoZ Sports Dallas, Smith blitzed 135 times between 2018-21.

For whatever reason, Quinn didn't blitz Wilson nearly as much this season as he did in 2023. That should change under Zimmer.

Mike Zimmer could rejuvenate Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson after a down 2023.

Zimmer likely won't run the three-safety look that became a staple under Quinn, but Jayron Kearse is a free agent. Wilson and Malik Hooker will get most of the snaps, but Markquese Bell and Juanyeh Thomas are too good in coverage (which isn't Wilson's strong suit) to not have a regular role.

Steele makes a great point about Wilson. For whatever reason, Quinn didn't put the hard-hitting safety in positions that accentuate his unique skillset. Everyone would agree that Wilson is at his best near the line of scrimmage, right?

In 2022, Wilson's breakout year, his five sacks and four quarterback hits were tops amongst safeties, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His 13 pressures were second-most at the position and his 87.1 pass-rush grade was the fourth-highest mark among safeties who logged at least 30 pass-rush snaps.

This season was a different story. Wilson mustered just six pressures, zero sacks (!), and one quarterback hit in 15 games. That's a byproduct of his reduced usage as a blitzer. He even finished with 14 fewer defensive stops relative to 2022 and posted a 73.7 pass-rush grade.

Wilson was still effective this year, but his propensity to make splash plays in 2022 made him an invaluable chess piece on the defense. Not only did the splash plays disappear this year aside from the occasional interception, but he was more of a liability because he wasn't used properly.

Look for 2022 Wilson to make a return next season under Zimmer.

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