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Cowboys Draft Blog #5 Safety

April 22, 2013

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Going into the offseason the safety position was one of the obvious need positions for the Cowboys. Since the offseason began though it’s actually become even more pressing as the Cowboys cut starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh, an above average safety that was not the problem, and signed Will Allen a veteran safety that would best be used as a #3 safety for a team where he can play limited snaps in reserve of both of the starters. At this point the top 3 safeties on the depth chart are Barry Church (recovering from an ACL injury), Will Allen (signed more for depth than as a starter), and Danny McCray (played horribly in 2012 and although young he does not appear to be deserving of a roster spot in my opinion). That is a horrible set of options for a new defensive coaching staff to have which makes me almost 100% sure that the safety position will be addressed early and often in the upcoming draft.

Players possibly available for the Cowboys at pick #18

Kenny Vaccaro

Positives: Widely regarded as the #1 safety in this draft class Kenny is an aggressive player that produces big hits and has good agility for his size. He played in the slot at times, impressive for a SS, and some think he has very good cover skills.

Negatives: I hate Vaccaro. Let’s get that out of the way right now. Whether it’s his penchant for biting on play action fakes, his undisciplined behavior on the field (he’s good for a personal foul call every few games or so), his undisciplined behavior off the field (his entire body is covered in tats, been involved in fights over the years), or his poor deep speed I just don’t care for the kid and was shocked when he slowly moved up draft boards last season. Going into the year he was a 2nd rounder which wasn’t that far off my grade of late 3rd round yet while Eric Reid and Matt Elam slowly fell he continued to rise with no real reason for it. He didn’t play at the Senior Bowl, he struggled in position drills at the Combine, and he ran a poor 40 (4.63) so it still boggles my mind a bit that he’s the consensus #1 safety. He’s the #11 safety on my board so obviously I disagree with those that think he’s #1 and deserving of the #18 pick

Fit for the Cowboys: As much as I dislike him it would be somewhat of a surprise at this point if he even was available at #18 for the Cowboys as rumor has it the Rams are VERY interested in him at #16. Hopefully Tavon Austin goes early in this draft as if he drops to the Rams they likely will take Austin over Vaccaro otherwise Kenny seems locked, loaded, and ready to go to the Rams at that spot. I think Vaccaro is a liability in pass coverage and is exactly the undisciplined and one dimensional safety the Cowboys don’t need so I hope he doesn’t “fall” to them. One positive is that if he’s to succeed in any scheme his best fit would be playing “quarters” coverage which is prevalent in the Tampa 2 scheme. I again want to point out how much I hope this doesn’t happen yet sadly I think the odds of Vaccaro in a Cowboys uniform are pretty good if he isn’t snapped up by the Rams.

Matt Elam

Positives: While Vaccaro is the consensus #1 safety in this draft class (#11 on my board) Elam is the consensus #2 safety (#2 on my board). A big hitter as well, Elam shows off superior range and has better hands and instincts than Vaccaro. He’s an outstanding tackler and is built more like a RB than a safety in that he’s just a compact ball of muscles that will be great against the run.

Negatives: At 5’10 he’s a shorter safety and while he has better instincts and hands than Vaccaro he’s hardly the ballhawk many have made him out to be. He’s an in the box safety that is above average against the pass so he won’t be exploited per se but his strength is also against the run which in today’s NFL isn’t a good thing. Also good luck putting Elam on any of the top TEs in the NFL as most will be 7-9 inches taller than him.

Fit for the Cowboys: I have a late 1st round grade on him so he fits better than Vaccaro (late 3rd round) but still seems to be a bit of a reach at #18. In my opinion this is the greatest safety class I’ve ever graded but it’s not due to an Eric Berry type at the top of the draft but because I have 12 safeties with late 1st-late 3rd round grades and as such I would love to see the Cowboys move back in the 1st round to get an Elam type. As a player he fits well though as he’s the consistent tackler they need in their secondary and isn’t a liability against the pass. I still would prefer a ballhawk type like Baccari Rambo back there but Elam is the next best thing.

Eric Reid

Positives: A strong, aggressive safety that is also a big hitting, run stopping machine. He has elite explosiveness (40 ½ vertical, 11’2 broad) and is one of the best safeties to come out in years when making a play in front of him.

Negatives: He’s another SS type that isn’t great against the pass (notice a trend here folks?). When the play is in front of him he’s an All Pro type player but when the play is behind him or to his side he struggles as he’s tightly built and not that agile. At 6’1 ¼ he has good height but due to his poor quickness and hips he won’t be great in man to man coverage. He played a lot of zone and CF at LSU but was helped out by always having All American cornerbacks (Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne) on the field with him. I think that talent covered up some of the weaknesses in his game.

Fit for the Cowboys: Reid is the #4 S on my board and has an early 2nd round grade so he only fits if the Cowboys trade back but I actually think his style is perfectly suited for the Tampa 2 scheme. In that scheme they play quarters coverage where he would only have a portion of the field to cover and where most plays would be in front of him. That is ideal for him as the more man to man coverage you ask of him and the more you demand he make plays on a ball over his head the worse he will be. In the right scheme Reid could be a Pro Bowler but at worst he’ll be a physical presence, a leader, and a consistent tackler that is exploited occasionally in pass coverage.

Players possibly available for the Cowboys at pick #47

Shamarko Thomas

Positives: Of all the safeties I graded this year Shamarko was probably the most enjoyable to watch as his game tape is flat out spectacular. He’s a whirling dervish out there and is one part Bob Sanders and another part Troy Polamalu the way he throws his 213 lbs around. He has Top 10 athleticism as he ran a 4.37 40 (tied with Dee Milliner for the 2nd best 40 of any of the 60 DBs at the Combine) to go along with 28 reps on the bench and a 40 ½ vertical. The kid is pure muscle and was one of the most intimidating players in college football last season. He’s the #3 safety on my board.

Negatives: He’s another SS type that isn’t great in coverage. Shamarko is a little different though as with his pure speed he could develop into a very good coverage safety but currently lacks the instincts or experience in that regard. While I think he could develop into a good defender in pass coverage he’ll never be a ballhawk as in 4 years as a starter he only had 2 INTs and 5 PBU. Those are atrocious numbers so a team will have to weigh his Top 10 athleticism against his late round productivity (as a pass defender that is, as a run stopper he was very productive). At 5’8 7/8 he’s undersized and could be injury prone (Bob Sanders comparison again) as well as his height negates any chance of him being used to cover elite tight ends though he actually has the speed and agility to cover slot receivers which is arguably more valuable.

Fit for the Cowboys: Other than drafting Bacarri Rambo in the 3rd round (see below) I think the best scenario of the Cowboys addressing the safety position is by drafting Thomas in the 2nd round. Thomas has Pro Bowler written all over him and if he had a little more experience in coverage or was a few inches taller I’d have a mid 1st round grade on him. I love Shamarko and gave him an early 2nd round grade so if he’s still available at #47 I think it’d be a spectacular pick.

Jonathan Cyprien

Positives: Another hard hitting SS that is outstanding at stopping the run. Cyprien, other than maybe Shamarko Thomas, has the best agility and hips of any of the SS prospects in this draft and actually projects as an above average cover safety. He’s an enthusiastic young kid and will be the leader of a secondary. With his agility and hips I think he could be used in one on one coverage against tight ends and at 6’0 217 he has good (not great but good) size to battle with them.

Negatives: While he has very good agility and the hips to possibly play some man coverage there is very little tape of him actually doing this. At Florida International they used him mostly as a 4th LB and it shows from the stats as in 4 straight seasons he had 78 tackles or more while in only 1 season did he have more than 1 INT. He played in a lower level of competition so he might need a little bit more time than other prospects before becoming a starter.

Fit for the Cowboys: Currently most analysts have him as their #3 safety in this class only behind Vaccaro and Elam. On my board he’s the #5 safety but still gets an early 2nd round grade from me so I’m a pretty big fan of his and think he’d make sense at #47. He’d give a defensive coordinator a lot of flexibility as few strong safeties are as agile as he is and I don’t think it’s a stretch to see him play man to man coverage on a regular basis. The Tampa 2 scheme doesn’t ask their safeties to do this regularly though (it’s more zone concepts) so his biggest attribute might not be used to it’s full potential but I’m sure Monte Kiffin would employ more man to man principles if given the personnel. I like Cyprien’s versatility, toughness, burst, and ball skills so taking him at #47 would be a great pick.

Other intriguing players later in the draft

Baccari Rambo-Every year there are a few players that I am ecstatic about that the rest of the scouting community does a collective yawn on. Rambo is the best example this year as he’s the #1 safety on my draft board while no one else even has him in their Top 5. If you just read my article above you would notice that often I had a strength of each safety as stopping the run and a weakness in stopping the pass. For Rambo it’s the opposite as he had 16 INTs in his career (and added one in the Senior Bowl game for good measure) and there is endless tape of him patrolling the back end of the field from his centerfield spot. He’s a fast, instinctive playmaker with great hands and experience who is far and away the best cover safety in this draft. I have him as a late 1st rounder so if he was taken in the 3rd round by the Cowboys he’d be the steal of this draft.

Earl Wolff-From a production standpoint Wolff is arguably the #1 safety in this draft as he has 3 straight seasons of 95 or more tackles to go along with 7 career forced fumbles and 6 career INTs. He’s not just a production prospect though as at the Combine he ran a 4.44 40 and had a ’39 vertical which were both near the top among safeties. I don’t understand why Wolff is getting so little love but will assume it’s due to the rare depth of this class at the safety position as in most drafts he’d be discussed as a 2nd rounder. In the 3rd round or later he’d be a great pick.

John Boyett-I have a late 3rd round grade on him due to his big hits, instincts, toughness, and quickness but he missed almost all of the 2012 season and hasn’t been able to work out for scouts this offseason while recovering from his patellar tendon injury so he’s likely to drop on draft day. He’d be a great value pick if available in the 5th round or later and I suspect he will be due to injury concerns.

Duke Williams-Duke is a difficult player to grade as he’s a hard hitter that flies to the ball but is somewhat undisciplined on and off the field. He did run a 4.43 40 though and with his highlight reel of big hits I think he’s worth a shot in the 4th round and beyond.

Ray Ray Armstrong-I like to throw out one late round guy that’s essentially a shot in the dark. This time it’s Armstrong who didn’t play in 2012 due to eligibility issues and in 2011 had a down year. He likely won’t be drafted as he went to the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star game and looked extremely rusty but at the end of the 2010 season he was considered one of the best safeties in the country and a 2nd round prospect. A smart franchise would take him in the 7th round, IR him with a fake injury, and give him a full year to work the rust off and get into shape. The talent is still in there somewhere and a patient franchise could turn a 7th rounder into a very good starter in just over a year’s time.

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