Monday, April 09, 2012

Draft Profile: Mark Barron - S - Alabama

The following is the 7th in a series of draft profiles for potential 1st and 2nd round picks for the Dallas Cowboys. These profiles are put together with the specific needs of the Cowboys in mind, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and game tape to get an idea of who might fit in best with Dallas come draft day.

Mark Barron
6'1, 213
40 time: 4.54 (pro day), Bench Press: Did not lift at combine
October 27, 1989 (22)

One of the single biggest mistakes that are made by fans, media, and poor drafting franchises in the NFL might be when they get too caught up on irrelevant history. History does not promise that if "school A" produces 5 hall of fame linebackers, then every linebacker that goes to that school will also be a hall of fame player. Nor, is the opposite true. Just because you found DeMarcus Ware at Troy, doesn't mean there is another one there (although Osi Umenyiora was there, too). Quinton Coples may look just like Julius Peppers in that UNC uniform, but that doesn't mean he IS Julius Peppers, part 2.

Here is another one that hits close to home: just because the Dallas Cowboys were burned 10 years ago in the draft by taking a safety that turned out to be a disappointment, doesn't mean the Cowboys should never invest in that position again. Tight hips, box safety, big hitter. These are all attributes given to Oklahoma's Roy Williams when he was in the 2002 draft, and now they are also terms given to Mark Barron of Alabama. And that has many readers scared sick that the Cowboys are picking "Roy Williams", part 2.

Barron is the top safety in this class and it is not close. He is an amazing talent who finds the ball and makes plays for that Alabama defense. He also is as smart as they come when it comes to directing the defense, reading and diagnosing, and then studying as much as the situation calls for. Barron is a guy who has very few downsides to his game, when you watch him on film.

And then there is the Cowboys side of this discussion. There are few teams that have had a harder time finding safeties than the Cowboys. Darren Woodson was an all-time great and when his body could no longer take the beating that he put it through, the Cowboys tried to piece things together. But, the 2 seasons the Cowboys had Woodson in center field and a young Roy Williams near the ball, the safety position was a thing of beauty.

However, when Woodson left, the Cowboys asked much more of Roy Williams in coverage. And the hips got tighter and tighter as he got older. Teams learned how to isolate him in space and use his aggressiveness against him. The Cowboys also were reluctant to spend resources on replacing Woodson until it was too late to save Williams' mental well-being. In the 2004-2006 time frame, Roy was joined by the likes of Lynn Scott, Tony Dixon, Patrick Watkins, and Keith Davis back in center field. The team pretty much thought that anyone could play safety and were constantly reminded that they were wrong.

The acquisition of Ken Hamlin settled things nicely by 2007, but then Roy's body was getting worse and he would be done playing safety for the Cowboys by October of 2008. In fact, in a irrelevant piece of trivia, Roy Williams the safety and Roy Williams the WR intersected their careers in Dallas for about 1 quarter of that forgettable day in St Louis (the safety's last game and the WR's first game).

Since then, the Cowboys have tried more Keith Davis, Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball, and Abram Elam to find the right mix at safety. In 2011, they actually were reasonably sound in their first priority - not being constantly torched. However, in terms of making plays that change the game, the Sensabaugh/Elam duo was rather quiet.

Enter the concept of Barron. The knocks on him are clear, especially in Dallas. He appears to be a safety who is much more affective the closer you put him to the line of scrimmage. He rocks players with his hits and can blitz with great results. He tackles well and flies to the ball. He makes plays of great substance and has hands that find the ball. He plays a suitable center-field, we think, but given the lack of game tape where Alabama plays an offense who can pass well, we are sort of guessing based on 2011.

He is not Eric Berry or Earl Thomas, two guys who could cover as corners and not look too bad. But, he might be Laron Landry - a player who can occasionally look poor in coverage, but can also make 2 plays a game that can get you a win. And if there is one thing this team needs, it is someone on defense that can step up and rescue a game when it is on the line. Especially in that secondary.

I would not say he is poor in coverage. He appears quite capable of locking up with a tight end or running back and getting his share of wins. But, just understand that he is also not a guy that you can put anywhere against anyone and be fine. But, that is up to your defensive scheme to make sure he is used properly - something that the Cowboys had a hard time doing with Roy Williams as the years went on - perhaps because his partner was never where it needed to be in the post-Woodson years.

Here are some youtube cut-ups for your own personal eye-ball test:

Vs Penn State

Again, there are not great examples of him in coverage, but when he gets near the ball, he usually ends up with it. That is a trait you need.


I love watching Barron used as the rover in so many spots here. And to watch him orchestrate those around him so well. His upside might be that game-altering safety that most of the great teams have.

Vs Mississippi State

And then this clip which will show you the good old days when Barron was a RB and a WR in high school when he was a big time recruit.

The Case For Taking Mark Barron at #14: The case is simple - you immediately become a better team with Mark Barron on your squad. The number of big plays this defense could generate would multiply. Safety has been ignored long enough and if he is the best player on your board and instantly gives you All-Pro upside at a position where takeaways are generated, the Cowboys should not be reluctant to pull the trigger. There will always be a concern about the unknown, but the known with him is that he is both explosive, intelligent, and a potential leader of men. His game tape shows that he alters games, mostly for the better. I think Barron is a guy you can feel good about, despite that cringe when you hear "box safety".

The Case Against Taking Mark Barron at 14: The case against Barron is simply that the club has a real need to improve the pass rush and therefore talk themselves into fixing the defensive line and front 7. Also, it is not always a wonderful idea to take a safety in the top half of the 1st Round. For every Sean Taylor and Eric Berry, there are also players like Michael Huff and Donte Whitner who have been good, but not great. I don't think I am crazy about Barron and Sensabaugh together in center field as they may both be better as strongs, but I cannot worry about that when selecting in the 1st Round. You take the talent. And finally, the case against him might be if you study his hips and feel like as he gets near 30 years old, he won't be able to drop them like he once was. Tight hips are the death of defensive backs, and there is conjecture about whether this will ever be an issue with him.

But, the more I consider the guy, the more I can see this pick making this defense much better.

Previous Profiles:
Fletcher Cox - Mississippi State
Michael Brockers - LSU
Quinton Coples - UNC
David DeCastro - Stanford
Melvin Ingram - South Carolina
Courtney Upshaw - Alabama

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