Thursday, April 04, 2013

Learning The Draft: Safeties

Once upon a time, the Cowboys felt great about their safety position.  It was roughly 2001, when they had two competent, at times, above-average safeties playing on a rather lousy football team.

Darren Woodson was an all-time great for this franchise and was 32 years old and seemed like he could play forever.  George Teague was 30, and although he was having trouble sticking in spots, played reasonably well for the Cowboys in a year where there were not too many sunny days.

But when the 2002 draft arrived, Jerry Jones and his front office were going to turn good into significantly better.  For they had a chance to get the same guy who blew up the Texas Longhorns in Dallas a few months earlier, as Oklahoma's Roy Williams was going to be selected near the top of Round 1 and he will give the Cowboys a physical box safety to combine with Woodson for years to come.

And for about 2 seasons, it all went great.  Woodson helped Williams learn the NFL game, while providing a perfect security blanket behind him in case Williams got in trouble.  The veteran Woodson slowed down a step, but knew the game as well as anyone could - putting out fires before they started.

It was a fantastic combination of an elite safety near the end and another elite safety near the beginning of two careers that would long be remembered.

Then, in 2003, Woodson, now 34 was slowing because of all of the injuries.  He sat out 2004 with a herniated disc and hoped to beat father time, but it wasn't happening.  His retirement put the team in a spot where they scrambled to find a replacement for Roy Williams to partner with.

They are still looking.

Williams regressed year after year when Woodson went away, causing some of us to wonder if Williams was ever elite, or was he simply a highlight film who had someone cleaning up his messes when he went for the huge hit and missed.  Now, without that 1-man cleanup crew, Williams was being exposed as the tight-hipped slow DB that showed up on the screen chasing someone in vain to the end-zone.

In 2004, his play slipped dramatically as we all looked for excuses.  In September of 2005, I was criticized for writing a piece about his play deteriorating despite what I thought was rather indisputable evidence to that effect.

And basically, the Cowboys have seen safety to be an annual hole on their roster that they have just accepted as something that is what it is.

Below, please see the chart that demonstrates the void.  Here are the two primary safeties that have played for the Cowboys each year:

Year F Safety S Safety
2002 Woodson Williams
2003 Woodson Williams
2004 Scott/Dixon Williams
2005 K Davis Williams
2006 P Watkins Williams
2007 K Hamlin Williams
2008 K Hamlin Davis/Watkins
2009 K Hamlin Sensabaugh
2010 A Ball Sensabaugh
2011 A Elam Sensabaugh
2012 Church/McCray Sensabaugh

To call it a revolving door of substandard safety play would be about right.  

Admittedly, over the years, the titles of each safety have evolved in the league to be interchangeable and therefore requiring the player to be able to do both job descriptions - that is, crash down into the box and to be able to cover in space.

Therefore, the titles of each safety is still relevant, but not like it used to be.  But, in a passing league, priority #1 for every safety must be to cover in space.  There is no place for tight hips to hide anymore in the NFL.

2012 All-Pro Team Safeties 

E Thomas - Texas5'1020831.254.43
D Goldson - Washington6'220530.624.6
E Weddle - Utah5'1120329.754.48
J Byrd - Oregon5'1020732.624.68

Look at the speed of a guy like Earl Thomas.  If you could only have one safety in the NFL right now, it is the man from the 2010 draft that dazzled so many with his ball skills.  He has taken over from the elite safeties of a few years back who have had age set in (Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Charles Woodson) and has set the bar rather high.

Speed is big, and the size of these players are all within 5 pounds of each-other.  Height is actually something that can work against a proper center-fielder.

Now, here is the list of the safeties that many believe are considerations in Rounds 1 and 2 this April:

Vaccaro - Texas6'021432.754.61
Reid - LSU6'121333.624.52
Elam - Florida5'1020832.624.57
Cyprien - FIU6'021731.754.56 (Pro Day)
McDonald - USC6'221933.124.58
Thomas - Fresno St 6'020830.624.66
Swearinger - S Car5'1020832.374.68

As you can see, speed here is an issue as nobody eclipses the 4.5 barrier.  But, there are many safeties that look the part as interesting parts to add to your squad.

Vaccaro is just about everyone's #1 safety as I can tell.  I don't love his game, but I do like it plenty.  Keep in mind I am looking at him from a Dallas perspective, and although I know for a fact that he is coveted by those at the decision table, I just don't see Earl Thomas at all.  I will elaborate more on that when I write his full review next week, but let's just say for now I hope he is gone when the Cowboys are on the clock.  I think they need to look elsewhere.

Eric Reid and Matt Elam are both SEC safeties which actually make them a tough study because week to week in that conference they are playing along side many elite defensive players and not facing elite quarterbacks very often.  We have to go through this exercise every year and figure out who is a great safety and who just looks like one when they get to play with 5 1st rounders.

Mark Barron from Alabama last year had the same questions and frankly passed most of his tests from his rookie season in Tampa Bay, so you have to be careful to paint everyone with the wrong brush.

Johnathan Cyprien is another very interesting player who has had a spring of great reviews after his work at the Senior Bowl.

I don't want to cloud your perception with too many items, but rather allow you to dive into some tape on each one and make your own decisions below.

Then, if you wish, share your observations and we will dive more into it next week.

Kenny Vaccaro - Texas - #4 - More Videos

Eric Reid - LSU - #1 - More Videos

Matt Elam  - Florida - #22 -  More Videos 

Johnathan Cyprien - Florida International  - #7  More Videos 

TJ McDonald  - USC - #7 -  More Videos

Phillip Thomas - Fresno State  - #16 -  More Videos 

DJ Swearinger - South Carolina - #36 -  More Videos

There.  Check em out and rate them.

Also, you might want to review our Defensive Tackle write-up, the Defensive Ends review, the interior Offensive Line edition, or the look at all of the Offensive Tackles that have already been written.

Next week, our series of Draft Profiles for each individual candidate for Pick #18 begins.  


Sam Morton said...

Cyprien's a ballhawk with upside. #want.

Unknown said...

no love for Shamarko Thomas?