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Draft Series 9 of 9: Safeties

One of the most important positions of a defence is safety, specifically free safety.  The free safety is the quarterback of the defence.  He is responsible for making sure everyone is doing their assignments and calling out the coverages.  The Cowboys had a solid free safety in Ken Hamlin that they decided to cut ties with just 3 weeks before the draft.  Letting Hamlin loose instantly made the safety position a need heading into the draft.  While Hamlin wasn’t flashy or outstanding, he was solid.  None of the players on the current roster are able to replace what he brought to the defence, at least not right away.  But, the Cowboys do have some players that may be able to step in and develop.

Gerald Sensabaugh (starter) – Sensabuagh was a pleasant addition to the Cowboys defence.  In his first year with the Boys after coming over from Jacksonville, Sensabaugh showed he had great coverage skills and was even better against the run.  While he only had 1 interception during the season, a cast on his arm prevented him from a couple more.  He did amass 66 tackles for the Cowboys which is decent for a safety in a 3-4 scheme.  He showed he had the speed to stay with most receivers.  He will be known for missing the ball on WR Sidney Rice’s touchdown catch early in the Cowboys playoff loss to the Vikings.  That might have been the only noticeable mistake he made all season.  He is a restricted free agent and the Cowboys are hoping to get him back for next year.

Alan Ball – Ball might have the most expected of him out of all the safeties.  He is making the transition from corner to safety to presumably fill the void left by K. Hamlin.  Ball filled in for Hamlin while he was out with an injury during the season and played pretty well.   Ball has the vision and the speed needed to be a good safety.  He has good height and instincts.  He does need to work on his tackling, however, and he does not have the weight needed to take on tight-ends and bigger backs.  Those are both areas that can be worked on in the off-season.

Pat Watkins – Watkins has been a disappointment at the safety spot.  Fortunately, he has been a stud on special teams.  Watkins has found a spot as a gunner on kickoffs and punt coverage.  He is excellent at it.  Usually the first one down the field and always seems to be in on the tackle.  His safety skills are there, and he has all the intangibles, it just has not seemed to come together for him.  Watkins has a tremendous combination of size and speed for the position.  He will be given every chance in camp to take the open position.

Mike Hamlin – as a rookie last year, Hamlin struggled to get any playing time.  The fifth-round pick out of Clemson last year, has shown a lot of promise and will be in the mix to start this year.  He has great speed and good awareness, he just lacks experience.  Hamlin is a solid tackler and is never afraid to stick his head in the plays.

Draft Prospects:

1) Eric Barry (Tennessee) 5’11, 203 lbs. – The comparisons between Berry and Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens are apt. Berry is the definition of a ballhawking safety. As a junior, he showed he has improved as a tackler. He has tremendous speed and can also hit.  He will be the first defensive back selected.

2) Earl Thomas (Texas) 5’10, 197 lbs. – Although some thought Thomas should have returned for his junior season at Texas, his draft stock will never be higher. What he lacks in size he more than makes up for in ballhawking and playmaking. Thomas could stay at safety but also has the speed and athleticism to play cornerback.

3) Taylor Mays (USC) 6’3, 230 lbs. – At times Mays is an imposing prescence in Southern California’s defense. He knows how to lay a big hit. The Trojans’ defensive scheme called for him to roam the deep middle, so his stats aren’t reflective of his ability. Although he doesn’t have many interceptions, he breaks up a lot of passes. He has great speed for a big man, and good hands. His instincts may be the best among safeties in the draft.

Other Notables:

1) Nate Allen (South Florida) 6’2, 207 lbs.
2) Morgan Burnett (Georgia Tech) 6’1, 210 lbs.
3) Chad Jones (LSU) 6’3, 218 lbs.

That wraps up our draft series. Don’t forget the draft starts on Thursday April 22nd this year. Hope you enjoy it and keep posted on Cowboysgab for write-ups on all the draft picks the Cowboys take.

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