2017 NFL Draft: 6 Safety Prospects for the Dallas Cowboys

With two safeties headed for free agency, the Dallas Cowboys may need to find a replacement in the 2017 NFL Draft and these prospects are six possibilities

Barry Church has been the starting strong safety for the Dallas Cowboys for the past four seasons and he is entering into free agency in 2017. He has been a solid player, but not necessarily a game changing impact player. His backup is J.J. Wilcox, known for his hard hits but has had some lapses in coverage during his career. He too is set to hit free agency this offseason.

Chances are Dallas brings one of them back, but not both. Wilcox is a few years younger and is more of a prototypical strong safety than Church. What he doesn’t have is the coverage skills of Church or the leadership ability.

Church is a player that his teammates believe in and he seems to always be in the right position, even if his tackling is suspect at times. Out of the two, Church seems more likely to be the player that the Cowboys retain heading into 2017 as long as they can agree on a fair price.

Even if Church (or Wilcox) returns, the Cowboys will probably need to look to the draft to find some depth at the position. It also wouldn’t hurt to find a guy who could provide more game changing turnovers, something both Church and Wilcox have not done consistently in the past. Here are six potential players for the team to consider as they look for such a player in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Dec 31, 2016; Orlando , FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) against the Louisville Cardinals during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 31, 2016; Orlando , FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) against the Louisville Cardinals during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jamal Adams — LSU

LSU safety Jamal Adams is the son of a former NFL Champion. His father George Adams won a title as a running back for the New York Giants in the 80’s. The younger Adams grew up around football and his smarts showed as he was a contributor from the moment he walked onto campus for the Tigers.

Vitals

Height: 6-1
Weight: 211 pounds
Total Tackles: 209
Interceptions: 5

What the Scouts Say

Albert Breer of the MMQB quoted a couple of scouts who summed up Adams’ game pretty well:

“He has nothing to prove, other than to stay healthy and not blow any assignments. He’s that good. Tremendous athlete with tremendous instincts. Top 20 pick, no doubt.” Another area scout assigned to the Tigers described Adams like this: “A talented, explosive, quick-twitch player that has outstanding eyes in coverage. Enough range to play free safety, enough toughness and strength to play in the box. Just a really, really good player.”

He is arguably the best safety prospect in the draft this season and can play either the free or strong safety spot. That kind of versatility is what Dallas coaches love. He also comes from a defensive-rich program. Cut to Tyrann Mathieu nodding confidently.

Will He Land in Dallas?

There are a couple of issues with Adams ending up in Dallas. One, he may not last until their pick at 28. Secondly, the Cowboys don’t seem to value the safety spot as much as other teams. The only safety they have drafted high in recent years has been current starting free safety Byron Jones, but he was also picked with the idea that he could play corner or safety. He wound up being better at safety in their opinion and that’s where he plays. If Adams did fall to 28 he would be a huge upgrade no matter if they did re-sign Church or Wilcox. Dallas probably just won’t do it unless they absolutely don’t like anyone else on the board.

Nov 12, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Marcus Maye (20) runs back into the tunnel before the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 12, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Marcus Maye (20) runs back into the tunnel before the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2. Marcus Maye, Florida

A broken left arm ended his final season at Florida early, but safety Marcus Maye still put plenty of good film out there for NFL teams to study. In four seasons he deflected 16 passes and forced six fumbles. His junior season in 2015 was his best as he recorded 77 tackles, forced four fumbles and had two interceptions.

Vitals

Height: 6-0
Weight: 216 pounds
Total Tackles: 205
Interceptions: 5

What the Scouts Say

Maye is known as more of a cover-safety, but has the build and tackling ability to play in either spot. He also spent time as nickel corner for the Gators. Rob Rang of CBS Sports had this to say of Maye:

Maye shows impressive closing speed, including an extra gear when he needs it. He is a controlled, yet physical hitter who breaks down well, providing the excellent open-field tackling skills required as the last line of defense.

Will He Land in Dallas?

His ability to line up at both safety and nickel corner should remind Dallas fans of their last great safety, Darren Woodson. Woody could lay a running back out on one play and cover the shifty slot guy on the next. Maye could potentially do the same thing for them now if Dallas decided to go this route.

He is currently being projected as a second-to-third round prospect which means Dallas would most likely need to use their second round pick on him. Whether or not that happens depends on what they do with their top pick. If they go corner then this pick would need to be a pass rusher. If they got their edge rusher already in Round 1, a second-round pick on Maye would be an excellent pick.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Kansas State

3. Fish Smithson, Kansas

Kansas isn’t known for turning out excellent football players, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored coming into the draft. This year one of their top players is Fish Smithson, the safety who recorded 111 tackles in 2015 and followed it up with another 93 in 2016.

Vitals

Height: 5-11
Weight: 190 pounds
Total Tackles: 253
Interceptions: 6

What the Scouts Say

Scouts are not enamored with his lack of height, or weight. He also isn’t the most physical player at his position, but does have great instincts which led to his four interceptions in 2016. From his NFL.com Draft Profile:

Smithson is a little smaller and a little slower than teams might like at the safety spot, but his instincts and overall football intelligence make up for some of his physical limitations. With six interceptions over the last two seasons, Smithson has shown that he has the ball skills to pair with his instinctive nature, but his issues finishing tackles will not be taken lightly by NFL teams.

Will He Land in Dallas?

Smithson seems like he could be a late-round pick thanks to his size and lack of overall athleticism. He does seem like the kind of player Dallas would like though as he is a smart and instinctive player. He is reminiscent of current Cowboys backup Jeff Heath, who also is undersized but is smart and often in position to make the right play. Smithson would have to be drafted most likely, unlike Heath who was undrafted. While some say his ceiling is a backup in the NFL, Dallas loves to employ extra safeties in coverage and they could do worse than Smithson.

Oct 14, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Duke Blue Devils running back Jela Duncan (25) runs the ball against Louisville Cardinals safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (25) during the second quarter at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 14, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Duke Blue Devils running back Jela Duncan (25) runs the ball against Louisville Cardinals safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (25) during the second quarter at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

4. Josh Harvey-Clemons — Louisville

A tall, rangy safety who is willing to deliver the big hits but has some red flags. Josh Harvey-Clemons started his career at Georgia before two failed drug tests led to his dismissal. He then joined his former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in Louisville and played incredibly well for the Cardinals.

Vitals

Height: 6-5
Weight: 228 pounds
Total Tackles: 225
Interceptions: 4

What the Scouts Say

Scouts love his length as well as his willingness to deliver hits and wrap up tacklers. He is a fluid athlete, especially considering his incredible height for the position. An AFC North area scout had this to say, per Harvey-Clemons’ NFL.com Draft Profile:

“I love the athlete and the toughness, but he’s a multiple-time (drug) tester on the college level. Those guys have a high rate of testing positive again. I need to do more background work on him but I really worry about suspensions for him.”

Will He Land in Dallas?

His experience playing linebacker and safety is a plus for a team that hasn’t had an enforcer at the position for years. He is tall, but isn’t a slow or stiff player. He has no fear in finishing his tackles and also is able to make a play on the ball. All that sounds like a great complimentary player to free safety Byron Jones, but the flags may scare Dallas off. After taking a chance on Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory and getting burnt, they may be afraid to take a risk again on a player with drug issues in the past.

Oct 1, 2016; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Jamari Smith (14) is brought down by Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Justin Evans (14) at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 1, 2016; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Jamari Smith (14) is brought down by Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Justin Evans (14) at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

5. Justin Evans, Texas A&M

Texas A&M safety Justin Evans is a hard hitter that played against some of the best competition while in the SEC. He is an incredible athlete who also spent time as a pitcher. He has the speed and smarts to be an early pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Vitals

Height: 6-0
Weight: 193 pounds
Total Tackles: 165
Interceptions: 5

What the Scouts Say

Physical. He may be under 200 pounds, but the scouts love how willing he is to throw his body around. He also has incredible speed to cover from sideline-to-sideline. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said this of Evans:

Soft-spoken but carries a walloping stick. Plays the game with an elevated sense of urgency and excitement. He is a little undersized, but has plus speed, is an extremely physical hitter and can play deep or near the line of scrimmage. Athleticism and ball skills might lead a team to test him out as a slot corner. Regardless of where he plays, he has the talent to become a plus NFL starter and a potential Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) draft selection.

Will He Land in Dallas?

This is the type of safety the Boys would love to have. His coverage skills would be a huge upgrade over Church and he hits nearly as hard as Wilcox. Evans does however miss a good bit of tackles, which is why he could be available in the second or third round. Again his arrival in Dallas would most likely be toed to what they do with their first pick. They need a pass rush and that has to be done in picks one or two. Evans would be an excellent choice though if the chips fall right.

Nov 4, 2016; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies safety Obi Melifonwu (20) intercepts a pass intended for Temple Owls wide receiver Ventell Bryant (1) in the second quarter at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 4, 2016; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies safety Obi Melifonwu (20) intercepts a pass intended for Temple Owls wide receiver Ventell Bryant (1) in the second quarter at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

6. Obi Melifonwu — Connecticut

A two-year teammate of current Cowboys safety Byron Jones, Obi Melifonwu is a tall safety with plenty of weight as well. He was a solid player while teamed with Jones, but blossomed into a star in his past two seasons for the Huskies. Melifonwu recorded 88 tackles and two picks in 2015 and followed that up with 118 tackles and four interceptions in 2016.

Vitals

Height: 6-4
Weight: 219 pounds
Total Tackles: 349
Interceptions: 8

What the Scouts Say

His athleticism is what stands out. He can run, he can jump, he can blow people’s minds with his abilities. Much like Jones did in the 2015 draft. An AFC Pro Personnel Director had this to say via NFL.com:

“He’s a freak. He’s going to blow away the combine. He’s fast and will post some of the best vertical and broad numbers at his position. He’s going to get a lot better in the pros and he has that elite size that will get him overdrafted.”

Melifonwu isn’t a perfect prospect though. He needs to work on tracking the ball and trying to break plays up before the ball lands in receivers hands.

Will He Land in Dallas?

Like Jones, he may become a star when his measurables jump out at the Combine. Melifonwu is currently looking like a third round pick, which if he is there  for Dallas to decide on the clock with their selection in that round he could prove to be a steal. They took Wilcox as a third round pick in 2013 with the hopes he could be their eventual starter at strong safety. This could be the next guy they choose to do the exact same thing with the difference being Melifonwu has much more experience than Wilcox did when he was selected.

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