Although Barry Church seems to be the preferred safety among fans and analysts, J.J. Wilcox is arguably the better fit for the Dallas Cowboys long term
Several mock drafts have the Dallas Cowboys selecting a safety within the first few rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. That makes sense seeing as how both starting strong safety Barry Church and reserve safety J.J. Wilcox are hitting free agency. Dallas is pretty strapped in the salary cap department, so re-signing both will be pretty much impossible. They will have to decide which player, if either of them, will get a contract offer in free agency.
While most seem to prefer Church, he may not be the best option. Church has grown from an undrafted rookie out of Toledo to a team leader on defense. However, placing value on leadership ahead of skill is a bad business decision. Church is a solid, but unspectacular safety. He makes a lot of tackles, but he isn’t a turnover machine and doesn’t make the hard hits that slow teams attack over the middle of the field.
Wilcox on the other hand is an enforcer. He hasn’t developed into a great safety by any means, but after playing just one season at safety while at Georgia Southern Dallas knew he would be a project. To put four years into that development just to let him walk would be a disappointment.
Wilcox has improved throughout his career and showed in 2016 that he’s better suited as a strong safety. For three seasons the Cowboys had him as a deep safety, but coverage is not his specialty. He was exposed in this area but with the arrival of free safety Byron Jones, Wilcox no longer had to do this job. At first he lost his starting job altogether, but then a broken forearm benched Church for a few games and Wilcox showed what he could do in that role.
He finished the year with 49 tackles, six pass deflections, one interception, and one forced fumble in four starts and 13 games played. Church had 85 tackles, four pass deflections and two interceptions in his 12 starts. Wilcox is a hard hitter, but he’s also a better all around safety than he gets credit for. There’s no argument he is more physical than Church. It is arguable, he’s better in coverage than Church despite Wilcox being called poor in this area.
For all the praise he gets, Church is a real liability in pass coverage. He has played three seasons longer than Wilcox and has nearly 30 more career starts. The two have the same amount of interceptions (five for their career) and Church has just one more pass defense (16) than Wilcox (15). On top of everything else Wilcox is three years younger than Church. He will be a more physical player, creates as many turnovers, will most likely be cheaper, and is only 26. Seems like a no-brainer that Wilcox should be the safety that Dallas retains.