Much is being made of four big-name defensive draft prospects from the SEC that will be visiting the Dallas Cowboys in Valley Ranch this week. These players are all first-round draft prospects that will undoubtedly make an impact on the NFL team that drafts them, but there’s one player visiting the Cowboys this week that might make an impact as a late-round pick.
Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith is projected to be drafted by the Cowboys in the fourth-round of the 2012 NFL draft. Many are predicting Dallas will take Alabama safety Mark Barron with the No. 14 overall pick, but that wouldn’t be a smart move for three reasons:
Second, the Cowboys just recently signed former New York Jets safety Brodney Pool to replace Abram Elam. Although Pool is only signed to a one-year deal, there are still plenty of reasons not to draft Barron in the first round.
Finally, third-year pro Barry Church is more than capable of taking over the starting free safety spot this year or next year if Pool doesn’t pan out. He’s been patiently biding his time and would have gotten his chance to start outright had he not been placed on IR last year with a dislocated shoulder.
Pool must earn his spot as the starter this season while only playing under a one-year contract. If he fails, Church will be there to take up the slack. For a backup, the Cowboys should draft Smith in the middle-to-late rounds.
Dallas can use the first-round pick to find a solid pass-rusher and then get a bargain with Smith on Day 2 or 3 of the draft. Besides, Smith is a way better fit than Barron in Rob Ryan’s complex 3-4 defense.
Smith isn’t great in man coverage, which is why he’s a great safety for the Cowboys’ Cover 2 coverage scheme. He’s strong, smart and athletic – all traits that make a great free safety in an NFL Cover 2 package. Smith is excellent at defending the deep ball in zone coverage, which is something that plagued the Cowboys the past two seasons.
Barron is good in man coverage, but often gets lazy in his technique. He’s a strong safety that likes to lay the wood to ball carriers, which isn’t necessarily what Dallas needs. That’s not to say he won’t be a great pro safety; Barron will be a dynamite addition to whichever NFL team drafts him, but he’s just not a great fit for the Cowboys right now.
Smith, on the other hand, is a better long-term option. Church will be a free agent at the end of the season, so Smith might be a good long-term investment for Dallas. He can learn from Ryan, watch Pool play this year and get some experience in special packages. If Pool doesn’t work and Church doesn’t sign an extension, Smith very easily could be the man for Dallas at free safety in 2013 and he’ll be a steal on Day 2 of the draft.