The Dallas Cowboys had every intention of drafting a free safety this year after parting ways with veteran Gerald Sensabaugh just one season after giving him an extension. Although JJ Wilcox isn’t a big-name prospect, the Cowboys caught a break in the third round by landing this well-rounded player. Dallas didn’t do much else right in the 2013 NFL Draft, but Wilcox could be a playmaker from day one.
There aren’t many college football players who switch positions, especially more than once and especially not from one side of the ball to the other, but that’s exactly what Wilcox did at Georgia Southern. He played receiver his freshman year and then slotback in his sophomore and junior campaigns before finally switching to free safety during his senior season. Wilcox was productive all four years and although he only has one year of experience at safety under his belt, he should start for the Cowboys by midseason at the latest.
Wilcox has good speed for a safety and above-average agility and athleticism, so he’s not nearly as much of a project player as the mainstream media is making him out to be. His constant switching of roles wasn’t due to ineffectiveness, so that shows he has the brains to learn quickly alongside Barry Church if he gets first-team reps in training camp. You can bet that if Wilcox doesn’t get those reps right away, he’ll earn them by the second week of camp.
If nothing else, Wilcox has value on special teams, especially as a return man. When a player can run the ball, catch the ball and tackle the man with the ball, he will have a long career in the NFL and the Cowboys have had more trouble than any other NFL team finding a good return man who can also stay healthy.
Church will obviously start at strong safety, but Dallas really has no other free safety on the roster other than Wilcox. Newly-signed free agent Will Allen played mostly strong safety in Pittsburgh and 2012 fourth-round pick Matt Johnson didn’t play at all last year, although he’s also listed as a strong safety. The Cowboys wisely re-signed Danny McCray this offseason and he’ll likely get some reps at free safety simply due to the lack of depth at the position, but unless he or Allen sets the woods on fire in training camp, the job will be Wilcox’s to lose sooner or later.
So to recap, the Cowboys do not have a “glaring hole” at strong safety, which is contrary to popular belief. They did have such a void at free safety before Wilcox was drafted, but he should be a quality starter soon enough, along with some likely special teams duties as well. Consider this by far the best pick by the Cowboys in 2013 NFL Draft, but that ain’t saying much.