The Dallas Cowboys apparently really like safeties Barry Church and Matt Johnson, but there was no doubt that they needed to at least add some competition for the youngsters. In Georgia Southern’s J.J. Wilcox, the Cowboys are getting a player they really coveted—I had heard a lot of rumors about Wilcox coming to Dallas—and someone I placed in just about every Cowboys mock draft I completed.
Wilcox played only one year at safety after switching over from wide receiver. In my initial scouting report on Wilcox, I wrote:
Wilcox has excellent size at 6-0, 213 pounds. He turned in a solid 40 time at 4.51 and a remarkable 4.09 short shuttle, showing why he was used at receiver for three seasons. As you’d expect, Wilcox is an outstanding athlete; he moves fluidly and shows excellent lateral quickness. Despite little experience at safety, Wilcox is a good tackler. He doesn’t wait for ball-carriers to reach him, but instead attacks the line and breaks down well in space.
Wilcox didn’t play much from a single-high position at Georgia Southern, but he got time there at the Senior Bowl. He performed surprisingly well, and his measurables suggest he should be able to play deep. He showed good ball skills at the Senior Bowl—and during his time on offense in college—so he has the ability to make big plays in the secondary.
I had Wilcox rated at No. 36 overall on my big board. So in my view, the Cowboys acquired amazing value.
One of the reasons Wilcox is so intriguing is his upside. People often view a “raw” prospect negatively, but Wilcox’s lack of experience just means he has tons of room to improve on an already impressive 2012 season.
Plus, the third round is a good time to begin seeking upside over safety. Mid-round picks don’t work out as much as people think they do, so it’s often better to swing for the fences than to land a “safe” player who won’t contribute much anyway. While I don’t view Wilcox as a major risk, there was no player on the board with more upside.
Fit in Dallas
It will be interesting to see where Monte Kiffin plays Wilcox—as a free or strong safety. I think he can play either position, continuing the Cowboys’ trend of seeking versatility.
Wilcox will get a fair shot to win a starting job in training camp, and I tentatively expect him to beat out Johnson and Will Allen for that job. If that happens, I think you’ll see Wilcox as a free safety, patrolling the deep half with Barry Church and deep middle when Church plays in the box.
The Cowboys figure to play a whole lot more Cover 3 this year than people anticipate, so whoever plays free safety for them will be in the middle of the field quite often.
Looking Beyond 2013
I love Wilcox’s long-term prospects. I think he can play right away, but he’s going to be a player who makes big jumps in his first year or two in the league. If Wilcox doesn’t start in 2013, there’s still a solid chance that he’ll be able to improve enough to win the gig in 2014 and beyond.
Because of that, I think Jerry Jones and the Cowboys hit a home run here.