While strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh’s future in Dallas is in limbo, there is no way free safety Alan Ball will be starting for the ‘Boys in 2011. Free agency looks like a strong possibility, with Michael Huff being heavily linked to Dallas.
Whether the Cowboys sign a veteran free safety or not, they should probably address the position at some point during the draft. The position is so crucial in today’s game, and it’s been far too long since the ‘Boys had a reliable “centerfielder” on D. If Dallas does sign a player like Huff, today’s feature would be a perfect prospect to bring in and develop behind him.
Chris Culliver is a converted wide receiver who displays tremendous range at free safety. Actually, I think he has the most range of any safety in this draft. His athleticism and overall body control are outstanding, as evidenced in the video below.
Culliver may also be the best man coverage safety in this class. He originally moved to cornerback (from receiver) before transitioning to safety. His experience in the slot could be valuable for Dallas, particularly if Terence Newman is released. Culliver’s ball skills are very good from his time on offense.
Culliver also adds value as a return man. He is South Carolina’s all-time leading returner, using his superb speed (official 4.40 40-yard dash at the combine, eighth fastest at any position) to make plays.
The weakest part of Culliver’s game is his technique. With little experience in the secondary, he is still working on properly reading plays. At times, it appears as though he is playing like a robot, displaying enough hesitancy as to not allow his full athleticism to shine. His instincts are average at best.
Culliver will also have trouble against the run in the initial part of his career. He’s tall (six feet) but lean (197 pounds). He doesn’t wrap up well and if Rob Ryan wants his free safety near the line-of-scrimmage at all, Culliver probably isn’t his guy.
Nontheless, Culliver’s explosiveness is undeniable. Unfortunately, the only film available for me to post is that below of his kick returns, but his athleticism is still on display.
Culliver is projected by most to get selected in the fifth or sixth round, but I think he will go earlier. His upside is incredible, and free safeties with Culliver’s coverage ability (and potential) are rare. It is possible he goes in the third round, but I think the fourth is more realistic.
Personally, I think Culliver is a third round talent. His inexperience will hurt him, and Dallas isn’t in position to “waste” a third round selection on a developmental player.
If Culliver drops into the fifth round though, there aren’t many players I would take ahead of him. He will take some time to develop, but the upside he brings is exactly what you want late in the draft. He’s somewhat of a high risk/high reward selection, but his return ability should at least bring him a roster spot and time to develop, wherever he goes.
Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011