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Jimmie Ward is the top safety on the board and is slated as a second round pick

Cowboys 2014 Draft Needs

By Matthew Postins

PostinsPostcards.com

RattleandHumSports.com is breaking down the draft needs at every position group for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Today it’s the defensive backs.

Cornerbacks: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Sterling Moore, Orlando Scandrick, B.W. Webb, Jakar Hamilton.

Safeties: Barry Church, Jeff Heath, Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox.

Cowboys defensive backs entering free agency: Danny McCray (unrestricted)

Draft need?: 4 (out of 10, 10 being most pressing).

Why: Experts seem to think the Cowboys need an upgrade at strong safety, where J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath were the major contributors toward the end of the season. Those experts wouldn’t be wrong, though it’s not out of the realm for both players to improve markedly from Year 1 to Year 2. The question is whether you want to count on that improvement or make a play to get another safety to add to the mix. Barry Church played well at free safety, but with Danny McCray entering free agency the Cowboys don’t have a viable backup. Cornerback seems pretty set, though the Cowboys definitely want to see a healthy and improved Morris Claiborne in 2014.

Possible targets

Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois: If you’re looking at drafting a strong safety and not a safety with position flexibility, Ward makes sense. He’s the top strong safety on the board, according to CBSSports.com, and he’s slotted as a second-round pick at the moment. NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang said Ward had an impressive Senior Bowl, showing he can handle high-caliber receiving talent. What scouts like about Ward is his ability to cover deep and in the slot.

Hakeem Smith, Louisville: If you’re looking late in the draft Smith is a viable option. He’s considered only a sixth- or seventh-round grade right now, even though he was a First Team All-Conference selection in the American Athletic. He was all-conference for the Cardinals all four seasons. Scouts like the fact that Smith’s coverage skills and on-ball play improved in 2013. He may move up a bit with a good combine, but he’s probably a Day 3 selection and should be looked upon as good value.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: The higher-end talent is at free safety and several mock drafts have Clinton-Dix going to the Cowboys in the first round. Blessed with 4.5 speed in the 40 he is considered to be an above-average defender against the pass and quite elusive if he has the football. Scouts are a little concerned about his tackling.

Calvin Pryor, Louisville: Pryor is the other major talent at free safety in this draft and he’s been connected to the Cowboys in a fair share of mock drafts. He’s an inch taller than Clinton-Dix, runs the same 40 time and has the same great coverage skills. The pair will probably spend the next three months differentiating themselves through workouts and pre-draft meetings. But they’re both expected to be first-round picks.

Marqueston Huff, Wyoming: The Texarkana native can run a 4.4 40, according to CBSSports.com. We’ll see if he gets a shot to prove that in the Combine or during his pro day workout. If he does, well then he might move up from his current fifth- or sixth-round slot. Huff had an exceptional Senior Bowl, showing he can cover slot and outside receivers and providing scouts with a look at his athleticism. Some believe he could convert to corner because of his pass-coverage skills, but most scouts believe he can handle the physical rigors of safety in the NFL.

Looking ahead: I could see the Cowboys addressing safety in this draft, but not in the first round. Their dearth of depth and talent at defensive line demands they address that position early and often. But a player like a Huff or a Smith, who adds value in the later rounds, might be a real option. The question at this position is Matt Johnson, the Cowboys’ mid-round pick from two years ago who hasn’t taken the field yet. The Cowboys believe he has the ability to play in the NFL. But he’s had no chance to show it. The Cowboys don’t really have the time to wait to see if Johnson can play. They need more talent now.

Next up: Safeties.

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