The Cowboys won’t be on the NFL draft clock for another two months, but it’s evident they will target defensive help when the timer starts. Though owner Jerry Jones reportedly would love to create a splash for Chase Young or Jeff Okudah, it’s more likely he stays put at No. 17 overall and nabs the best available prospect.
If so, renowned draft guru Daniel Jeremiah believes that prospect should be Alabama’s Xavier McKinney, regarded as the best safety in this year’s class.
“He’s a great communicator,” Jeremiah said, per NFL.com. “… He’s one of the draft’s safest players and would be an unbelievably good fit in Dallas.”
A reigning first-team All-SEC selection, McKinney made 95 combined tackles (5.5 for loss), five passes defensed, four forced fumbles, three sacks, three interceptions, and a defensive touchdown across 13 starts in 2019.
For his 32-game career with the Crimson Tide from 2017-19, McKinney collected 108 solo tackles, 15 pass breakups, six sacks, six forced fumbles, five picks, and two defensive scores. He was named the defensive MVP of the 2018 Orange Bowl.
Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 200 pounds — boasting athleticism, football smarts, and smooth change-of-direction ability — McKinney should be the first safety off the board in April, before LSU’s Grant Delpit is taken.
NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein compared McKinney to New Orleans S C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who was voted to the 2019 PFWA All-Rookie team. Zierlein sees a quality day-one starter with Pro Bowl upside.
“Ascending safety prospect offering a combination of plus athleticism, field awareness and versatility,” he wrote. “McKinney split time equally at slot, free safety and in the box and is accomplished in each. His coverage instincts, athleticism and quick-twitch burst are more cornerback than safety, which is why he’s likely to be a coveted toy for teams looking to upgrade and diversify their sub-packages. He can sit in center field all day if needed, and he’s an adequate open-field tackler but has room for improvement in that area. McKinney represents the new breed of versatile, matchup safety with high upside as an early starter.”
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Defense a Priority for Dallas …
… but don’t take my word for it. Allow Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones to peel back the curtain on the club’s area of focus over the coming weeks.
“In general, defense is the priority for this offseason, whether it’s getting some of our own guys back or whether it’s free agency or whether it’s the draft,” Jones said Monday as the 2020 Scouting Combine kicks off, per the Dallas Morning News.
The entire secondary is expected to undergo a transformation, beginning with the probable free-agent defections of star cornerback Byron Jones and incumbent starting safety Jeff Heath. Fellow defensive backs Anthony Brown, Darian Thompson, C.J. Goodwin and Kavon Frazier are also unsigned heading into the league’s signing period.
Jerry Jones flat-out admitted last season that upgrading opposite S Xavier Woods is a major priority; the team attempted to trade for Jamal Adams, but talks died near the deadline after the New York Jets demanded too much in return. As such, the Cowboys have been loosely linked to former Chiefs stud Eric Berry.
But it’s likelier Woods’ new bookend arrives via the draft, and McKinney could very well be the guy. Stephen Jones, however, wouldn’t show his hand one way or the other.
“I’m not going to speculate. That poor safety position. It gets shorted every time,” he said Monday, per the Dallas Morning News.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL