After years of complaints from Dallas Cowboys fans, it seems new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn may have finally brought a mindset of valuing the safety position. The team has tried upgrading the signings of Damonte Kazee at free safety. Reportedly Dallas has added Keanu Neal (nothing official yet, it might go through after the compensatory period ends on May 3) for the hybrid, big nickel safety position. Jaylon Kearse was even brought in as a depth piece who can play all safety spots in emergency situations.
All of those signings are one-year deals though, and Kazee is coming off of an achilles tendon injury, so the position is anything but solidified. The Cowboys under Will McClay haven’t drafted a safety before the sixth round yet, but maybe Quinn’s influence helps make that change as well. The question for the Cowboys is which safety is the best fit for them?
This is part of a reoccurring series to debate which of two prospects are the best fit for the Cowboys, this edition will feature safeties Richie Grant from UCF and Jamar Johnson from Indiana and will feature John Williams from Inside the Star. Richie Grant stands 6-foot and weighs 194 pounds. In nine games Grant racked up 72 tackles including 3.5 for a loss, one sack, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 5 pass deflections. Johnson stands 6-foot-1 and weighs in at 197 pounds. In eight games he had 42 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, one sack, four interceptions, one fumble forced and four pass deflections.
John Williams: Richie Grant allows versatility in coverages
One of the big worries about the Cover 3 defense is that a good quarterback can beat it because it’s hard to disguise and can be predictable. Run-pass options have became a preferred form of attack against the Cover 3 because they would suck up the linebackers playing the run fake and allowed easy throws in behind them. Grant allows the mixing of coverages to be much easier, which makes it harder to run those basic calls because the QB doesn’t know it’s Cover 3 pre-snap. While Grant is gonna be at his best as a back end free safety, covering the deep middle of field, at UCF he played plenty of split safety. he was tasked with man and zone in the slot and blitzed regularly also. Quinn can better mix up his coverages on the back end knowing he has a capable safety able to play anywhere and have success with multiple responsibilities.
Mike Crum: Jamar Johnson has the best upside
The anticipation Johnson plays with is rare in a 21-year old prospect. Looking at other top safeties, including Grant, they will get beat by false keys like play action or under routes attempting to draw safeties up in zones much more than Johnson does even with his limited experience at the position. Johnson is similar to TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington in his discipline and confidence reading the QB, but adds the prototypical size for the position as well. He has even made plays on one of the top draft prospects, intercepting two Justin Fields passes this past season. Johnson keeps his eyes on the QB and understands how to attack passing windows and finish with an interception. He brought in six his last year of high school, and was top 12 in interceptions per game in 2020. He finished his college career with seven total.
Williams: Grant makes big plays in big moments
Adding to the versatility Grant brings, he also is a play maker on all levels of the defense. Against Memphis, a blown defense on a run play allowed Rodrigues Clark to break free for a long run. Grant not only ran him down but also caused a fumble that went out of the end zone for a touchback. In game two against Cincinnati he made serval plays on a goal-line stand to help hold Cincinnati to a field goal. He made multiple plays in the box, holding a running back dive play to only two yards with a sure tackle and then made a stop on the QB scrambling for the goal line after a pass play broke down. The next play of the series he darts in on a shotgun run a makes a stop for a loss. Earlier in the same series Grant is playing his zone versus a mobile QB on a roll out, but he stays disciplined in the zone despite the threat of a QB run and gets his hands on a pass headed to the tight end in the end zone. This is indicative of how Grant is able to impact the game in multiple areas.
Crum: Johnson is what Quinn wants at FS in his defensive scheme
The one year Kazee played solely at FS under Quinn and Joe Whit he tied for the league lead with seven intercepted passes. Earl Thomas played under Quinn for four years and in three of them had his highest amount of interceptions with five. Thomas never topped three interceptions in a season without Quinn as the defensive coordinator. Johnson plays the same way in his zones. He is excellent in all areas of the field too. He squeezes the sidelines well, getting to vertical routes and clearing out areas in Cover 2 that offenses like to attack as typical weak points. He has the range to get to late routes over the middle and can also stay with TEs in the seem. In 24 games Johnson has seven interceptions and two forced fumbles. He definitely plays with fire that is excellent for him as long as he controls it. He is sloppy with his tackling technique, but gives high effort and plays in the box with strength and grit. Just needs to keep it himself under control because he did get kicked out of the Michigan game for swinging at a player last season.
Williams: Grant Conclusion
If Grant was 21, he would be a no doubt, first-round pick, and probably the consensus best safety in this class. This possible drop could allow Cowboys to get a catalyst to the back end of the defense on Day 2. Whether he is making plays over the top of the defense, taking away the TE down the seem, or coming up to make plays in the run game, Grant is impactful everywhere he lines up. He was a first team All-ACC player all three years he started, and ended his UCF career with ten interceptions and seven forced fumbles. Size, athleticism, instincts, toughness… Grant check marks every box. These players might be similar, but Grant is better in almost every area. Pairing Diggs, and Wilson with say Surtain and then Grant could be the way to set the DB room up for the next decade.
Crum: Johnson Conclusion
Going over tape on Jamar Johnson and Richie Grant feels like deja vu. Both players project best at FS, but have versatility to play in the slot occasionally in the right match ups, they both have the size to be in the box at times. They both offer excellent ball production and have weaknesses tackling. Even production wise Grant in his first two years as a starter had four forced fumbles, seven tackles for a loss and seven interceptions. Johnson in his first two years as a started had two forced fumbles,7.5 tackles for a loss and six interceptions. The two prospects are very similar, the difference is Johnson will start the season at 21 years old, and projects into the third round of the draft. Grant will be 24 years old and projects as a late first to early second round pick. With how many holes the Cowboys need to fill, getting values like Johnson is essential. Take the younger player, with upside and the better draft value.
Previous Draft Debates
Ar’Darius Washington vs Trevon Moehrig ft Jeff Cavanaugh https://cowboyswire.usatoday.com/lists/dallas-cowboys-trevor-moehrig-ardarius-washington-2021-nfl-draft-jeff-cavanaugh/ Asante Samuel vs Greg Newsome ft Jordan Tucker https://cowboyswire.usatoday.com/lists/dallas-cowboys-greg-newsome-ii-asante-samuel-jr-2021-nfl-draft/ Baron Browning vs Pete Warner ft Dan Ruppert https://cowboyswire.usatoday.com/lists/dallas-cowboys-2021-draft-baron-browning-pete-werner-ohio-state-buckeyes-linebacker/