(Editor's Note: The staff of DallasCowboys.com is currently previewing the depth chart at each position on the Cowboys' roster. The biggest remaining variable in determining that depth chart is the NFL draft, which begins April 28. This series will identify five potential draft picks who could affect the depth chart at each position.)
IRVING, Texas – How big of a need is safety in the upcoming draft? Well, how the Cowboys address, or don't address, that position on draft weekend may help decide where they ultimately play Byron Jones.
Last year's first-round pick started seven games at free safety and two at cornerback in 2015. Asked about the versatile defensive back at the Annual NFL Meeting in March, head coach Jason Garrett didn't pencil in Jones at one spot yet.
"We think he's capable of playing both corner and safety and he's done that for us in his first year," Garrett said. "And as we continue to put our team together we'll make some decisions about where all the guys fit best: corner, safety, nickel, and what the best combinations are and we'll give those guys ample opportunity to compete for those spots as we go here.
"But we're still in the process of free agency, the draft's coming up and once we get everything kind of settled with our roster we'll start putting guys in spots and start asking them to compete and figure out who fits where."
Simply put, the Cowboys are leaving options open, as they should here in mid-April.
They still have Barry Church, signed through 2016, as the projected starting strong safety. J.J. Wilcox, who began the 2015 season at free safety until Jones took over, is also under contract. Jeff Heath just signed a new four-year deal as a reserve safety and core special teamer.
With that depth chart in mind, here are five safety prospects who are generally projected to get drafted around the league in the early, middle and late rounds:
1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State – Also in our "Five to Fit" for cornerbacks, Ramsey might not be around for the Cowboys to even consider at No. 4. Mock drafts view him as a clear top-10 pick who very easily could crack the top five. Like Jones, Ramsey has the frame (6-1, 209), cover skills and range to play corner or safety, and that type of versatility boosts the All-American's draft value.
2. Keanu Neal, Florida – Neal is among 25 prospects invited to attend the draft in Chicago, which says a lot about where he's projected to go in this year's draft: first to second round. He played both safety spots in his three seasons at Florida, and at 6-4 and 211 pounds, he's a big hitter who led the Gators with 51 solo tackles in 2015.
3. Jeremy Cash, Duke – Cash isn't your prototypical cover safety. Like Neal, he was more of a safety/linebacker combo in college who was stout in run support and had the frame to cover tight ends. A three-year starter at Duke, Cash (6-0, 212) was named an All-American for two straight seasons by various media outlets and earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior. He could get drafted by a team somewhere on Day 2.
4. Darian Thompson, Boise State – Thompson was a ballhawk in four seasons Boise State, tallying 19 interceptions in 43 career starts. He showed good range in college and his coverage skills will likely help him get drafted by a team somewhere in the middle rounds.
5. Elijah Shumate, Notre Dame – Generally considered more of a later-round prospect, Shumate played in the East-West Shrine Game after starting 27 games over his four-year career for the Fighting Irish. He was a productive tackler in college, posting 136 stops in two years as a full-time starter, and has a sturdy frame for the next level at 216 pounds.