Position Series: Safeties Were Productive In 2014, But Improvement Is Necessary

(Editor's Note: This is the third of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2015 season. The series continues with the safeties.)

Pressing Matters:The level of need at the Cowboys' safety spot probably varies, depending on who you're asking. On one hand, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox started every single game of 2014. On the other hand, they weren't exactly a Pro Bowl tandem. Both players are under contract for two more seasons, so it's unlikely they're going anywhere. Deeper on the depth chart, C.J. Spillman is set to become a free agent. It seems like a smart idea to bring him back, as he was both the primary backup at safety and a standout special teams player. Where it would happen is up for debate, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see this team draft a safety – both to add depth and push for playing time.

2014 Evaluation:As was mentioned above, there's some debate to be had about what Dallas got from its safeties in 2014. Church led the team in tackles and added two interceptions – including a critical pick of Eli Manning in New York. Wilcox was fourth on the team in tackles, and he displayed a decent nose for the ball, with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. On the other hand, neither guy truly shined in pass coverage, and there were lapses in technique -- Wilcox's missed tackle on Davante Adams against Green Bay being a very recent example. The duo combined for eight takeaways, but neither of them is the type of ballhawk you'd really like to see from at least one of the starting safeties. It's hard to knock either player too much for their production in 2014, but it's also hard to sugarcoat it. The Cowboys' safeties were pretty good, but it's not exactly a position of unassailable strength, either.

Need More From: At this point, it feels fair to say that Church is what he is – a reliable box safety who can help in the run game and clean up messes downfield. That's all well and good, provided his running mate is a more dynamic playmaker – which the Cowboys don't quite have yet. Wilcox has showed a willingness and an ability to lay the wood, and he upped his pick total from zero to three in his second season. Honestly, that's all pretty good coming from a guy who played just one year of safety in college and was drafted 80th overall in 2013. It'd be unfair and incorrect to say Wilcox has been disappointing. But the fact remains: he'll need to continue to improve if he's going to prevent the team from seeking to replace him.

Upgrades Needed:Again, how much the Cowboys need an upgrade is probably a matter of opinion. The tandem of Church and Wilcox is a perfectly good starting pair – particularly if the Cowboys can upgrade their pass rush. That said, they probably wouldn't hesitate to upgrade the position in the right circumstances, either through the draft or with an affordable free agent. The primary depth on the roster is comprised of Spillman, who is a free agent, and Jeff Heath, and who is a valuable special teamer but hasn't brought much to the defense. The Cowboys also parted ways with Jakar Hamilton during the playoffs, so they could definitely need some more depth for the position.

By The Numbers:

  • After missing most of 2012 with a torn Achilles, Church has appeared in all 34 of the Cowboys' games during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
  • Wilcox averaged 2.9 tackles per game in 13 appearances as a rookie. He bumped that to 4.6 tackles per game over 16 appearances in Year 2. He combined for five takeaways in his second season after failing to notch a single one as a rookie.
  • Spillman finished third on the roster with 10 special teams tackles, while Heath was fourth with eight.
  • After returning from suspension in Week 6 against Seattle, Hamilton was made inactive for 10 of 12 games with the Cowboys before he was eventually released prior to the playoff game against Green Bay.
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