Potential Draft Picks: Earl Thomas, FS, Texas
Despite the fact that we do not see safety as a top priority for the Cowboys, the position could certainly be upgraded. The problem is that current free safety Ken Hamlin signed a long-term deal just two years ago. Hamlin, though, has not performed up to expectations since a wonderful first season in Dallas. He is a superb on-field leader and gets the defense lined up correctly, but the ball-hawking skills and raw athleticism just are not there.
Meanwhile, strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who played quite well all season, is a restricted free agent. He is likely to stay in Dallas this season, but anything after 2010 is up in the air.
The conundrum for Dallas is that their best-performing safety may not be on the team for more than one year, while the weak link will still be under contract. So should the Cowboys try to sign Sensabaugh long-term, target a strong safety to take his place, or acquire a free safety to replace Ken Hamlin?
In our opinion, the team would be best served attempting to re-sign Sensabaugh and targeting other positions in the draft (at least in the early rounds). Remember that the Cowboys drafted S Michael Hamlin last season, so he will basically be like a rookie coming in this season. Further, Ken Hamlin may not be an Ed Reed-like playmaker, but sometimes it is good to not have your name called all that often at free safety. While this means no pick-sixes, it also means no big plays yielded. The Cowboys did an excellent job not giving up big plays all season (until the Minnesota game, that is), and Ken Hamlin is a large part of that.
Having said that, the Cowboys may not share our thoughts. Should they draft a safety high, I think it has to be a difference maker, and Texas’ safety Earl Thomas certainly fits the bill.
While he is a bit undersized (5’10”, 197 pounds), Thomas is a tremendous athlete whose game very much resembles that of Ed Reed. He has good speed and tremendous hips and fluidity. Like Reed, he is a deep centerfield-type safety who does a good job of keeping plays in front of him. He is similar to Ken Hamlin in not giving up those big plays but with much greater playmaking ability. His athleticism and recovery ability make him great in man coverage.
Unfortunately, due to his small frame Thomas is average in run support. He takes good angles but uses poor form, often diving at the ball-carrier’s feet. Durability may be a concern in the NFL. This weakness could be limited if he is kept deep more often than not. Overall, he is a bit of a risky pick with incredible upside.
Thomas could go as high as the mid-first round, and we have a feeling he will rise up boards before draft day. However, there is definitely a chance he falls to pick #27, and it would be interesting to see what the Cowboys do if he does drop.