The Dallas Cowboys were one of the weaker safety groups in the NFL. Though this was the case, the Cowboys chose not to add any veterans. With Xavier Woods entrenched in a starting role, his production should increase.
Xavier Woods had a solid sophomore NFL season. Though the Cowboys weak point in the secondary was the safety position, Woods turned out a pretty productive year. The team decided not to add anybody veterans in free agency or any big-name rookies in the draft. Instead, they chose to put out their incumbent safeties one more time in hopes that the two improve.
One thing the Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rob Marinelli did this offseason was force both Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods to master both safety positions. Last year Woods primarily played free safety while Heath played strong safety. Marinelli’s goal here is to better disguise the defense by throwing multiple looks at the opposing teams.
Woods played all over the secondary in college and if needed could play nickel back for the Cowboys. He has the physical toughness and great ball skills to cover tight ends and slot receivers. Though he does not have elite size, he has great athleticism as seen here by his RAS score:
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) August 15, 2017
Woods is easily the best safety on the Cowboys roster. At 5’11 and 202 Lbs., Woods does not have ideal height for the position but does have upper-end strength. As you see in the above graphic he was able to put up 19 reps during the bench press, which was tied for third-most by any safety participant. He also put up the 7th best 40 yard dash time of all participants with a 4.54 second 40 time. Needless to say, he has the strength and speed to cover most.
The last time Woods played both strong and free safety in a season was back in college. Woods was a true playmaker during his time at Louisiana Tech. For his career he put up totals of 272 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, 18 passes defensed, 14 interceptions, six forced fumbles, and three touchdowns. The 14 interceptions to go along with the six forced fumbles shows the versatility in playmaking between hard-hitting and ball skills that Woods possesses. Woods has done some of his best work covering in the red zone as his physicality shows up often:
Xavier Woods forced an incompletion on 80.0% of his red-zone targets this season – that's more frequent than any other safety. pic.twitter.com/ha14VIGrbC
— PFF (@PFF) January 20, 2019
Woods came in his rookie season and the Cowboys were still putting out Byron Jones as a safety before they converted him to a cornerback. Woods played in all 16 games starting only four but was able to contribute 40 tackles, one tackle for a loss, three passes defensed, one interception and a fumble recovery. This set the tone for the Cowboys to move Byron Jones to corner knowing they already had his replacement and a great move it was. Byron Jones graded out as one of the top corners in the entire NFL last season and Woods played very well himself.
Given the starting nod, Woods played on 86.1% of the teams snaps in 2018. He was able to put accumulate 56 tackles, nine passes defensed, two interceptions and a forced fumble. With Coach Marinelli masking the defense better I expect all of these numbers to increase.
Xavier Woods is A Monster Top 5 Safety In The NFL Already pic.twitter.com/uJOALVXZ5x
— Zeke Best RB (@Zeke_Mvp21) April 29, 2017
In that montage of clips, you see everything that makes Woods an intriguing option. His ability to play in run support is shown in the first clip with the heavy hit. With him switching between strong and free safety he will have more opportunities in run support, this, in turn, leads to more tackles. Then throughout the montage, you see Woods’ excellent ball skills with the interceptions, batted balls and forced fumbles. Woods is going undrafted in virtually every league but is worthy of an end of bench spot with the opportunity to break out, especially in leagues that reward passes defensed high.
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