NFC East: 2011 safety breakdown

Breaking down the safeties: Dallas

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
1:00
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Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the safeties of each NFC East team. Today: Dallas Cowboys

In 2010, this awful group of safeties couldn’t support the cornerbacks or consistently make big plays in any phase of the game. Dallas was horrible in the secondary, but especially bad at safety.

Compounding matters, Gerald Sensabaugh is scheduled to become a free agent. He is a slightly above-average starter, but Sensabaugh might have the advantage in negotiations. The Cowboys might be reluctant to employ two new starters at safety while also potentially breaking in a new cornerback in a new defensive scheme under Rob Ryan.

Alan Ball started by default at free safety and was one of the worst starting safeties in the game. He needs to be replaced. Being undersized and a liability in coverage is a rough combination. But he is still young and could have value as a depth player and on special teams.

Depth was a real problem last season -- Dallas used players like Barry Church and Danny McCray, who are really just special teamers. When Church did see the field, he did not impress.

This is a very weak safety draft, but the Cowboys might consider UCLA’s Rahim Moore with their second-round pick. Free agency is the best option for Dallas to fill this gaping hole. Options who should be very attractive to the Cowboys include Eric Weddle, Michael Huff and Deon Grant. Help is really needed here.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Breaking down the safeties: Philadelphia

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
1:00
PM ET
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the safeties of each NFC East team. Today: Philadelphia Eagles

Quintin Mikell gets my vote as the best safety in the NFC East, but he is scheduled to become a free agent. If I knew that the Eagles were sure to bring him back, I would feel far more confident about this position for Philadelphia. But now it is in flux.

Mikell is one of the finest all-around safeties in football and is extremely dependable. He was terrific in 2010. He is in the prime of his career and a leader in what should shape up to be a very young secondary -- especially if the Eagles go with a cornerback early in the draft, which seems likely. This pass defense intercepted 23 passes last season but also allowed a whopping 31 touchdown receptions. His contributions often go unnoticed, but I assure you, his absence would be felt.

Compounding the uncertainty, Nate Allen was lost to a knee injury after starting his rookie season in a promising manner as Philadelphia’s starting free safety opposite Mikell. How will his body respond to the injury? Allen was beginning to fade even before the injury. He needs more work on his route recognition.

After Allen went down, he was replaced by fellow rookie Kurt Coleman. Coleman fared well all things considered, but at this stage of his career, he is best suited to be a third safety who sees time in sub-package defenses.

One wild card in this secondary is Marlin Jackson. He is a former cornerback with the Colts but could be best suited as a safety after missing the entire 2010 season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Breaking down the safeties: New York

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
1:00
PM ET
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the safeties of each NFC East team. Today: New York Giants

This was a strength of the team in 2010, and the Giants often used a lot of three-safety defensive sets on early downs to get their best players on the field. Deon Grant is up for free agency and could be allowed to leave because of the contributions of Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips.

Grant is reliable, durable and a very solid contributor versus the run and especially in coverage. It would be tough to let him walk to another franchise, but plenty of teams could use a free safety like Grant. Keeping him might be unrealistic from a financial standpoint. Grant also might want a true starting position, a distinction that he has earned.

Rolle entered the league as a high draft pick as a cornerback and has really transformed his game. Now the Giants use him near the line of scrimmage a great deal and ask him to perform a wide variety of duties. I really like Rolle’s game and expect him to be even better in 2011 after he has an better grasp of his many assignments. He can be overly aggressive, though, and his coverage skills are not ideal.

Phillips will be another year removed from the very serious knee injury that occurred early in the 2009 season and could be even closer to the exceptional natural talent he was coming out of college. If so, Phillips could be a real difference-maker. Either way, he is a quality safety. If he regains some explosiveness, look out.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Breaking down the safeties: Washington

April, 25, 2011
4/25/11
1:00
PM ET
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the safeties of each NFC East team. Today: Washington Redskins

With the signing of Oshiomogho Atogwe, the Redskins are now loaded at safety and have an excellent complement to LaRon Landry. Landry really came into his own in 2010 until an Achilles tendon injury ended his season in Week 9.

Safety is the best position that Washington has and is a true area of strength -- assuming Landry returns to pre-injury form, which might be a bit optimistic considering that he also had shoulder surgery this offseason.

Atogwe is best in a deep center field role where he can key the quarterback and make plays on the ball in the air. He is a very average run-support player, but Atogwe has proved throughout his career that he has an excellent knack for getting his hands on the football. He was also used more as a blitzer last season, a role that he seemed to relish. He could really help what was a very poor 2010 pass defense. The addition of Atogwe, whom defensive coordinator Jim Haslett knows well from their time together in St. Louis, should allow Landry to freelance even more.

Landry has become the quintessential strong safety who thrives near the line of scrimmage. He is one of the biggest safeties in the league, but his coverage skills could use work. He has improved in that capacity, and the Redskins made better use of his unique skill set with Haslett in control of the defense. Landry can blitz and play the run as well as just about any safety in the league. The opposing offense now needs to account for him pre-snap. Landry can be very disruptive.

Kareem Moore was the starting free safety to open the season but didn’t do a lot to get excited about. He missed a lot of tackles and was too much of a liability in coverage, but Moore could be a solid backup to Atogwe.

Reed Doughty also has starting experience and could be a valuable player if Landry doesn’t recover as planned. Chris Horton also could factor in, but durability has become a major problem for this young strong safety. Washington doesn’t want Doughty or Horton covering the Jason Wittens of the world.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

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