Dallas Cowboys

Want a sneak peek into Cowboys pick at 58? Check the pre-draft visits, safety prospects

Safety has been the talk of the off-season for the Cowboys.

From their initial interest and then lack of pursuit of Earl Thomas in free agency to the visits by Clayton Geathers and Eric Berry before the team eventually signed veteran George Iloka to a bargain-basement one-year deal.

It appears the safety position remains a high priority for the Cowboys based on the national top 30 pre-draft visitors the team is hosting at the Star in Frisco this week.

According to a source on the confirmed visits, six are safeties, including Mississippi State’s Jonathan Abram, Florida’s Chancey Gardner, Boston College’s Will Harris, Washington’s Taylor Rapp, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill and Michigan State’s Khari Willis.

Abram, Rapp, Thornhill and Gardner are considered Day 2 prospects who could possibly be available when the Cowboys make their first pick in the second round at 58th overall.

The Cowboys traded their first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for receiver Amari Cooper last year.

So they will have to sit out the first day and wait and see who drops to them in the second round on Day 2.

The visits are an important forecast for the Cowboys. Since 2005 the only first pick to not make a pre-draft visit was cornerback Morris Claiborne in 2012.

So pay attention.

The Cowboys made a number of moves in free agency to allow them to draft as pure as possible and take the best available player.

In addition to signing Iloka, the Cowboys signed tight end Jason Witten out of retirement and added defensive lineman Christian Covington, Kerry Rhodes, receiver Randall Cobb and defensive end Robert Quinn in free agency.

The Cowboys are hoping that Iloka can take over at free safety for Jeff Heath, but he will be in competition with Heath and Kavon Frazier.

The team will not hesitate to upgrade by picking a safety in the second round if the fit is right. It would only be the third safety taken in the first two rounds of the draft since 2002 when Roy Williams was taken eighth overall out of Oklahoma. Byron Jones was taken 27th in 2015 but he has since moved to cornerback.

The next highest safety taken during that time was J.J. Wilcox in the third round in 2013.

Is it time the Cowboys address a position that has long been a need with a premium pick again?

That Iloka got just $300,000 guaranteed on a $930,000 contract for 2019 means that he is no lock to make the roster if he doesn’t earn the starting job. Frazier and Heath are proven aces on special teams.

Despite the moves in free agency, vice president Stephen Jones said the defensive line remains a huge area of need heading to the draft, especially with defensive Randy Gregory indefinitely suspended and suspended defensive tackle David Irving no longer an option.

Quinn, Covington, and Hyder were only signed to one-year deals so the defensive line is a must for now and the future.

A source confirmed the Cowboys hosted five defensive linemen this week, including Charleston’s John Cominsky, Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson, Central Florida’s Trysten Hill, Texas A&M’s Kingsley Keke and Miami’s Gerald’s Willis.

Only Ferguson and Willis are considered second-round prospects and possible options at 58.

Other confirmed visitors were running backs Damien Harris (Alabama), Mike Weber (Ohio State) and Tony Pollard (Memphis), receivers Emmanuel Hall (Missouri), Mecole Hardman (Georgia) and Deebo Samuel (South Carolina), tight ends Dawson Knox (Mississippi), Drew Sample (Washington) and Jake Sternberger (Texas A&M), cornerbacks Derek Thomas (Baylor) and Chris Westry (Kentucky) and linebackers Dre Greenlaw (Arkansas), Cole Holcomb (North Carolina) and Christian Miller (Alabama).

Harris, Weber, and Samuel are ranked as second-round possibilities and might be there at 58.

Again, the Cowboys will likely take the best player available. Based on pre-draft visits, it most likely will be safety, defensive lineman or receiver.

The Cowboys will conduct Dallas Day workouts on Friday for players who went to school or college in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.