#collegesafety | Damontae Kazee or Malik Hooker: Which visiting safety should the Cowboys sign?


As expected, the Cowboys waited to really get into the free agency groove this offseason. Earlier in the week they added three defensive line pieces, and are now turning their attention towards the safety spots. It was reported that Dallas is bringing in both Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker for visits next week.

Both players offer a lot of promise, having put up a lot of production in the past that would fit very well in the single-high safety scheme Dan Quinn is bringing to Dallas. However, both players are also coming off Achilles tears, which is why they’re each in the Cowboys’ price range. Get to know each of them a little bit better.

Damontae Kazee

Damontae Kazee has had a very interesting career arc thus far. He played a cornerback/safety hybrid role in San Diego State’s unique 3-3-5 scheme, where he was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year his final two years there. But Kazee still went in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, swooped up by Dan Quinn’s Falcons. At the time, the Falcons had their starting safety duo of Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal (another Cowboys target) but Kazee’s playmaking skills were too good to turn down.

Kazee mostly played on special teams in his rookie year as a result, but did start one game due to an injury. That led to the Falcons giving him much more of a rotational role going into the 2018 season, starting 15 games. Kazee responded by thriving in the centerfield safety role and snagging a league-leading seven interceptions, breaking up 10 passes, and totaling 82 tackles. Not surprisingly, Kazee saw his production dip a bit in 2019 as quarterbacks started to avoid him, but Kazee still caught three picks, batted down three passes, and recorded 74 tackles.

Of course, tragedy then struck in 2020, with Kazee tearing his Achilles in the fourth week of the season. Measuring in at 5’11” and roughly 190 pounds, Kazee has always been a bit undersized for the position, but he was fairly durable throughout college and his NFL career until this past year. Still, the role he played in Quinn’s defense – which he would be playing in Dallas as well – requires top-flight athleticism in order to truly cover the middle of the field, especially in Cover 1 shells.

Kazee certainly possessed that kind of athleticism, but the Achilles injury complicates things significantly. How well he’s able to recover from this devastating injury will largely dictate how valuable Kazee can be for the Cowboys. Obviously, his connection to Quinn is a large piece of this potential signing, but it’s also worth noting that the Falcons fired Quinn the week after Kazee’s Achilles injury. While it’s entirely possible that Quinn kept in touch with his former player after the fact, it’s not exactly like he’d have any inside information on Kazee’s rehab here.

Still, Kazee was starting to cement his status as one of the best free safeties in the league before his injury, and if he manages to regain that form, he would instantly improve this defense in a massive way. On the more conservative side of expectations, he could at least provide a seasoned voice in the scheme and serve as a stopgap option for a rookie learning the role in Quinn’s scheme.

Malik Hooker

On the other hand is Malik Hooker, who took a different path to this point. He was a star safety at Ohio State, filling a very similar single-high safety role in Greg Schiano’s defense, but one that emphasized his playmaking ability all over the field. Hooker won numerous honors during his time in Columbus, and as such he was regarded the second best safety in the 2017 draft class after Jamal Adams, and the best deep safety.

The Colts selected Hooker 15th overall after a surprising tumble down the draft board, partially due to his recovering from surgery at the end of his college season. After missing most of the preseason, Hooker immediately got out to a hot start as the starting free safety. In his first seven games, Hooker notched three picks and four passes defensed. However, he tore his ACL and MCL in that seventh game, ending his wildly promising rookie year.

At the conclusion of the 2017 season, the Colts brought in a new coaching staff that featured new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, a popular name in Dallas. Eberflus implemented a split safety scheme he had learned from Rod Marinelli in Dallas, which meant Hooker was learning a new role and doing much less roaming in the deep middle of the field. Still, Hooker put forth a solid year. Through 14 games he tallied two picks, knocked down four passes, and recorded 44 tackles. The next year Hooker played in 13 games and tallied two more picks, three passes defensed, and 51 tackles.

Both were solid years of production from the safety, but certainly not what many had expected from the prospect coming out of the draft. A large part of that is due to the different responsibilities Hooker was charged with in Eberflus’ scheme, which featured a lot of rotation and variation in assignments, creating less opportunities for Hooker to flash his ball-hawking skills. That led to Indianapolis declining his fifth year option heading into 2020, and then Hooker tore his Achilles in the second game of the year. It’s no surprise that Hooker hasn’t been scooped up by a team yet.

The profile on Hooker is very simple: he fits best as a single-high safety and has all the traits to become an elite player, but a mixture of two devastating injuries and a scheme change have limited his play thus far. Similar to Kazee, a Hooker signing in Dallas would offer a very high ceiling but also a low floor. Can Hooker stay healthy and play at the level he did in college? If the answer is yes, Dallas could be looking at the next Earl Thomas. If not, then he’s just another bargain bin free agency signing that’s exactly that. Again, very similar to Kazee, but with more potential as a player and more injuries in his past.

The Cowboys will likely end up landing one of these two free agents, but which one do you want more?

Poll

Which safety would you prefer the Cowboys sign?

  • 34%

    Damontae Kazee

    (1015 votes)

  • 65%

    Malik Hooker

    (1964 votes)



2979 votes total

Vote Now



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