Outside of “The Star,” there are very few people that believe in the Dallas Cowboys’ starting safeties. The name Xavier Woods is known more for professional wrestling fame around the country, and Jeff Heath has been consistently disregarded year after year.
While we spend a lot of time defending Xavier Woods, and stating that his talent and upside give the Cowboys the flexibility to hold off on any potential Earl Thomas trade, it’s time to recognize how important, and downright good Jeff Heath is.
Jeff Heath is simply a good football player.
Over the last few seasons Jeff Heath has become a meme amongst Cowboys Twitter. Though they have struggled to cause interceptions as a defense, Heath has found himself in the right place at the right time for those rare takeaways. Over the last 3 seasons Heath has 6 interceptions, including 3 when he saw increased time in 2017. Heath was also able to force 2 fumbles a year ago, creating 5 takeaway opportunities overall.
While some will argue that these takeaways are luck, they really have more to do with his relentless pursuit and constant effort. As we saw on Saturday night against the Bengals, Jeff Heath flies all over the field and is constantly looking to make plays.
This, above all else, is why he finds himself in the position to create turnovers and change the course of a game each Sunday. Sure, turnover numbers as a whole are hard to replicate and often flukey, but playing the way that Heath plays gives him a chance to capitalize on those flukey opportunities.
Now in Kris Richard’s defense, Jeff Heath is being tasked with the “Kam Chancellor” role. While that reads like a ridiculous sentence, Heath has shown thus far that he is capable of doing this. Against the Bengals last week, Heath looked impressive as a box safety, tackling in run support and never shying away from contact. He also possesses the ability to drop back in zone coverage and play a more traditional safety role, creating a real luxury for Rod Marinelli when calling the defense.
Heath has strong instincts and understands the game better than just about anyone on this defense. In a way Heath has become the Sean Lee of the secondary, and that is an excellent sign for this young group moving forward. Especially when you consider how frequently Lee is forced to miss time with injury.
It’s time to give Jeff Heath some actual credit, and stop dismissing his impactful plays as nothing more than luck. Jeff Heath is a good player and a valuable piece to this defense.