This offseason, the Dallas Cowboys made some headlines when they added a pair of Atlanta safeties in free agency. While the former first round pick, Keanu Neal, grabbed most of the headlines, his running mate Damontae Kazee may be the more impactful signing.
Once upon a time, Kazee was one of the best free safeties in the league. Playing the single high role in Dan Quinn’s defense, Kazee held quarterbacks to just a 53.3% completion percentage and led all safeties with seven interceptions in 2018.
In 2019, he was inexplicably re-cast as more of a box/slot nickel back. The diminutive Kazee was unsuited for such a task and after allowing a 119.9 passer rating and getting a PFF coverage grade of 57.9 through week 7, he was moved back to play more deep safety to finish the year. A place where he quickly picked up where he left off a year before, snagging three interceptions and dropping his passer rating when targeted all the way down to 66.3.
Damontae Kazee may be the most impactful free agent signing of the Dallas Cowboys this year.
Unfortunately last year was a lost cause since he fell to injury early and was never able to establish himself as legit NFL free safety again.
Coming to Dallas two-years removed from that breakout season at FS, it’s understandable Cowboys fans aren’t throwing any parades over his signing. But at just 27-years-old, it’s perfectly feasible he picks up right where he left off his last full season at safety.
Standing just 5-foot-11, 190 lbs. and coming off a torn Achilles, Demontae Kazee certainly has some injury red flags. But Kazee never missed a single game in any of the three seasons prior and has actually proven to be one of the more durable players in the league over that span. And since he suffered his injury early last season, he’s also well along in his rehab…
Kazee’s gaudy interception totals may sound like he’s the gambling type who gives up as much as he takes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a single high safety, Kazee plays conservatively, lining up deeper than most and opting for the safe route more often than not.
All indications are Kazee is a smart and calculated player. He doesn’t like to gamble per say, but his ball skills allow him to make plays on the ball anyway.
I would be shocked if he was able to repeat a seven interception season because he’s just not the type of player that makes things happen at that volume. But given Kazee’s savvy and innate sense of the ball, he’s an early favorite to lead the Dallas Cowboys in INTs nonetheless.
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At this point in his career, Dan Quinn knows what Kazee is as a player. He’s a single high safety and that’s about it. He’s not great in man coverage near the line and he’s a liability as a tackler. As long as the coaching staff keeps that in mind, learns lessons from the past, and plays Kazee in a role he fits, Kazee could be a great player for the Dallas Cowboys this season.
Expect Kazee to play a lot of single high and cover 2 variations in 2021. Since the Dallas Cowboys are three-deep at safety (Keanu Neal and Donovan Wilson) and at nickel cornerback (Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown), they won’t feel pressured to put Kazee in uncomfortable roles.
Kazee should effectively limit the big plays against this Dallas Cowboys defense and possibly offer a whole lot more.