Earlier this year, I graded safety Barry Church as if he were a rookie. I looked at his 6-2, 222-pound frame, 4.64 40-yard dash, 10-1 broad jump, and 4.17 short shuttle, and concluded that he would probably be a fifth-round prospect.
Church is an interesting player because he has such limited experience. He’s played only 399 defensive snaps during his three-year career; that’s the equivalent of less than half of one full season for a starter. That means that his stats aren’t as important as those for other players, and we almost need to treat him as though he’s never played.
Prior to the 2012 season, Church actually led all Cowboys in tackle rate at 10.5 percent. Again, it came in limited time, but Church seemed to use his short-area quickness to make plays in tight areas. He also looked improved in pass coverage in 2012; he appeared lighter on his feet and yielded only three receptions on seven attempts.
Since we don’t have too much of a basis to predict how Church will play in 2013, perhaps the best way to project his stats is to look at comparable players in similar schemes. Church’s closest comp is Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. New Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has stated that he wants to play a lot of Cover 3 like Seattle did in 2012. In that defense, the strong safety has “curl-to-flat” responsibility, meaning he’s down in the box. That’s where Church excels.
So if we view Church as a player with a skill set similar to Chancellor (who stands 6-3, 231 pounds with 4.62 speed) playing in a comparable scheme, then it follows that his stats should probably be similar. In 2012, Chancellor recorded 69 tackles in his third season in the NFL—down four from 2011. That’s a good baseline for Church, but I think we can bump it up just a bit based on his success as a run defender and the fact that Dallas will probably play more defensive snaps than Seattle did in 2012.
Chancellor saw 56 targets playing in the box in 2012, and Church will likely check in near that as well. It could be a slightly lower figure since the Cowboys will probably play some more Cover 2 than Seattle—meaning Church will be in the deep half.
Final 2013 Projection: 50 targets, 38 receptions, 350 yards allowed, 80 tackles, 2 INT
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.