“Coming out of high school I had one offer — from a D-II school. Then going through the draft process, going undrafted …That’s basically every team telling you you’re not good enough. It hurts at first, but you can turn it into motivation.” – Cowboys Safety Jeff Heath
Jeff Heath’s high school accolades are quite impressive. He was voted all-league, All-North Conference, All-State finalist and team captain. He was awarded the Big Play Player of the Year, the Big Stick Award for hardest hitter, and leadership award winner. Heath was also a member of the honor roll at Lake Orion high school in Michigan.
Heath played college ball at Saginaw Valley State University, and he played very well. As a freshman Heath appeared in five games and started in one. He racked up 13 tackles, four solo and nine assisted, one interception, one tackle for a loss, a forced fumble and recovery, as well as a pass deflection. Not bad for 5 games.
During his sophomore campaign, Heath appeared in eight games and had seven starts. Heath finished the season with 49 tackles, 3.5 for loss, one interception, and recovered two fumbles.
In 2011, Heath started in all eleven games for Saginaw Valley. He was a top defensive player totaling 81 tackles on the season. Heath posted his season high of 13 tackles and one sack in a win against Northwood (Sept. 24) recovered one fumble in a 44-41 overtime win over Michigan Tech (Nov. 5) and had one interception for a return of 46 yards in a loss against Indianapolis (Oct. 15). He was also selected Second Team All-GLIAC.
Jeff Heath was snubbed from the NFL Combine coming out of college, yet his pro day results were substantial. Let’s compare Heath’s pro day results with recent first round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro.
Heath is listed 5 pounds lighter than Vaccaro, yet recorded 7 more reps on the 225 lb bench press. Heath also recorded a faster 40 time, clocking in at 4.49, Vaccaro submitted a 4.59. Vaccaro (38″) and Heath (37″) had nearly identical verticals, though Heath is listed as one inch taller than Vaccaro. Heath did best Vaccaro in the broad jump. Kenny Vaccaro’s advantage over Heath is obvious, big games against better talent equals more experience. Vaccaro was much better prepared for the speed and schemes of the NFL and it showed, as he had a phenomenal rookie debut. The same could not be said for Heath, who soon became the scapegoat of the Dallas Cowboy’s secondary during his rookie campaign.
Jeff Heath was thrown to the wolves and was forced to grow up quick his rookie season as a Dallas Cowboy. He made numerous plays during his first training camp in Oxnard, and showed up on film in the preseason. The coaches obviously had confidence in his abilities, and inserted him into the lineup of one of the worst statistical defenses of all time. I believe Heath’s downfall in the eye of Cowboy’s fans had to do with the fact that he was always around the ball, but didn’t always make the play. This was clear during last season’s game against the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees had all day to throw, and made it clear that he was going to pick on the small school UDFA. Heath was thrown at 6 times and gave up 5 receptions. The Saints put up 103 yards targeting Heath and also 3 touchdowns. Heath did not look out of place or lost, but instead he was a step late on many plays and badly timed a jump on a 50-50 ball thrown to Kenny Stills. This is the play that lives in the minds of Cowboys fans when the name Jeff Heath is brought up.
It would be easy for a casual fan of football to say that Heath is just a bad player and his small school experience will limit his abilities in the NFL. Yet, the Cowboys coaching staff, myself and many professional scouts believe that Heath has the ability to make a healthy contribution to the team. I believe Heath could possibly take the starting safety spot away from JJ Wilcox, as he learns and grows as a player. He has all the physical attributes needed to be a great starting Safety in the NFL. He is a solid tackler and has shown flashes of elite coverage ability. Heath can sky and with extra work on 50/50 balls I can see him racking up more deflected passes than anyone in the league (besides maybe JJ Watt). Heath will be fighting hard at camp, and I have no doubt that he will constantly show up, and will always be around the ball. Hopefully this time around he makes the play, rather than becoming a scapegoat for a terrible defensive unit.
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