The Dallas Cowboys suffered a blow to their defense when safety Jayron Kearse was sidelined with a knee injury. Dallas hasn’t missed a beat defensively at the safety position in the two games since Kearse went to the sidelines though, and it’s because of their ace in the hole.

Donovan Wilson came into the 2022 season in a contract year. Added to that are young studs Israel Mukuamu and Markquese who had good training camps and played well in the preseason, keeping the pressure on the four-year veteran.

On Thursday, NFL.com released a ranking of the top 10 safeties in the league over the first three games based on a formula by Next Gen stats that measures tackling, coverage, and pass-rush ability. According to their calculations, Wilson has not only performed well but he’s been the second-best safety over the first three weeks of the season.

Next Gen Stats analytics team on Wilson’s ranking:

“Since taking over as the Cowboys defensive coordinator in 2021, Dan Quinn has used nickel personnel (five defensive backs) at the second-highest rate in the NFL (79 percent of plays). Given that Quinn is also one of the last defensive play callers majoring in single-high shells (63 percent of plays since ’21, third in NFL), that means the strong safety will often line up in the box. This year, Wilson has filled that role for the Cowboys, aligning in the box almost as frequently (41 percent of the time) as he does at deep safety (44 percent). The fourth-year pro has taken advantage of his proximity to the ball, leading all safeties with four QB pressures on just 11 blitzes. Availability has been the only weak point in Wilson’s NFL career, but if he can stay healthy, opposing quarterbacks will have to account for another emerging threat on Dallas’ aggressive defense.”

What Wilson has put on display so far in 2022 shouldn’t surprise anyone. Two seasons ago, Wilson was the best safety for the Cowboys as he broke out with 71 tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 3.5 sacks in 14 games (10 starts).

The issue for Wilson during his time with the Cowboys has been health, not performance. In his rookie campaign in 2019, he burst onto the scene with three interceptions during the preseason before an ankle injury derailed his progress, forcing him to be mostly a special teams contributor. Wilson was plagued by groin, chest, and shoulder injuries last season that cost him eight games. However, he was effective when he was on the field.

Had it not been for two seasons of battling ailments, Wilson may have already earned a second contract with the Cowboys by now. Instead, he had to show his worth once again this season, and although it’s only been three games, Wilson has gotten off to a fast start.

Wilson is an intricate part of the Cowboys’ Big Nickel package on defense that features three safeties with his ability to support against the run, get a helmet on the quarterback, and cover. As long as Wilson keeps performing like this, he will make himself a big priority next off-season when it comes to in-house free agents for the Cowboys.

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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports