When the Cowboys drafted Akwasi Owusu-Ansah in the fourth round of April's draft, they filled a "position" that they had been trying to fill for the past couple of years: a project cornerback. More specifically, they sought to fill this role with a rare size-speed athlete who had underperformed his measurables on the college gridiron.
In 2008, they had their eyes on Indiana's Tracy Porter, who had the size of a biggish corner (5'11" 195) but the athletic ability of a smaller corner. He blew up the combine that year with a 4.37 40 time as well as elite-level 20 and 60-yard shuttle times. Porter's combine showing outstripped his on-field play, leaving evaluators puzzling over a first-round talent with third or fourth-round tape. The Cowboys were likely targeting Porter in the second or third rounds, but he never made it anywhere near that target point. He was drafted in the early second (#40 overall) by the Saints and, as we all know, went on to bring a Lombardi to The Big Easy with his 74-yard pick six in last years Game to End All Games.
In that same draft, the Cowboys also showed interest in Iowa's Charles Godfrey, who echoed Porter in terms of physical stature (6 feet, 205) and combine numbers (4.38 forty; ridiculous 3-cone times). Like Porter, his tape didn't reflect these numbers. Godfrey was snatched up by the Panthers at the top of the 3rd round; if he had fallen to the bottom of the round, the Cowboys might well have selected him instead of trading down repeatedly before nabbing Tashard Choice.
In 2009, they were interested in Iowa's Bradley Fletcher who, at 6-1 and 196, had safety size to go with freakish athletic ability (4.4 forty; 38 1/2 inch vertical among others). Like Porter, Fletcher's tape wasn't elite, but his measurables were: he had NFL talent written all over him. Fletcher was picked up by the Rams at the top of the third round, three picks before the Cowboys selected Jason Williams. A nearer miss than in 2008, but a miss nevertheless.
This brings us to the most recent draft, in which the player who most nearly fit the above profile was our dear AOA. Instead of bad tape, he had to carry the "small school/ inferior competition" label, which served to temper his first-round measureables. As we know from the fine work done here at BTB, the Cowboys had him rated at the top of the fourth round and happily picked him late in the fourth.
Why do I dredge up this draft lore at the dawning of a new season? There has been a lot of pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth recently over the fact that the Cowboys have only three cornerbacks. A look at their draft (more precisely, their pre-draft) behavior over the past three years shows that they have been planning for this situation for some time now, and that Owusu-Ansah is precisely the sort of fourth corner they have been looking to acquire. Much like they do with a third quarterback, teams covet fourth corners with upside--ideally someone with raw tools that can, in a couple of years, be coached up to starter status (I would consider a third corner a "starter").
That's what New Orleans ended up finding in Porter. One of the storylines I'll be watching this year and next is the development of 'Kwaz. Hopefully, he'll pay back the Cowboys' faith and patience in Porter-like style: with a big play on the biggest of stages.