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Dallas Cowboys UDFAs and Roster Battles: Cornerbacks

Texas A&M's Lionel Smith runs during the Aggie's pro day
Texas A&M's Lionel Smith runs during the Aggie's pro day

In one of my first-ever BTB posts, I noted that, in the last few years, the Cowboys have established very specific size/ speed criteria for their defensive backs, placing a premium on collegiate corners with a combination of length (preferably 6'0") and speed (ideally, below 4.5). 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 as well as Iowa's Charles Godfrey, who echoed Porter in terms of physical stature (6'0", 205) and combine numbers (4.38 forty; ridiculous 3-cone times). 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). In 2010, as we know, they targeted Akwasi Owusu-Ansah who, at 6'0" ran a 4.32 forty.

Even though AOA washed out, the organization has continued to search for corners with length. This desire was most acutely felt in the 2011 debacle against Detroit; the Cowboys initially held the Lions’ Calvin Johnson (who measures 6’5”) in check, largely by shadowing him with Gerald Sensabaugh who, for all his faults, can get up; he boasts a 46” vertical jump, the best ever recorded at the Combine. Once Sensabaugh went out, however, Johnson made hay, scoring twice on balls up in the air, the second against the comparatively diminutive 5'10" Terence Newman.

Related: Dallas Cowboys UDFAs and Roster Battles: Tight Ends

It was with visions of Megatron dancing in their heads that Dallas made Brandon Carr their number one free agent priority; at 6’0”, Carr possesses a length that most of his coverage brethren do not. One exception to this is Dallas' headline-stealing draft coup, CB Mo Claiborne, who shares Carr's height. Both players have the size to match up with big receivers (the Giants duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz come in at 6"1 and 6"0", respectively) and the length and hops (Carr boasts a 35-inch vertical; Claiborne has 33-inch arms) to contest passes at a greater height. In a league with so many receivers standing 6’3” or more, that is not only a good but a necessary development. By bringing in these two, the Cowboys secondary not only got younger, but significantly longer this offseason.

As if you needed further evidence that the 6-foot corner is the Cowboys physical prototype, take a look at the players the team brought in for pre-draft visits: Josh Norman (6'0"), Stephon Gilmore (6’1”), Dre Kirkpatrick (6’2”) and Chris Greenwood (6'1") all possess rare length. And the other guys on their list weren't exactly shorties: Casey Hayward and Jamell Fleming both stand 5'11" and have elite quickness and speed, respectively. The Cowboys haven't been interested in diminutive corners in some time; this is particularly true, now that Rob Ryan and his press-man intensive blitz packages are in house.

Given all this, it should come as no surprise that the UDFA corners Dallas signed earlier this week also adhere to this profile. Want to hear more about them, and a few thought about their chances to secure a roster spot? Make the jump and prepare to be amazed...

Lionel Smith, Texas A&M:

Prototype? Check: the former Aggie comes in at 6'0" and a lean 193. Never heard of Smith? That may be because he didn't get defensive snaps until midway through his senior year, playing a backup/ special teams role for the better part of his four-year career. In 2011, he was the team's third corner until mid-November, when he had to fill in for injured starter Coryell Judie, arguably the team's most talented defender, for the final seven games of the season. With Smith in the lineup, however, the team didn't skip a beat as Smith posted 51 tackles (with 2 1/2 TFL), a sack and two forced fumbles.

That was enough to put him on some NFL teams' radar. His performance at A&M's pro day ensured that all 32 teams knew who he was. Smith has a superb workout, clocking a blazing 4.41-second 40-yard dash (which would have been seventh-fastest among cornerbacks at the Combine), bench-pressed 225 pound 17 times, registered a 10’7” broad jump (fourth-highest among all cornerbacks) and a 38-inch vertical jump and topped it off with a 4.20 short shuttle time. Clearly, Smith had enough raw athleticism to find a spot on a training camp roster; the question is: can he harness that talent well enough to stick around? One thing working in his favor is that he's a strong special teams player. Here he is killing it in punt coverage against New Mexico.

Troy Woolfolk, Michigan

The 6'0" and 191 pound Woolfolk has nearly identical size to Smith, and shares a similar final-season story: he played all 13 games, but not as a full-time starter. He logged six starts at corner and four at safety. Where his narrative departs from Smith's is that, before his senior season, Woolfolk enjoyed considerable success, playing in 45 career games with 23 starts. In 2010, he was expected to be the Wolverines number one corner, but his season was derailed by a nasty dislocated right ankle and broken right fibula during fall camp, earning him a redshirt year. In 2011, Woolfolk played every game, but was almost certainly not fully recovering from his injury - even if he claimed he was at 100%. In October, a writer at Maize n Brew, SBN's University of Michigan site, wrote:

Troy Woolfolk should not leave the bench until he is healthy. The poor guy can't buy a break, excuse the pun. He's gotten dinged up in every game so far this season and obviously needs some time to heal. We'll need him as the season rolls on, so let him heal.

Woolfolk had a chance to show scouts that he was fully recovered at Michigan's pro day, where he ran a decent 4.56 forty and looked fluid in position drills. However, his pedestrian vertical (31.5) and broad jump (9'0") marks suggest strongly that his explosion hadn't yet returned. However, he's got the size and NFL pedigree (his father is former Michigan running back Butch Woolfolk) to merit a look. And, like Smith, he's a good special teams player, who can lay the wood. Want to see him in action? Here's a highlight - yes that's highlight, singular - in which he shows he can bring it. His physicality, and the fact that he saw extensive time at safety in his final year, prompts scouts to classify Woolfolk as a free safety.

Isaac Madison, Arkansas

The shrimp of the bunch, Madison measures 5'11" and, like Smith boasts 4.4 speed and was a "Dallas Day" invitee, so the Cowboys had a chance to visit with him. Madison was a three-year starter for the Razorbacks; like Woolfolk, he lost a season to injury. In 2009, he tore his left ACL, missing the season, and then battled back in 2010 and 2011. Strangely, there's not a lot of other info on him; I did find this draft profile from CNNSI:

Positives: Smallish cornerback with good athleticism. Flips his hips off the line transitioning to run with opponents, displays a burst of closing speed and explodes to the ball out of his plant. Plays with good quickness, effectively locates the pass in the air and works hard to get off blocks and make plays. Reads the receiver?s eyes and gets his head back around, then positions himself to defend the throw.

Negatives: Tentative defending the run and not a reliable tackler. Does not display timing in pass defense. Average ball skills.

Analysis: Madison possesses the speed necessary to play at the next level and has flashed ball skills the past two seasons. He projects as a dimeback at the next level but will only make a roster if he stands out on kick and punt coverage units.

Although not much has been written about him, there's plenty of tape available! Here's a nice introductory highlight reel. And here's a two-parter: part one is here; part two is here.

These would-be Cowboys face a good news-bad news situation. The bad news? The depth chart is pretty deeply etched. Unless they get a great deal for Jenkins, the first four spots are filled by Carr, Claiborne, Jenkins and Scandrick. The good news? Even with their offseason acquisitions, the Cowboys are still a bit thin beyond the top four, so there is a spot (or spots) for the taking. From here, it looks like the battle for the fifth and/ or sixth corner spots will be between these guys and incumbent back-up Mario Butler. Oh, and by the way, he's 6'1", 190. As I said, there's a prototype.

Who do I think will emerge? Assuming they keep Jenkins, It wouldn't surprise me to see Butler and Smith as the fifth and sixth corners. If they jettison #21? All bets are off...

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