Cornerback has been a position of need for the Dallas Cowboys; nobody would dispute the fact. The team has looked for the answer both through the draft and through free agency, yet the right combination has not been found. Jerry Jones has gotten a less than pleasing return on his investment over the years and the team has suffered for the less than satisfactory results. For that reason, cornerback was high on my personal scouting list once the playoffs ended. With the first round selection of Connecticut CB Byron Jones, it seems that the front office had a similar outlook.
My colleagues on the front page and around the media have done an excellent job of making sure that you know everything there is to know about the newest Cowboy. I am going to turn my attention to the long- and short-term rational for Dallas making the selection.
Cornerback is a position with a steep learning curve. The National Football League has the craftiest and wiliest receivers that money can buy, and while Jones may possibly be the best athlete to ever don the star he has a long road ahead of him to reach the level that is expected of him. With both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne falling well short of what was expected of them, Jones can expect to get an opportunity right away. As a first-round draft pick a large part of his role will be to come in and make the team better from the moment he steps on the field. With his athleticism and his experience at multiple positions, Dallas has the luxury of choosing how they use him at first. Confidence is vital to defensive backs and especially for cornerbacks. I look for Jerome Henderson and Rod Marinelli to move Jones around and let him get his feet wet slowly while they groom him for his ultimate role. Byron gives the Cowboys options.
I suspect that he will get plenty of opportunities at the slot and outside. Dallas will challenge their new corner but they will not allow him to become overwhelmed. That is a lesson learned from the last first-round corner, Mo Claiborne. They may even slide him in as a safety at times, but I doubt we see too much of that. His biggest role this season will be to gain the type of experience necessary for him to be a long-term solution for a long-standing problem in Dallas. That is true for any rookie, but for a first-rounder more is expected. While he learns, Byron Jones will also be expected to be a better piece than either of the men whom he is likely to be the replacement for.
Teams expect an immediate impact from first-round selections, but they don't only look at the here and now. Dallas drafted Jones to be the corner who allows them to move on from recent shortcomings. Long-term the Cowboys are looking for Jones to come in and establish himself as a force that makes opposing passers look in another direction. Jones is expected to become the mainstay that the Cowboys thought that they were getting in Claiborne. They don't need "the greatest corner prospect since Deion Sanders", they need the guy who is going to be there making plays week in and week out. Byron Jones has the potential to become one of the better corners in the league, perhaps not a Revis but a guy who opposing offenses treat with respect.
Due to his first-round status the Cowboys will have the opportunity to cash in on his athleticism at the rookie rate for five seasons. Jones is still learning to be a cornerback, and he will have the benefit of working with Jerome Henderson who will teach him the ins and outs of being a top tier NFL corner. He also has the intelligence to learn. Both his football and overall IQs are high. His Wonderlic score was a 33, as opposed to the low score of his predecessor as a first-round corner. All early indications are that the Cowboys have found the corner who will help transform the secondary from a liability to a strength for seasons to come.