When the Cowboys drafted Byron Jones 27th overall last season, they got a player with the true versatility to play anywhere they wanted to put him. It's starting to look more and more like the Cowboys will place Jones at free safety in 2016 and let him stay there. In fact, Jason Garrett hinted to Todd Archer that Jones playing safety has been close to the plan all along:
"We wanted to give him a real good look at safety. He's done so many good things for us at different spots," coach Jason Garrett said. "We just wanted to give him a chance to practice there and play there throughout the ballgame. He was going to be kind of an emergency corner if we needed him as the game went on, but ideally, we wanted him to practice and play there and he did a good job in the game."
With Byron Jones playing center field for the Cowboys in 2016, it leaves a huge question mark at cornerback heading into the offseason. Couple that with the fact that Brandon Carr's contract could make him expendable or that Morris Claiborne is set to hit free agency and you have a clear position to fill out. Though Dallas has been pretty good at limiting the opposing passing attacks this season, they have not done enough to get the ball back and truly lack a playmaker at cornerback. That is the missing link here because the cornerbacks on this team have not performed well enough to feel comfortable heading into the offseason. Until December 19th, these cornerbacks were zeroed out in interceptions this season. The two guys that have picked off passes for the Cowboys this year were named Terrance Mitchell and Dejo Olatoye. Hardly the guys that the coaches believed would be their playmakers in 2015. Needless to say, the Cowboys have some work to do in their secondary.
When it comes to free agency, there will be some names out there but you have to consider age and production as well. The Cowboys went the free agency route before and gave a lot of money to Carr for very little in return. You almost always overpay in free agency which is why the only name that makes sense is one of their own.
Morris Claiborne, 25
Claiborne hasn't been sensational this year or anything like that but he has played remarkably better than what we've seen in the past. Though Claiborne will never live up to what the Cowboys gave up to get him, he has finally become a legitimate starting cornerback in the NFL. That is something we certainly couldn't have said about him in the past several years. Of all the cornerbacks on the roster, at 25, Claiborne still has the highest ceiling and wants to stay in Dallas:
"I’m not even trying to look there, but I’m human. I always think about it," Claiborne said. "But I try to keep it here with where I’m at now. I have no idea yet, but I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else."
Re-signing Claiborne looks a lot better when looking at the landscape of cornerbacks hitting the market. Josh Norman and Janoris Jenkins are probably not leaving their respective teams anytime soon. If the price is right, might as well bring back Mo' and look forward to the draft.
The 2016 Draft
According to the CBS Prospect Rankings, only three cornerbacks have been awarded first round talent potential. Now, of course, that could change once we get past the Senior Bowl and the Combine. Either way, let's look what Walter Football had to say about the top guys in this year's class.
3. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
In 2015, Ramsey has 43 tackles with 10 passes broken up and zero interceptions. Against South Florida, he had a nice pass breakup and a long kick return, but also got lucky. He was all but beaten for a long pass play after losing a receiver deep downfield, but the wideout dropped the pass. Versus Miami, Ramsey gave up a 58-yard touchdown to Hurricanes wide receiver Rashawn Scott. It gave evidence that Ramsey is a work in progress as a corner. He played better against the Clemson Tigers and their talented wide receivers. NFL sources say that in watching Ramsey, he is more special at safety rather than corner. For the NFL, they feel he would be a press-man corner to take on big receivers, but would struggle to prevent separation from speed receivers and sudden route-runners.
2. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
Sources say that Fuller didn't look good in his brief 2015 action, as he was playing with an MCL sprain, but looking back at his sophomore tape has teams extremely excited. They feel that Fuller was a true lock-down corner that season, and some teams have given him a first-round grade based on his sophomore year tape. In mid-September, Virginia Tech announced that Fuller underwent surgery to repair a meniscus and his season is over. He recorded three tackles, one sack and a pass breakup this year. The Hokies cornerback didn't have a great start to the year against Ohio State. He was beaten for a third-down completion and had a pass interference after wide receiver Michael Thomas got a step on him. In the fourth quarter, Thomas burned Fuller on a stop-and-go route to get wide open for a 26-yard touchdown. However, Fuller was playing hurt with a sprained MCL in those early contests.
1. Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Hargreaves has recorded 31 tackles with four passes broken up, a forced fumble and four interceptions this season. The junior plays smaller than his listed measurements. Sources say they love Hargreaves' cover skills but would like him to play more physically with receivers. Versus Alabama, Hargreaves had five tackles but was beaten for some big plays downfield on 50-50 passes. Sources have felt that Hargreaves can get bumped around and out-physicaled. That was given further evidence against the Crimson Tide. Hargreaves had a big interception against Georgia and forced the fumble from Leonard Fournette versus LSU. Against Ole Miss, Hargreaves had a strong game with six tackles and an interception. He was excellent to help lead the Gators to a big upset over the Rebels.
Opinions still vary about these corners as we have yet to see all of the preparation for the NFL Draft. In fact, Dane Brugler mentions Ramsey as on of the top prospects in all of the draft though Walter Football has him at third. Hargreaves III took some flak for his performance in a 41-7 thumping at the hands of Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. These are young guys that have a lot of work ahead of them but it's hard not to think one of these guys could be a consideration with the Cowboys first round draft choice.
When you are staring at a 4-12 or 5-11 season, there are a lot of places you can look for help. Cornerback doesn't seem like a bad choice to start for the Dallas Cowboys.