The Dallas Cowboys certainly had a productive 2016 draft. Everyone knows about Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Not as well-known but also helping out is third-round pick Maliek Collins. But a sixth-rounder making news already?
When cornerback Anthony Brown's name was called, it was met with some shrugs and 'well, he's just a sixth-round pick.' We wouldn't find out until later that the Cowboys felt Brown was easily a fourth-round talent that they believe they stole at 189th overall.
Brown was on a historically bad secondary at Purdue, they may be better than just one secondary in the world and that's the New Orleans Saints. All joking aside, Brown was overlooked for this reason. However, if you looked closely at his 2015 numbers, you would see a guy that intercepted four passes and broke up six others. He averaged about seven pass deflections in three years as a starter there. He also was loved by his coaches for his ability to tackle, he had 110 tackles in 2014-2015. Two seasons with 55 tackles a piece? That's clearly good for a cornerback.
What got Brown on the map in the draft process was undoubtedly his speed. He graded out as the second-fastest cornerback in the entire draft. Many draftniks gave him an A+ for his speed but obviously didn't give him credit for much else, that's why the Cowboys got a huge win on that day. A lot of draft experts noted the fact that Brown got charged with giving up 17 touchdowns on 162 targets. To the Cowboys' credit, they looked beyond that one stat, obviously believing that as a unit the secondary was collectively to blame for some of those failures, as well as an all-around poor defense. Whatever they saw in Brown, it looks like it turned out to be right. .
Brown's strengths come from his patience and good feet. He's just as comfortable in press as he is zone and he's a physical finisher as a tackler. All these things showed up in his scouting reports and now it's showing up for the Cowboys on the field. In fact, the Cowboys' secondary as a whole deserves a ton of credit for the way they have played without their best defensive back in Orlando Scandrick.
Scandrick has missed the last four games with two tight hamstrings and those soft-tissue injuries are not something you want to press or you'll likely find yourself shelved for the rest of the season. In Scandrick's absence, Anthony Brown has been the slot-corner and what was once thought as a liability has turned into a bit of a surplus. It wasn't too long ago when the Cowboys were spurned by free agent corners and we were all calling for Brandon Carr's roster spot.
Back on topic, Brown has been nothing short of outstanding. In six games, he's already got 26 tackles, a forced fumble, and two pass deflections. This week against the Green Bay Packers, Brown elevated his game. Halfway through the contest, the Cowboys' best cornerback currently playing, Morris Claiborne, was taken out with a concussion. The Cowboys felt comfortable enough to push Brown to Claiborne's outside corner spot and moved Byron Jones into the slot. How did Brown do? He finished with 10 tackles, 1 assist, a tackle for loss and forced the fumble we discussed earlier. And there were no huge gaffes in coverage, either.
At one time, there was talk about resting Scandrick for one game and bringing him back but the fact that Brown has played so well, it gave them the opportunity to make sure Scandrick is right. The Cowboys enter their bye week 5-1 and you don't get there without a sneaky good effort from the defensive side of the ball. They have kept four teams under 20 points.
There isn't a household name on the defensive side of the ball outside of Sean Lee, but you can bet they have a ton of heart and hustle. Here's one more statistic for the feather cap. Pro Football Focus, who does their best to grade every player throughout the season, have not been a fan of the Cowboys' cornerbacks in recent seasons. Where it stands right now, all Cowboys cornerbacks have a 75 or above grade. Brown is at 76 and that's pretty solid for a rookie cornerback in this passing league. Also, of note, all three cornerbacks are graded in the Top-50 in the NFL; that bodes well in a league where you typically have to have four good ones.
You look at what this team has done in this draft alone. They've hit on their fourth-overall pick in Ezekiel Elliott, who is running folks out of their own building. They have found their potential heir-apparent quarterback in Dak Prescott, who would likely be the top quarterback selected if we re-drafted right now. They found a defensive tackle in Maliek Collins that is starting games. If that wasn't enough, the Cowboys have found a sixth-round cornerback that is balling right now? Drink it in folks, the gift of winning football.