We’re continuing our look into this year’s free agency crop and we would be remiss to gloss over the defensive backs. Dallas has quite the conundrum at defensive back going into the offseason. Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox are all set to hit free agency. That leaves the Cowboys with Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier left on the roster.
We know the Cowboys are going to try and get some of their guys back, it’s what they do. Still, if the Cowboys should lose one or two of these guys in free agency, they just may be in the market for a guy. Today, we’re going to take a look at a cornerback stuck on a pretty middling defense. Ross Cockrell is a decent cover corner and he’s still quite young as well.
CB Ross Cockrell, 25, Pittsburgh Steelers, 6’0, 191 lbs
Cockrell was a very successful prospect out of Duke University where he was twice named to the All-ACC team. Even so, there were a few concerns coming out of college; he had the length and other attributes but was a bit skinny-framed and had less than desirable hand size.
The Buffalo Bills still thought enough of him to give him a shot and drafted him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft. That made him the highest drafted player out of Duke since 1999. Cockrell appeared in seven games in his rookie season and only recorded one tackle. He was released before the season began in 2015 and signed by the Steelers on September 5th.
Despite signing with Pittsburgh just five days before the start of the season, they felt good about his chances in their defense. He was thrust into the fire quite early and appeared in 15 games that year, starting seven. Though the Bills had given up on him after just one season, the Steelers got a lot of production out of him as he proved to be a good tackler. In 2015, Cockrell recorded 44 tackles, deflected 11 passes, picked off two passes, and picked up a forced fumble.
In this past offseason, he was rewarded a starting role. Though the interceptions weren't there, the tackles still were as he recorded 62 tackles this season and 14 passes defended. The Steelers were able to appear in the AFC Championship game but were trounced by the New England Patriots.
Cockrell signed a one-year extension last offseason making him a free agent as soon as the new year begins. The one thing that stands out about him is his effort and tackles. He may not be a playmaker that racks up the interceptions but guys like Trumaine Johnson are going to get high-priced contracts on the open market.
If the Cowboys are going to play around in free agency, a guy like Cockrell makes sense. He's young and still has a lot to offer a team that likes willing tacklers. The pass defense in Dallas this year was actually quite good behind coaches Joe Baker and Greg Jackson. They showed some physicality that hasn't been seen out if this squad the past few seasons.
Dallas could very well look at Cockrell as an upgrade over Morris Claiborne due to the fact that he doesn't miss games. As good as Claiborne was when he played, that was the caveat; when he played. He missed nine games this season, making that 33 games missed in five seasons.
Sure, they may have the inside track to getting him re-signed this offseason but you can't count of Claiborne to stick around very long. Cockrell is very young and has shown the upside that working with a better secondary could allow him to develop better. Also, seeing as his turnover numbers aren't that great, the Cowboys may be able to snag him for a lot less than what the big names are going to get.
So, what do you think about the young man, should Dallas give him a shot to work with a young, progressing franchise looking to upgrade their defense?