[After an incredible rise from worst to first in 2016, that saw the Cowboys ride the backs of two outstanding rookie campaigns to 13-3 and a changing of the guard, we have to examine the roster. From 1 to 53, we only have one question?
Have the Dallas Cowboys improved?
That may seem like a loaded question but in terms of looking inside and out and taking every variable into the equation, that question can be answered. Do you believe that the Cowboys improved from the 2016 season to now?]
When examining the Cowboys 2017 roster, we’re going to start alphabetically and so that brings us to perhaps the most-discussed position on the roster— cornerback. We know that the 2017 Dallas Cowboys will look completely different than in the secondary and most notably at cornerback.
RCB Brandon Carr - (started all 16 games, 1 INT, 61 tackles, signed four-year deal with Ravens worth $23.5M, $4M GTD) LCB Morris Claiborne - (started 7 games, missed 9 to injury, 1 INT, 26 tackles, signed one-year deal with Jets worth $5M, $2M GTD)
SCB Orlando Scandrick - (started/played 12 games, missed 4 games to injury, 1 INT, 46 tackles, 3 FF, 2 sacks)
LCB/SCB Anthony Brown - (drafted 6th round, started 9 games, played 16 games, 55 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF)
CB Leon McFadden - (played 9 games, 8 tackles)
SCB Orlando Scandrick
LCB Anthony Brown
RCB Nolan Carroll - (started 16 games in 2016 for PHI, 1 INT, 55 tackles, 1 FF, signed three-year deal worth up to $10M, essentially three one-year deals)
CB Leon McFadden
CB Chidobe Awuzie - (drafted 60th overall, All Pac-12 (2nd Team), 14 games, 65 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF)
CB Jourdan Lewis - (drafted 92nd overall, All Big-Ten, Big-Ten DB of the Year, Jim Thorpe Finalist, 10 games, 27 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 INTs)
CB Marquez White - (drafted 216th overall, Hon-Mention All-ACC, 10 games, 25 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INTs)
So obviously we begin with the departures. For the first time since Rod Marinelli was named the defensive coordinator, the Cowboys will be without Carr and Claiborne as their incumbent starters. Both players tested the market and decided they would take a change of scenery. However, they still have veteran cornerback Scandrick who is another year removed from his ACL injury.
Anthony Brown really played outstanding for a sixth-round rookie who had almost no fanfare outside of the 105.3 The Fan crew. Brown has top-end speed and has fluid hips to stick with the receiver and limit big plays downfield. He had a ton of tackles and should battle for a starting role in 2017.
The Cowboys signed Carroll in the offseason, who Bryan Broaddus believes is comparable to Carr but a little more athletic and has better ball skills. To get Carroll on a deal that is quite team-friendly and easily “escapable” is a plus. Essentially, the Cowboys are getting a mid-tier starter with athletic upside but aren’t married to him beyond 2017.
The bulk of the front office’s work was completed in the 2017 NFL Draft, where they hit the position three times. First, they were able to draft one of the all-around best defensive backs in the country. Chidobe Awuzie has the versatility to play all over but should challenge immediately on the outside with Carroll.
Awuzie had only five interceptions but had 34 passes defended with 12 of those in his senior year. Awuzie’s game is all about stickiness to the receiver, smooth footwork, supreme athleticism, closing speed, and confidently makes plays on the ball. The best summary of what Awuzie’s abilities are is that he’s a dangerous defensive weapon especially for a guy like Marinelli. He’ll be used to his strengths and is one heck of an effective slot-blitzer (nine sacks).
Dallas decided to double up and got tremendous value doing so with the Lewis pick in the third round (unresolved DV case). Lewis was widely considered the very best nickel or slot cornerback in the country. He allowed a paltry 23.3% completion rate and had 42 pass breakups in three seasons with six interceptions and only two touchdowns allowed in that time. In 2015 alone, Lewis set the Michigan Wolverine’s record for the most pass breakups in a single year at 22.
He’s another outstanding athlete that doesn’t have any glaring holes in his game except his size. Lewis’ drafting will open up the competition for the nickel back role which is owned and operated by Scandrick. At worst, Scandrick keeps his job for 2017 and you have two phenomenal slot guys with Lewis providing a bit more playmaking ability. Or, Scandrick also has the versatility to over to the outside if needed.
If it wasn’t enough, the Cowboys went back to the cornerback position in the sixth round again by taking Marquez White from the Seminoles. White is certainly not as versatile as Awuzie or as exciting as Lewis but he definitely has a shot to make this team. If the Cowboys go long at the position, White has the size that the team usually prefers. White played opposite of some really high-end prospects in Jalen Ramsey (5th overall in 2016 Draft) and Tarvarus McFadden (likely 1st round pick). To his credit, White did well though he’s not the same prospect of those CB1’s. White held opposing quarterbacks to a 32.1% completion in 2015 and only gave up one touchdown in the past two seasons. Maybe the Dallas Cowboys will be red-hot at hitting on sixth-round cornerbacks.
Conclusion: There are a number of ways to look at this as an improvement over last year. First, it’s interesting to see the type of corners that were selected in turning over the position. They all have ball skills that have allowed them to capitalize and play with a ton of confidence. It’s worked in Marinelli’s past to grab cornerbacks that aren’t afraid of anything and can make you pay (hint: Peanut Tillman and Ronde Barber).
They have good cover guys with their veterans and have added underrated versatility to the position. It’s not going to be easy replacing their vets with rookies as they will have growing pains. However, overall, they had the confidence to take a stale position and overhaul it in one offseason.
Did The Dallas Cowboys Improve At Cornerback In 2017?
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