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Cowboys’ Draft Pick Jourdan Lewis: Can A 5’ 10” Cornerback Succeed In The NFL?

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Lewis, by all accounts, was an outstanding cornerback for Michigan. But at his size and weight, can he match up with the big boys in the NFL?

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jourdan Lewis is not a big cornerback. At 5’10” and 188 lbs, Lewis is shorter than the average NFL cornerback, and shorter than the top-ranked corners before this draft. Here’s Jourdan’s SPARQ chart from Mockdraftables, where he shows up in the 24th percentile for height and 30th percentile for weight among NFL cornerbacks.

Overall, cornerbacks are getting taller, so Lewis may be a bit of a throwback.

The distinguishing mark this year at cornerback is the sheer size of the players and the numbers of what looks like realistic contributors.

“At the top, no, it’s not an all-time group,” said an AFC scout. “It’s the depth, and these guys are long.

“Typically, you have a mix of little (expletive) and big guys. It’s mostly little guys and an occasional big guy. This draft for corners is big all the way, and they can run.”

Of the top 20 cornerbacks in the Journal Sentinel rankings, 15 measured 6 feet or taller. Of the five that didn’t, not one was below 5-10.

The trend toward big started last spring when the ratio of top-20 cornerbacks 6-0 and over compared to those shorter than 5-10 was 10-0.

From 1998-’15, there were an average of 6.7 top-20 cornerbacks standing 6-0 or above compared to 3.2 cornerbacks below 5-10. In the eight drafts from 1998-’05, there were 44 standing 6-0 or above compared to 35 under 5-10.

Here was one top-10 2017 pre-draft ranking that didn’t include Lewis. Of these 10, only two are under six feet - Adoree Jackson at 5’10” and Tre’Davious White at 5’11”.

Pro-Bowl cornerbacks in recent years have also tended to be taller, to match up with ever-taller wide receivers. Here was an article from 2014 on the subject.

In 1992, the wide receivers selected for the Pro Bowl averaged 6 feet, ½ inch and weighed 195.6 pounds. The cornerbacks selected to that Pro Bowl averaged 6-¼ and weighed 189.5 pounds. That's an even battle, much like it had been in 1982. By 2002, the gap had widened to 6-1¼ and 204.1 pounds for the Pro Bowl receivers compared to 5-11¾ and 194.3 pounds for corners.

Mike Evans' height and extraordinary leaping ability make him virtually unstoppable in jump-ball situations.

By 2012, the Pro Bowl receivers checked in at 6-1½, 209.1 pounds and the cornerbacks averaged 6-¾, 198.4 pounds. The discrepancy grew this past season, with the Pro Bowl receivers averaging 6-2½, 215.8 and the corners going 5-11½, 196.4 -- even with Seattle's 6-3, 195-pound Richard Sherman and Arizona's 6-1, 219-pound Patrick Peterson in the mix.

Spin ahead to this past February's scouting combine, and a deep class of strikingly big wide receivers checked in at an average of 6-foot-1½, 200.1 pounds, while the cornerbacks invited to Lucas Oil Stadium averaged just more than 5-foot-11, 194.4 pounds.

Given his size, most project Lewis to be a slot cornerback in the NFL. But is he really that limited? While you might think it would be easy for quarterbacks targeting receivers 6’2” and taller to just throw over the top of Lewis, somehow shorter cornerbacks find a way to get it done.

This article, also from 2014, makes the case for short cornerbacks in the NFL.

The good news is short corners can neutralize taller receivers by playing press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with press-man coverage, it has nothing to do with a player’s size. But it has everything to do with hand placement and striking the wide receiver in the chest plate.

By correctly striking the receiver in the chest plate, the corner should effectively throw the pass-catcher off his route. Some of the best short corners who have excelled in press-man coverage over the last couple years are Darrelle Revis, Joe Haden, Vontae Davis, Tramaine Brock and Alfonzo Dennard.

In 291 career games, those five players have amassed 58 interceptions, 260 passes defended, six Pro Bowl appearances and four All-Pro selections. Without a doubt, their numbers prove that supremely talented players make up for their size deficiency in other ways.

In addition to winning with their hands at the line of scrimmage, shorter press-man corners stand out because of their attentiveness, intellect and overall physical nature.

Look at the top seven cornerbacks of all time, as ranked by Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value.

Rank Player From To Draft slot Height Weight Games Starts Years Pro Bowls All-Pro AV
1 Rod Woodson* 1987 2003 1--10 6'0" 200 238 229 17 11 6 192
2 Ronnie Lott* 1981 1994 1--8 6'0" 203 192 189 14 10 6 161
3 Charles Woodson 1998 2015 1--4 6'1" 200 254 251 18 9 3 157
4 Champ Bailey 1999 2013 1--7 6'0" 192 215 212 15 12 3 151
5 Ronde Barber 1997 2012 3--66 5'10" 184 241 232 16 5 3 151
6 Deion Sanders* 1989 2005 1--5 6'1" 195 188 157 14 8 6 151
7 Darrell Green* 1983 2002 1--28 5'9" 184 295 258 20 7 1 150

All but two of them are 6’0” or 6’1”. But of the two that are 5’10” or shorter, there is one who stands out as perhaps the biggest overachiever on this list — Ronde Barber. He’s the only one drafted below the first round, going in the third round at pick number 66, the same round as Jourdan Lewis. Barber was 5’10”, 184 pounds; Lewis is 5’10” 188. Barber also clocked in at 4.66 seconds in the 40-yard dash during his combine. Lewis ran a 4.54 40-yard dash. Ronde Barber also played on the Tampa Bay Bucs when Rod Marinelli was defensive line and assistant head coach under Tony Dungy.

Jourdan Lewis is unlikely to be the second coming of Ronde Barber, but at least we know that it’s possible for short cornerbacks to succeed in the NFL.