Over the course of the 2017 offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have made it clear that they want to upgrade the defensive unit. By spending a first-round selection on an EDGE and selecting four defensive backs in the NFL Draft, the Cowboys are committing to revamping the defense. With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott entering their second seasons on the professional level, Dallas knows they have to support their two studs with talent on both sides of the football.
Chidobe Awuzie was one of my favorite prospects in the entire draft cycle, Jourdan Lewis shows potential of becoming a very solid slot corner, and Xavier Woods may be one of the biggest steals of the entire draft. The Cowboys are obviously excited about adding an influx of young talent into their secondary.
Don’t forget about Anthony Brown, though.
In a draft class that featured the top two finalists for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the intriguing Jaylon Smith, and the talented Maelik Collins, it may have been easy for people to forget that the Dallas Cowboys also found a potential gem in the sixth round. After a four-year career at Purdue, Anthony Brown heard his name called with the 189th selection of last April’s draft.
He made sure to make his impact felt.
In a secondary that saw injuries to both Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown stepped up huge for the Dallas Cowboys defense over the course of last fall. He was able to defend small, speedy slots but also battle with the bigger wideouts that the Cowboys faced. His development during his rookie season was phenomenal.
His impact on the field didn’t always show up in the box score as he made winning plays for the Cowboys that may have been overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Nonetheless, he knew how to make an impact while on the field. Back in December, BTB’s Jim Scott analyzed a key drive against the Vikings. As you know, the Cowboys played a sloppy game that Thursday night in Minneapolis. Fortunately, Dallas came out with the win. Scott takes a look at how Brown helped turn a potential loss into the eventual victory.
It’s now fourth down and the Vikings kick a field goal. Stopping them from scoring a TD on a red zone penetration was a huge feat for the game, making four points of difference. For three plays in a row, the Vikings targeted Anthony Brown and gained six yards total. That’s outstanding consistency and performance from any corner, and to get it from a sixth-round rookie is top shelf.
Brown didn’t always “wow” people with extreme athleticism or by becoming a ball-hawk, however, he showed that Rod Marinelli and staff can trust him in key moments during a football game. He became an integral part of the Cowboys defense in 2016. While the unit struggled at times, Brown showed that he has the potential to become a key player for Dallas going forward.
Here is one example of Brown’s coverage skills, courtesy of LawsNation. In just the fourth game of his young career, Brown found himself in a man-to-man situation in the slot. The 49ers attempted to attack the rookie defensive back on a comeback route, but Brown isn’t fooled. He stays with the receiver and deflects the pass. While not a play that will show up on SportsCenter, this is just one example of an important play Brown can make.
There was more of that during his debut season on the professional level. Brown developed into a solid defensive back. He allowed the fewest yards per coverage snap of any corner in the National Football League over the course of the final five weeks of the 2016 season, per Pro Football Focus. Better than Chris Harris, William Gay, and former Cowboy Terence Newman.
Over the last five weeks of his rookie season, Cowboys CB Anthony Brown allowed the fewest yards per coverage snap of any NFL cornerback. pic.twitter.com/W9W0AjK88o— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 31, 2017
It wasn’t just his coverage skills that shined, though. Brown showed that he can make tackles in space — something that any successful defender needs to do. Against Antonio Brown, one of the elite receivers in the game, the Cowboys’ defensive back stays calm, reads the play, and makes the tackle for a limited gain.
While Brown did make some rookie mistakes, he often showed that he can be counted on. Another element that Anthony Brown brings to the table is his speed. At last year’s NFL Draft Combine, the Purdue product clocked in a 4.35 40-yard dash. His speed has helped him close to the ball, keep up with his opposition, and tackle some of the more elusive players in the league, like Antonio Brown.
Brown was able to use a full tool-kit: speed to keep up with the faster wideouts he faced, willingness to make the tackle, and intelligence to make the right plays in both coverage and open field tackling. Although it was just one season and he is young, Anthony Brown has the potential to be an impact player for the Dallas Cowboys going forward.
While the additions of Awuzie, Lewis, and Woods are very exciting, Anthony Brown will have a huge say on how good the Dallas Cowboys’ secondary will be in the 2017 season.