Just a little over a year ago, the Cowboys drafted Anthony Brown in the sixth-round at pick 189, a seemingly athletic but struggling cornerback from Purdue. Was it Brown that was struggling or was it the Boilermakers, who together made up one of college football's worst pass defenses? In 12 games, Purdue's pass defense gave up 245 completions on 393 pass attempts for a 62.1 completion percentage. They also gave 24 passing touchdowns, 7.4 yards per clip, over 240 passing yards per game, and a disgusting 138.8 opposing passer rating.
Again, that couldn't possibly all fall on Brown who intercepted four passes, broke up six others (giving him 19 as a starter). Also, Brown had 110 tackles from 2014 through 2015. He has athleticism and physicality to his game. Brown was the second-fastest cornerback in the 40-yard dash in 2016. Still, despite the 4.35 forty, the 4.19 20-yard shuttle, or 19 reps on the bench, the NFL draft gurus came to a conclusion of a 5.28 grade. By their standards, Brown was projected to be a developmental prospect with special teams ability. He ended up starting nine games, recorded 55 tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception.
Even after his really good rookie season, he's still so forgettable at times with additions like Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and veteran Nolan Carroll. Brown gets overlooked though he did cause a stir in Thursday's practice when he jumped a screen pass from Dak Prescott to Ezekiel Elliott and returned it to the house. Brown isn't the only cornerback that doesn't get much fanfare. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cowboys took another cornerback in the sixth round, albeit 27 picks later at 216th overall, his name is Marquez White.
With the Cowboys drafting four defensive backs this year, White is without a doubt the most forgettable face. Everyone's watching Awuzie, everyone is looking at Lewis, eyes are peeled for Xavier Woods but White? Eh...is he even going to make the team? Admitting an embarrassment, I completely left him off of our first week's rookie progress report and had to go back and add it.
Well, the Cowboys' may have caught lightning in a bottle with their 2016 draft class but could that carry over to the class of 2017? Does Marquez White have a shot to make the Cowboys' look like sixth-round geniuses? It's happened with Seattle, where the Seahawks have made a living hitting on the middle to late rounds. They draft completely unafraid because they are confident that they'll hit on a few guys later. Are the Cowboys headed that way too? If they hit on White, you better believe they are.
It's awful early but there is nothing wrong with projections. First, White is the longest cornerback on the roster and that's important to the Cowboys. White is 6'0, 194 lbs, has 32 1/8'' arms and 10'' hands. Carroll's measurables vary but the Combine had him at 5'11, 204 lbs, 31'' arms, and 9.4'' hands. Even Awuzie, who matches White's height, has 30 5/8'' arms and 8 1/2'' hands. Lewis is smaller but he's got 31 5/8'' arms and 9 1/4'' hands. These are just measurables but White has the length that beats all cornerbacks on the roster including Brown. The Cowboys trust length to make plays for them and that was their explanation for drafting Lewis in the third round.
What impresses you about White, aside from the nuisance he has become at training camp for the Cowboys' quarterbacks, is his Anthony Brown-like willingness to get involved. Like Brown, Marquez defies his initial scouting reports of a guy who waits. Nope, White will tackle, he will make plays on the ball, that's telling for only a two-year starter at Florida State. This guy had to take care of business opposite Jalen Ramsey (first-rounder) and Tarvarus McFadden (projected first-rounder).
He shows the ability to always keep an eye on the quarterback and drive himself back to the play. He's equipped with good awareness and has a great understanding of routes though he's inexperienced. White had incredible talent around him but still held opposing offenses to a 32.1 completion percentage when he was alongside Ramsey. He also only allowed a single receiving touchdown in the past two seasons with the Seminoles. White had a far more celebrated college performance than Brown but they're similar in many ways.
Both guys have been criticized for their footwork. Both guys have been called stiff and labeled with "stalled" backpedals. Both guys were considered late-round prospects that are inconsistent tacklers. With all that said, Brown proved he could tackle, make plays, anticipate the quarterback's tendencies, clean up the footwork and drop the stiffness.
So far in Cowboys' training camp, Marquez has denied Dak Prescott from connecting with the slot machine, Ryan Switzer, and Andy Jones. Sure, it's not Dez Bryant, it's not Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams or Brice Butler but it's a start.
Florida State has been one of the very best schools for defensive backs. White is not easily described as a press-man cornerback. He has been quite effective playing in off coverage and using his length to keep receivers where he wants them. That length helps him stick to his target even if he struggles from the jump. White has shown that his length can keep him in any play and he often forces the opposing team to look elsewhere.
Quietly, White has received praise from folks like Bryan Broaddus and David Helman. The climb is slippery and steep but White isn't backing away from his challenges. Much like every new face in the secondary, the former Seminole knows that nothing is for sure and spots are wide open. Will White find a path to a roster spot much like his predecessor, Anthony Brown? One thing is certain, through the first week of camp, Marquez White is making it extremely hard for his evaluators to justify cutting him anytime soon. It’s premature but can you imagine how insane it would be for the Cowboys to hit on back-to-back sixth round cornerbacks?