Everyone says the Orlando Scandrick is the best Cowboys cornerback, by far. He’s certainly the most experienced at 30-years-old, with only Nolan Carroll in the same ballpark. He’s also by far the highest paid, slated to earn between $5.2 million and $5.6 million over each of the next three years.
But is Scandrick the best? Currently, Pro Football Focus gives Scandrick a 77.8 grade, which ranks him 36th among cornerbacks in the NFL. That’s near the upper end of the third tier. In 2016, Scandrick finished with a similar rating from PFF of 78.9. In 2015, Scandrick was higher, at 85.3. That score put him in the top PFF tier for NFL cornerbacks. But 2015 was two years ago, when Scandrick was 28. It’s not surprising to see some decline as he passes 30 years old.
If not Scandrick, what about Anthony Brown? PFF currently grades Brown with a 73.6 score, compared to a 74.6 grade for 2016, when Brown was second in cornerback snaps behind iron man Brandon Carr. Brown got torched by Denver, however, rating a 38.3 overall grade from PFF. Brown also gave up a touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald this week. This suggests that Brown is a great value for a sixth-round draft pick, and is likely to overtake Scandrick as Brown gets more experience and Scandrick ages. But he doesn’t seem to be the best cornerback at the moment.
If not Scandrick or Brown, how about Chidobe Awuzie? The problem with Awuzie is we don’t really know enough about him yet, as he missed most of preseason, and only played in game one against the Giants. In 38 snaps, he had two tackles and two assists. Against Denver, he played in five snaps before going out with a hamstring issue.
Enter Jourdan Lewis. Picked in the third round out of Michigan, Lewis slid in the draft for two reasons. First, he had a domestic violence charge filed against him that went to court after the draft and before preseason. So at the time of the draft, teams didn’t know how that might turn out. Lewis was acquitted of all charges. Second, Lewis isn’t very big, so most draft gurus suggested he could only play slot corner, a valuable but less versatile position than cornerbacks who can play both inside and out.
The unfortunate thing about Lewis is that, after he was acquitted and joined training camp late, he had hamstring issues from the get go, which caused him to miss all of camp and the preseason. As a result, he was inactive for the opener against the Giants.
But in game two, the Cowboys were forced to throw Lewis into the fire against the Denver Broncos. He didn’t fare well on 65 snaps, giving up a touchdown and a 75% catch rate.
Against Arizona, with Nolan Carroll out with a concussion and Chidobe Awuzie out with a hamstring problem, Lewis was thrust into the lineup for 49 snaps. That left him third among cornerbacks behind Scandrick and second-year corner Anthony Brown.
Here he is breaking up a pass that is already in the hands of the receiver.
Jourdan Lewis has ball skills. pic.twitter.com/REgDhUg80o— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) September 26, 2017
Here’s a slide from PFF on his game performance.
Here’s what PFF wrote in its game recap when it gave Lewis an 86.7 grade.
Rookie CB Jourdan Lewis and S Byron Jones both finished with coverage grades above 84. They were targeted a combined 18 times in coverage and surrendered only 9 catches. They combined for three pass break ups, with Jones responsible for two of them.
That leaves Lewis ranked 11th among cornerbacks in the NFL, with a score of 83.8.
This week, his production was very good, as he led Dallas cornerbacks with six tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed. Ike Taylor of NFL Network highlights his play in a look at some stars on the Dallas defense.
Certainly it’s a little too early to move Jourdan Lewis to the top of the cornerback pedestal for Dallas. He’s behind Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown, and may still be behind fellow draftee Chidobe Awuzie. He may even be behind Nolan Carroll when he returns from a concussion (though one would have to ask why if the Cowboys did that).
But Lewis is moving rapidly up the charts, if only he can stay healthy. Unfortunately, he came out of the Cardinals game with another hamstring flare up, and that’s the issue that robbed him of training camp and preseason.
My guess is that come playoff time, Lewis will have ascended to one of the top three cornerback spots, alongside Scandrick and Brown, and he may score higher than both of them. Awuzie will also provide stiff competition and will get snaps, but not as many as Lewis, and his grade will not be as high. Awuzie might also put pressure on Jeff Heath’s safety role.
It’s going to be an interesting and volatile year in the Cowboys secondary.