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Reviewing the rookies: Cornerback Jourdan Lewis appears to be a gem for Cowboys

Jourdan Lewis was the best rookie for the Cowboys in 2017.

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

How did each rookie perform in 2017? Did he out-perform his draft value, or did he struggle? This series will take a look at how each first-year player performed for the Dallas Cowboysin their first professional season.

The Cowboys spent their third-round draft pick in last year’s NFL Draft on one of the best cornerbacks in college football. Jourdan Lewis was an All-American defensive back on one of the elite defensive units across the nation. His one-handed interception grab against the Wisconsin Badgers went viral, and his coverage skills were among the best at his position in the collegiate game.

However, due to questions and concerns about his size, his open-field tackling ability, and things that happened off of the field, Lewis did not hear his name called during the first two rounds of the draft. Teams were concerned about whether or not Lewis could play out on the boundary or if he would be limited to the slot, and if his size would prevent him from making crucial tackles in the open-field.

But when the Cowboys were on the clock with the 92nd pick of the draft, the staff, scouts, and front office determined that Lewis was too much of a talent to pass up in the third round.

From the time Lewis arrived in Frisco for offseason and preseason workouts, the excitement surrounding the former Michigan Wolverines’ defensive back grew more and more. The Cowboys were determined in using premium picks to rebuild the secondary, so there was a ton of hype surrounding Lewis and second-rounder Chidobe Awuzie.

Unlike Awuzie though, we had to wait an extra week for Lewis’ professional debut. The third-rounder missed the Sunday Night Football season opener against the Giants with a hamstring injury that kept him out of much of training camp. But during his debut in week two, Lewis made sure to give the Cowboys a bright spot in an otherwise miserable game.

Lewis recorded his first career interception while playing his first career NFL game. It was a small moment in a crushing defeat, but the rookie gave us a glimpse of something we hadn’t seen very often from the Cowboys’ defense: making plays on the ball.

As the season progressed, we soon found out that it wasn’t a fluke; rather, Lewis was seemingly always in the right spot at the right time week in and week out. Whether it was making open-field tackles or deflecting passes, Lewis was there to make the play for the Cowboys.

Through the early parts of the season, it was becoming clear that Lewis was slowly developing into the team’s best corner. He displayed excellent coverage skills on the outside, and he was not afraid to come up and make a tackle in space:

J-Lew was showing why he should have been picked much earlier than the 92nd selection in the draft. He was improving each week, and the Cowboys secondary was slowly but surely improving with number 27 on the field. His man, Davante Adams, did score the game-winning touchdown against the Cowboys back in week five, but there aren’t too many defensive backs in the sport that can defend that kind of throw from Aaron Rodgers. Besides, Lewis played pretty well against a talented group of wideouts in that early October matchup.

We handed out grades to the rookies following that game. As you can tell, we were high on Lewis going into the Cowboys’ bye week.

Jourdan Lewis fell in the 2017 draft due to his size (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) and off-the-field concerns. The Cowboys are very fortunate that such a talent fell to them at the end of day two. Lewis has been one of the Cowboys’ best players on the defensive side of the ball this season. His ability to tackle in the open-field, defend on the outside, and compete on every snap has quickly made him a fan-favorite. The former Michigan defensive back did give up the final touchdown of week five’s loss, but that is going to happen occasionally in this league, especially an Aaron Rodgers pass with the game on the line. Besides, Lewis played pretty well for the most part in that game.

Grade: A (the gem of this class through five games; CB1?)

Even after Lewis earned a grade of an “A” going into the bye, he continued to improve as the season progressed. In fact, former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and new Washington Redskins signal caller Alex Smith did not target the rookie corner once in week nine’s win over K.C.

Some of that has to do with Andy Reid loving to utilize Travis Kelce in the middle of the field, and Kareem Hunt was in the midst of a Rookie of the Year campaign, but that’s still an impressive stat. Lewis continued to show that he can defend out on the boundary.

A few games later, Lewis finally suited up and played Eli Manning and the Giants for the first time in his young career. He again put together an impressive performance in the Cowboys’ big divisional victory — only allowing four catches for 23 yards on nine targets.

All-in-all, Jourdan Lewis appears to be the early gem of the Cowboys’ 2017 NFL Draft class. While Taco Charlton struggled early on as he adjusted to the NFL game and Chidobe Awuzie battled with injuries for much of his debut season, Lewis developed into the team’s best corner. Teams, like the Chiefs, were hesitant to throw his way and when opponents did test him, the third-rounder often held his own in one-on-one battles.

Lewis finished his first professional season with 54 total tackles (48 solo), ten passes defended, and one interception while playing in all but one game and starting seven of them. I am excited to see how he progresses under recently-hired Kris Richard.

What did you think of the rookie corner’s debut season, BTB?

Reviewing the rookies: Taco Charlton improved as season progressed

Reviewing the rookies: Chidobe Awuzie raised expectations once he was healthy

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