[In this series, we’re going to look at a very competitive roster and pinpoint exactly where the training camp battles will take place. The Cowboys already have plenty of guys to pencil in at starting positions and only a few roster spots are truly open. Which players really have to fight their way on the final 53? Who has the edge in these position battles?]
Nickel Back: Who takes the starting slot cornerback spot?
In today’s NFL, covering the slot position has become highly important. The slot cornerback or nickel back is essentially a starting position. On the Cowboys roster, two guys look to be in a roster battle for the position, second-year corner Jourdan Lewis is taking on third-year corner Anthony Brown.
Byron Jones - With a new sheriff in Kris Richard calling the shots, his first move was sliding Byron back to cornerback, where Richard believed he should have always been.
Chidobe Awuzie - Last year’s second-round pick will be a full-time starter this season, manning the opposite side of Jones.
Jourdan Lewis - He was a third-rounder last season and will make the roster as either the starting nickel or fourth cornerback. Richard calls him an exception to his rule about cornerback’s length and Lewis actually started seven games last year on the outside.
Anthony Brown - Much is the same for Lewis as it is Brown, either he’s going to be the starting nickel or fourth cornerback. He was great in his rookie season but struggled at times in his 10 starts of 2017.
Tale of the Tape:
First up, we’ll take a look at the measurables for both Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, followed by each guy’s NFL resume up to this point.
|Player||Height||Weight||Exp.||Draft Stock||40||Vertical||Short Shuttle|
|Anthony Brown||5'11||196||Third year||6th round||4.33||35||4.19|
|Jourdan Lewis||5'10||195||Second year||3rd round||4.54||34.5||DNP|
Athletically speaking, Brown is slightly bigger and certainly faster than Lewis. Brown’s 4.3 speed is outstanding whereas Lewis at 4.54 is close to the NFL’s average at the position over the last five years. Speed is important for a cornerback but Lewis isn’t exactly a slow player. If he ran in the 4.6’s it would be worrisome but even if he’s not as fast as Brown, Lewis’ rookie year was quite good.
|Player||Games||Tackles||Interceptions||Pass Defensed||Forced Fumbles||Sacks|
Brown led all Cowboys defensive backs with 11 passes defended but Lewis was right there at 10 as a rookie. These two were very close in their stat lines and both ended last season with 54 tackles.
Making the case for Jourdan Lewis: Lewis was outstanding at defending the big play. In 10 targets deep down the field, Lewis led all NFL corners with a 1.7 passer rating allowed. Overall he allowed only a 9% completion percentage on deep throws. At Michigan, Lewis played mainly in the nickel position and allowed a paltry 37.9 passer rating according to PFF.
“Incredibly productive in the slot. Allowed an average of just 0.35 yards per coverage snap when lined up on the inside. Feisty in man coverage. Can mirror at the line of scrimmage and a potential asset against better route-runners at the next level.”
When he was drafted, Lewis was PFF’s third-rated cornerback with an 89.7 grade. In his rookie season, Lewis scored a 79.6, which was 49th in the NFL. He’s got all the skills to play the position at a very high level.
Making the case for Anthony Brown: He has more experience than Lewis on his side and has made more plays on the ball, snagging three picks in two seasons. Brown’s speed allows for him to recover from any mistakes much quicker than the average NFL cornerback. Brown had a season that ran hot and cold at times but as John Owning points out, he was hardly a bad player:
Anthony Brown has played 61 snaps in the slot this season.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) December 5, 2017
Opposing QBs have a 51.1 passer rating when targeting him when he's in the slot. Targetted 11 times and has allowed 5 catches for 54, a touchdown and has 2 INTs, per PFF. https://t.co/4Q1DOANAMv
Who’s got the edge? Jourdan Lewis has been mentioned by the new secondary coach as a special talent. Though Anthony Brown isn’t going away anytime soon, the Cowboys want to give Lewis all the chances in the world to take this job. Orlando Scandrick was injured over the last couple of seasons but left some pretty big shoes to fill on his way out. Jourdan Lewis has the pedigree from his time at Michigan to become an outstanding cornerback in the NFL. His rookie season was very good for a guy that was giving up size to most of his opponents last season.
Who do you want to win the slot corner position between Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown?
This poll is closed