We continue our conversation with Football Outsiders about the state of the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 (you can see the first installment here, second installment here, third installment here, fourth installment here). This will be our final post in the series. The FO Almanac is an awesome resource for any football fan. Not only can you learn about the Cowboys, but all the other teams in the NFL and even some college stuff. Go ahead and pick up a copy if you’re so inclined.
In this last installment, we’re going to discuss the secondary. FO had a particularly biting assessment of the Cowboys secondary in their almanac. Here’s is one part for context.
Hey, kids! Did you like the 2017 Dallas secondary? The one that blew second-half leads against Derek Carr, Carson Palmer, Jared Goff, Alex Smith, and Aaron Rodgers (twice!)? The squad that gave up four touchdowns to Trevor Siemian? The unit whose defining moment came when they missed a bevy of tackles and gave up a 56-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill on a screen pass on the last play of the first half? Well, good, because by and large it’ll be the same group defending opposing receivers in 2018.
Ouch! We had a little different view of the secondary, so we had to ask a question and get an answer.
Blogging The Boys: The analysis of the Cowboys secondary is particularly harsh. Given that they were playing three rookies back there at times, and many scouting services thought all three showed signs of becoming quality players, and the biggest jump for many players is between the first and second year, shouldn’t they be given more of a chance than what is indicated in the breakdown?
Football Outsiders: Well, it’s certainly better to have young players with potential than old players in decline, there’s no doubt about that. At the same time, it’s a mistake to automatically assume that all young players will improve -- in reality, some get better, some tread water, and some decline and quickly disappear. The X-factor here is probably Xavier Woods. Chidobe Awuzie went in the second round and Jourdan Lewis in the third, so we can reasonably expect they’ll be at least useful players. But Woods didn’t get taken until the sixth round, almost 200 picks into the draft. If he can develop into a quality starter, then we can really talk about this unit turning into a strength for Dallas.
This analysis seems strangely fixated on where a player was drafted rather than their performance to this point in their career. There is no doubt that the higher you are drafted, the greater likelihood that you become a viable NFL player in the collective. But it seems somewhat of a mistake to apply that to individual circumstances when you actually have some NFL playing time to evaluate.
Xavier Woods, despite being a sixth-round pick (and what many considered a steal at that position), proved to be a quality player in the slot when he started playing in 2017. We concede it’s a small sample and that he will be playing safety instead of slot corner in 2018, but there was plenty of indication in his rookie season to think he can be an asset.
Additionally Chidobe Awuzie appears to be on the cusp of a breakout season. He proved his worth in the second half of 2017, and if the early training camp/preseason games are any indication, his future is extremely bright. Jourdan Lewis, on the other hand, had a fantastic 2017, but seems to be struggling so far in 2018’s training camp/preseason games.
One piece not mentioned anywhere here is Byron Jones. If his transition from safety to corner continues on its current trajectory, the Cowboys should have two outstanding outside corners going forward.