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2019 NFL Draft: 14 cornerback prospects for the Cowboys and when they should target them

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There’s a good chance the Cowboys take a cornerback in the upcoming draft, but when?

NCAA Football: Kent State at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The draft is just a week away and it’s only a matter of time before the Dallas Cowboys have a new crop of rookies joining their football team. The front office has done a great job filling holes in free agency so the team can now concentrate on selecting good players. Sure, there are some positions that would be more advantageous to grab a top talent, but the team will not let that control their decision making process. Many positions are fair game, including cornerback.

Despite spending a lot of draft resources on the cornerback position in the 2017 draft, the team must look to replenish this group as their young corners play out their rookie contract. Byron Jones will be playing on his fifth-year option. Anthony Brown is in the last year of his deal. And both Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis will become free agents after the 2020 season. The team would be wise to get ahead of things and start stockpiling for the future. It’s very possible that a cornerback is the top player on their board at some point, but who are those players and where would they likely be drafted? Here are 14 potential candidates for the Cowboys spread out through all the rounds where they draft.

SECOND ROUND

Rock Ya-Sin, Temple

This time a year ago, many people wouldn’t have given much thought to the Temple star corner, but after a stellar senior season, he’s officially got our attention. He’s 6-feet worth of pure muscle and moves very well. He plays tough and shows tremendous ball skills. Ya-Sin is a smart player and has the discipline to stay with his assignments. He has good field presence and is constantly positioning himself to make plays on the ball.

Ya-Sin doesn’t have blazing speed and hasn’t learned how to fully utilize his size to his advantage, but he possesses a mold of clay that Kris Richard can sculpt into something wonderful. He could be gone as early as the first round so I’m putting him out of sight, out of mind, but if he’s still there at 58, the Cowboys catch a huge break.

Justin Layne, Michigan State

Layne hadn’t played cornerback until college so there are some things about his game that he’s still developing, but his experience at wide receiver comes in handy in recognizing routes. He’s got great size and athleticism to hang with the top pass catchers in the league. His footwork is not where it needs to be and it will cause him to give up too much space, but he can quickly diagnose plays and attacks the ball at their catch point. He doesn’t have a lot of stats to back up his play, but that’s because he wasn’t challenged all that often. The more reps Layne gets, the better he’ll become as he has the make-up to be a top cornerback in the league. Like Ya-Sin, Layne isn’t likely to make it to the Cowboys, but if he does - that’s a steal!

Deandre Baker, Georgia

The Bulldogs star cornerback doesn’t fit the mold as to what coach Richard looks for in terms of size. He stands 5’11” and 180 pounds, but he’s a feisty defender who has established himself as one of the best corners of this draft class. He’s constantly badgering the receivers and has the athleticism to stay with his guy throughout the route. He can read plays well and carries his aggressive style with him at all times. He may be slightly on the small size, but he plays big. He can be slow in getting his head turned around to locate the ball, but he possesses so many quality traits that will make him a great corner in this league.

Baker is high on my board in general, but slides a bit as it pertains to what the Cowboys look for. If other teams balk at his size, it’s possible he slips, but it would be surprising if the still there at 58.

THIRD ROUND

Basically, it doesn’t look promising that any of the second-round corners will fall to the Cowboys. That’s expected. In fact, some of these upcoming names won’t make it to 58 either, but some will fall and it’s possible one of these guys makes it all the way to pick 90. There are a handful of players to choose from.

Amani Oruwariye, Penn State

At 6’1” and 205 pounds, Oruwariye has the perfect build for what the Cowboys are looking for at cornerback. He’s a physical player that is outstanding in press coverage, wearing down receivers. And even though he’s got good size, he runs very well as he put out a 4.47 forty time at the Combine. Oruwariye is able to utilize his size to smother receivers, but one of his more appealing traits is how well he plays the ball in the air. He uses good timing and attacks the ball at the catch point.

Oruwariye isn’t a fluid runner and will struggle changing direction. Of course, All-Pro corner Byron Jones also had that knock coming out of college. While the shiftiness might not be there, Oruwariye has the make up speed to make plays on the ball. He’s still relatively raw with only one full season of starting experience under his belt at Penn State, but the athleticism and propensity to go up and get the ball will get him drafted on Day 2.

Sean Bunting, Central Michigan

The Chippewas defensive star is another lengthy cornerback with great speed. He was hard to convert on as he allowed under 39 percent completion rate in 2018. Bunting uses his length to fight receivers off the line of scrimmage and exhibits good route awareness which is aided by his time spent playing wide receiver. He is also very good at tracking the ball and doesn’t get lost in coverage, however sometimes he’s a little late. It’s not detrimental because he recovers quickly and closes fast to make a play on the ball.

Bunting is a little lean and will give way to the larger physical receivers. He can be a little grabby at times as his footwork and technique are areas that need improvement. He’s not a finished product by any means, but his skills and traits make him an intriguing high-upside candidate.

Lonnie Johnson Jr., Kentucky

At 6’2” 213 pounds, Lonnie Johnson Jr. is another big corner who has the potential to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage. The physical traits are there, but he hasn’t played consistent enough to be a top shutdown corner. He flashes, but it just feels like a guy with his size should be more smothering off the line of scrimmage. Often times he plays back, surrendering too much space. He’s got good speed for a guy his size and is smooth when falling back, so it’s hard to fly past him, but coach Richard would expect more fight off the snap.

Johnson Jr. is an interesting prospect. On the surface, he looks like he has all the tools to be a top corner. There’s a lot of buzz about him right now and that could get his name called earlier than expected, but there is so much he needs to work on to be a good corner.

JoeJuan Williams, Vanderbilt

Williams movements are quick and fluid as he’s able to mirror the path of the receiver. He has great hands and demonstrates good ball skills. He shows a lot of awareness and exhibits good burst when attacking. He brings a little nastiness to his game and will fire towards the line of scrimmage on running plays and screen passes.

While Williams possesses many quality traits, his downside is that he’s slow. Recovery speed will be an issue and he is susceptible to giving up big plays. He does get a little grabby at times and can get out of position when he bites on fakes. Williams continues to improve so he’s an intriguing prospect that offers plenty of upside despite his lack of speed.

Jamel Dean, Auburn

The Auburn product is one of my favorite value pick corners in this draft. He has a great combination of size, speed, and quickness. He moves very well, both in flipping his hips and flat-out bursts to the ball using that 4.3 speed. He possesses the physicality to pester receivers, but is very savvy in diagnosing what’s going on. Athletically, he’s one of the top corners in this draft.

Dean has had a slew of knee injuries that will make him drop further than he should. The good news is - he’s been healthy these past two seasons and he’s shown he can hang with the best of them. He’s still relatively inexperienced due to missing so much action in college, but he’s a guy that can be coached into a reliable cornerback at the NFL level.

FOURTH ROUND

Isaiah Johnson Jr., Houston

With only two years experience at cornerback, Isaiah Johnson is climbing up the ranks after an impressive Combine performance. He’s got great size and shows a lot of aggressiveness against receivers. He plays with a high effort and has excellent hands. The instincts continue to improve and he demonstrates the ability to diagnose plays well.

Despite a 4.4-forty time, Johnson Jr. hasn’t been able to utilize his speed to his full potential. He’ll play back on his heels and get twisted around to where that extra speed gets wasted. He still needs to work on his technique and has all kinds of balance issues, but with good developing he could end up being a disruptive corner.

Corey Ballentine, Washburn

You have to be a special case to be under 6’ and make this list, but the 5’11” Ichabod star corner has too many traits to brush aside. Ballentine has great speed, but also has great short-area quickness. Despite being a tad smaller than what Richard would prefer, Ballentine uses his length extremely well. He goes toe-to-toe against receivers and has the ability to plant and burst to contest throws. Ballentine is also a high-character guy that can max out his potential.

He does need work as his instincts can be improved and being a small school prospect means the lack of elite competition will hurt his draft stock, but the tools are there to develop into a solid contributor.

FIFTH ROUND

Ka’Dar Hollman, Toledo

The Toledo star corner has outstanding measurables. He’s got the size and speed and he uses it well to stay with his assignments. Hollman is an aggressive player, but he’s mentally sharp with a strong football IQ. He doesn’t let receivers get behind him and he always keeps his head up to track the ball. He does a good job picking up on plays. His tackling leaves something to be desired, but he’s a nice low-risk/high-upside player who can be found late in the draft.

Stephen Denmark, Valdosta State

Denmark is a lengthy corner who has good speed (4.46). He doesn’t have a lot of experience playing the position as he’s a former wide receiver, but he has put together some nice flashes of quality play. With his traits and some good coaching, Denmark could end up being a nice late-round development player for a team looking to build cornerback depth.

SEVENTH ROUND

Derrek Thomas, Baylor

The Baylor product is an athletic corner with great length, standing 6’3”. He’s a smooth runner with good speed to keep up with fast receivers. He’s a physical player at the line of scrimmage, but also knows his whereabouts and will track the ball in the air. Thomas does a good job using his size to his advantage. He hasn’t put together a body of work that screams NFL caliber player, but there is some potential there and he’s definitely worth a late round flyer.

Chris Westry, Kentucky

Westry is a physical corner who punishes receiver off the line of scrimmage. He does of good job of keeping the action in front of him and shows good burst when making plays on the ball. He’s a solid defender against the run and is a good tackler. Sometimes he gets caught taking the wrong angles and he has a tendency to get grabby at times. After a strong freshman year, he’s been reduced to a rotational player, but a lot of that is attributed to strong depth for Kentucky. There’s a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to make it at the pro level, but his size might help him get a ticket to big leagues.