The Dallas Cowboys have gone from one of the better special teams units a few years ago to one of the worsts groups in the league. The biggest smoking gun for the sudden drop off in performance comes from the departure of former special teams coach Rich Bisaccia who left to coach the Raiders and then the very inexperienced hire of Keith O’Quinn. The changeover has not produced favorable results.
#Cowboys rankings in EPA on special-teams plays:— Mike Sando (@SandoNFL) December 6, 2019
* entering Week 14
Naturally, the recent hire of John Fassel is a breath of fresh air for Cowboys Nation as the team looks to improve this part of their football team. An experienced coach with a nice history of success certainly is a great start, but it’s also going to take the right players in the right places to see this thing through. And one of the players at the top of this list is Cowboys special teams ace C.J. Goodwin.
Initially, Goodwin was a player nobody wanted as he went undrafted in 2014 and has been signed and released by six other teams before the Cowboys took a chance on him in 2018. The Cowboys have been pleased with what he’s given them to where they re-sign him to a one-year deal this offseason. This is the closest he’s come in his career to finding a permanent home, but does he have a legit future in Dallas?
The veteran defender offers very little as a cornerback, so he’s often pushed aside when it comes to sorting out the roster. The Cowboys have an abundance of corner options including three returning players (Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis), two free agent additions (Daryl Worley and Maurice Canady), as well as two new draft picks (Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson II). When it comes to playing the cornerback position, Goodwin is way down there on the depth chart.
But what Goodwin lacks in corner skills, he makes up for with exceptional special teams play. For starters, he’s extremely athletic, including 4.41 speed that allows him to fly down the field as a gunner. He also possesses good maneuverability to weave in and out of traffic as he tracks down the returner. And while the physical traits are there, he exhibits great awareness of his surroundings and is able to let up at the right moments to avoid any type of interference penalties. He played well enough to lead the Cowboys with 10 special teams tackles last season.
Today, we look at four plays that show all these attributes, and explain why he’s a valuable commodity for this football team.
The thing that shows up in essentially every play is Goodwin just blowing by his blocker. Opponents often misjudge his speed and are left watching him just fly right by them. Goodwin does a great job tracking the return man and trusts his speed so much that he’ll go around people because knows he has the raw acceleration to run down the ball carrier. On this play, instead of attacking where the play is going, he rolls the dice and swings around the blocker. As you can see, Goodwin has the speed run him down.
Sometimes you have to work a little harder to get to the returner. Even when blockers impede his path, Goodwin shows the quickness to change direction and still close on the play near top speed. He does a really good job seeing how the play develops and appropriately alters his path to work his way through traffic. On this play, he still uses his speed to go around blockers, but a last minute slash inside is enough to take down the runner.
Timing is everything
Goodwin’s speed will get him down the field faster than anyone else, but he’s not just a reckless defender running out of control. He does a good job slowing up at the last second to put himself in perfect position to make the play. On this play, he again blazes right past his blocker and times his arrival perfectly. In fact, he was so close to getting there early that the referees initially threw a flag on him for interference only to pick it up after having a discussion.
The ability to show up and position yourself perfectly has its advantages as Goodwin shows great control at the end of plays. He dials right into the punt returner anticipating any chance it’s not caught cleanly. On this play last preseason against the Los Angeles Rams, Goodwin again flies by his blocker, slows up near the catch point, and then pounces when the ball hits the ground. Just like that, the Cowboys steal a possession.
Goodwin is a straight-up specialist. He can handle the corner position in a pinch, but if he’s playing there for any real length of time, the Cowboys defense could be in trouble. For that reason, the team is going to have to carry extra corners on the roster if Goodwin is to stick around. But that’s okay.
A player like Reggie Robinson II is another special teamer who will stand to benefit from Goodwin’s experience as his athletic traits will be a nice asset for coach Fassel. And unlike Goodwin, Robinson has the potential to develop into a talented outside corner down the road. Eventually, the ST torch may be passed to RR2, but for now keeping Goodwin around is the right move.