When the Dallas Cowboys report to training camp later in the month, we’ll finally start to get some idea how the 2020 version of this team might look. There isn’t an abundance of starting positions up for grabs as many of these spots are already slated with very capable bodies; however, one of those battles should include the slot corner position between Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis.
The idea of who should be the team’s starting slot corner has been heavily debated, and if you want to get a good feel for what both these players have to offer, then I highly recommend checking out John Owning’s latest write-up where he reveals who he gives the nod to.
No matter who you think is the superior player, one thing that I’ve learned through this process is that the two are much closer than the other side’s fans will lead you to believe.
Interestingly enough, I came into this exercise thinking that Brown would be the victor. However, after watching every single snap from the past two seasons, I think Lewis is the better overall player — by the slimmest margins.
Lewis has higher highs and lower lows while Brown is more consistent in maintaining his level of play. They both possess intriguing position-flex, as Brown can play slot or outside while Lewis can play in the slot or in the box as a dime linebacker who matches running backs out of the backfield.
For the Cowboys coaching staff, the winner of that battle has been Brown. Many believe this was a Kris Richard thing as it’s been well documented that he prefers bigger corners. And after Lewis’ playing time dwindled significantly upon Richard’s arrival, that narrative seems to fit. How could a corner who had logged the second most snaps at his position in 2017 suddenly be relegated to the bench? Clearly, this was just an effect of Richard’s affinity for lanky corners, right?
Richard wasn’t the only coach to favor Brown over Lewis. Before Richard joined the staff in 2018 as the team’s new defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator, the defense was coached by Matt Eberflus (linebackers coach/passing game coordinator) and Joe Baker (secondary). And looking at the snap counts for the cornerback group in 2017, it was Brown, and not Lewis that saw the most action that season (percentage of snaps for just the CB group is highlighted in blue).
Try not to pay much attention to the fact that the Cowboys wasted over three million for a Nolan Carroll rental that equated to just two pitiful games. Even with Awuzie unavailable early on, the team had plenty of depth to release Carroll. Free safety Byron Jones was known to play a little corner. They also got good contribution from rookie safety Xavier Woods, who played a variety of positions early on.
When you sift through these snap counts, there are some important takeaways. Not only did Brown have the most snaps of any corner that season, but Orlando Scandrick was logging the second-most corner snaps when he was healthy. In fact, even Chidobe Awuzie started jumping Lewis in snap counts down the stretch when he finally healed up from a hamstring injury.
One has to wonder what the playing time distribution would’ve looked like if everyone was healthy. Lewis’ heavy playing time may have had more to do with need than ability as injuries to both Awuzie and Scandrick kept Lewis on the field. It’s very easy to believe that this group of coaches, just like Richard’s group - would’ve pushed Lewis to the bench if everyone was available.
Of course, all of that is in the past. Lewis is said to have a clean slate as another group of new defensive coaches have shown up. Maurice Linquist and Al Harris now run the defensive backs. Does that mean Lewis will finally get his shot? Maybe, but only time will tell.