The Dallas Cowboys did not have the season fans were hoping for as too many things went wrong for them. But out of the ashes rises the first perk of not winning football games, and that comes in the form of the no. 10 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That perk may not be so perky when you consider most of the top college players this year happen to play on the offensive side of the ball. Early in this draft, we should expect to see those coveted quarterbacks go, followed by a few of the elite wide receivers, and then finally several offensive tackles sprinkled in sporadically throughout the entire first round.
Those things don’t bode well for a team like the Cowboys who could really use some defensive help. However, help could still arrive as there are a couple cornerbacks among this year’s top college prospects. The names Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) and Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) are two names we’ll be hearing a lot about over the next few months. Today, we’re going to look at the latter and explain why he should be atop the Cowboys wish list for the upcoming draft.
Patrick Surtain II is son of the original Patrick Surtain who was an All-Pro corner with the Miami Dolphins. Back in the early 2000’s, he, along with teammate and fellow All-Pro Sam Madison, formed the top cornerback duo in the league. Right from the get-go, Surtain Jr. has been groomed by an elite NFL corner who has provided him with years and years of learning proper technique and all the intricacies of the position. So, it’s not an accident that Surtain II is equipped with such vast knowledge and already possesses such an extensive toolbelt of skills at the cornerback position.
Surtain II was regarded as one of the top corners coming out of high school, so naturally he got his pick of colleges, and what better place to go than a school that is essentially a cornerback factory for the NFL. Players like Marlon Humphrey (signed a five-year, $97.5 million extension in October), Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Kareem Jackson are just a few examples Alabama corners selected in the first round over the last decade. In fact, when Surtain joined Alabama, he replaced Minkah Fitzpatrick who had just been selected 11th overall in the 2018 draft by the Dolphins. Stepping in for Fitzpatrick was a tall task, but Surtain showed he was college ready, taking on the starting corner job as a true freshmen, a feat that has only been done twice in Crimson Tide school history (Fitzpatrick was the other one). And during his first two seasons, he and Trevon Diggs formed one of the top duo’s in college football before Diggs was selected by the Cowboys in last April’s draft.
Tall corners with exceptional cover skills are a prized commodity in the NFL, and that’s exactly what you’re getting with Surtain. At 6’2” and 202 pounds, he is the ideal size, and he uses every bit of it to his advantage. He is physical at the line of scrimmage and uses his length extremely well to knock receivers out of sync, keeping them from getting the separation needed at the end of their routes. Surtain is very smart and knows how to diagnose plays quickly. When he’s not jamming receivers or up in their grill, he does a great job watching the play develop, and then pounces at the right moment. The fact that he’s usually all over the receiver out of their break gives him a jump on closing quickly and making a play on the ball.
Speaking of making a play on the ball, Surtain does a great job tracking the throw. He’ll run toe-to-toe with the receiver with his back away from the ball, but knows precisely when to turn around to make a play. When you combine that with his length, it’s just incredibly hard to get him to give up completions. He’s just never caught napping as his eyes are always locked on to the play. That makes him especially challenging in the red zone as all of his tools culminate to create a minimal window to get the receiver the ball. And if you’re hoping the receiver can just come away with the ball on a contested pass against Surtain, well...good luck with that.
There are traits about Surtain that keep him from being in the top five conversation. While he possesses nice speed, he’s not a blazer. He also doesn’t show the twitchiness that you’d like to see and that doesn’t give him elite change of direction. So, that does typecast him more into a man-to-man boundary corner versus having the versatility to handle duties in the slot.
And while these are certainly weaknesses to his game, rest assured that he still remains one of the very best outside corners in this draft. He doesn’t have the gaudy interception numbers (just four in his three-year college career), but a lot of that has to do with the fact that teams just don’t challenge him. John Owning of Dallas Morning News did his film breakdown of Surtain, and he shared a very impressive statistic.
Through 12 games against top-flight competition in the SEC, Surtain has allowed only 42.2% of his targets to be caught, equating to an impressive 66.5 passer rating allowed when targeted this season.
In the pros, he will face talented receivers on a weekly basis, but Surtain has demonstrated that he’s a shutdown corner against the best of the best at the college level.
Teams shouldn’t select their draft picks based on need, but it’s a huge win if the most talented player available fills a huge hole on the team. And that would certainly be the case with Surtain. The Cowboys could very well lose both Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis to free agency this offseason. Being able to pair Surtain with his former Bama teammate Diggs on the other side makes for a formidable duo. For a team that should be using a lot of Cover 3 with the hire of Dan Quinn, having two strong corners who do a great job covering their area would be a great get for the Cowboys. And the icing on the cake is that veteran Anthony Brown can go back to doing what he does best, and that’s playing the slot. Just like that, the Cowboys would have a very competitive cornerback group for multiple seasons.