The Cowboys are obviously committed to improving their secondary, and the initial thoughts heading into the first round of the draft was that they might target South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn to do that. One big connection between Horn and the Cowboys was the fact that his college head coach, Will Muschamp, is very close with Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
It didn’t work out for them, as Horn was selected two spots ahead of the Cowboys. But Horn wasn’t the only South Carolina corner in this draft class, so it should speak volumes that they just selected Israel Mukuamu with the 227th overall pick.
Mukuamu played opposite Horn for the Gamecocks, but he also moved around plenty. Mukuamu frequently aligned outside at corner but also moved inside to play slot and played some safety. South Carolina used him as a chess piece to complement Horn, who often got matched up against the opponent’s best receiver.
Where Mukuamu aligns in Quinn’s defense remains to be seen, but he definitely fits the type of player the new coordinator looks for. Mukuamu towers above others with a 6’4” height and weighs in at 212 pounds with 34” arms.
At South Carolina, Mukuamu started his final two seasons after being a rotational player as a freshman. He finished his time there with 86 tackles, four tackles for loss, ten passes defensed, and seven interceptions. He’s an aggressive, physical player who matched Horn’s intensity at South Carolina and was an even better run defender. That’s why he had value as a safety and slot cornerback.
Unlike Horn, though, Mukuamu was inconsistent in coverage. He often struggled in man coverage if he couldn’t get contact early in the rep, and that resulted in teams targeting him often. Mukuamu was much better in zone, where his length and closing speed allowed him to display some really good ball skills.
Between Mukuamu and the Cowboys’ other cornerbacks taken in this draft - Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright - it’s very clear what Dallas is looking for in this secondary: big, long, and fast with good ball skills. All three of these guys are bigger on traits than directly translatable production, but those traits are what helped late-round picks like Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner become household names in Seattle under this same scheme.
The most interesting part for Mukuamu going forward is where they see him fitting. He has experience playing everywhere in the backfield, so Dallas can get a little creative here. Joseph is likely going to be counted on as the outside starter opposite Trevon Diggs, so Mukuamu could offer value as a slot corner despite Jourdan Lewis being brought back this offseason. More likely, though, Dallas may see him as their free safety of the future behind Damontae Kazee.
It will certainly be worth watching where Mukuamu plays as we get into training camp and preseason this year, but he gives the Cowboys a whole lot of tantalizing traits in what appears to be a new-look secondary in Dallas.