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ESPN has surprise pick for “bounce-back” player for the Cowboys in 2021

This isn’t really the Cowboys player most would think of for this spot, but okay.

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you asked most Cowboys fans who they expect/need to be the “bounce-back” player on the team, the overwhelming response would likely be Ezekiel Elliott. After a totally pedestrian 2020 season that saw all of his numbers down except for his fumbles, which were uncomfortably high, Zeke seems like the ideal candidate. Even Zeke has somewhat recognized this. He’s gone on a diet to get into better shape, he’s been working out with a special trainer to improve his footwork, and he’s talked about the need to hold on to the football.

Given his importance to the offense, a bounce-back year from Zeke would be a huge lift for the Cowboys offense.

You could also throw some others into the mix. If you wanted to stretch the definition of bounce-back, Dak Prescott could be a candidate. But Prescott is more in line for comeback player instead of bounce-back player given his issue was injury. If you would like to see more sacks from DeMarcus Lawrence, maybe he’s a guy. Let’s also throw Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch into the basket.

But would you have come up with the name Jourdan Lewis? That's the name ESPN recently decided on.

Jourdan Lewis, CB

PFF grade in 2020: 48.1

What went wrong: Lewis took on a full-time role from the slot in 2019 after spending his 2017 rookie campaign on the outside and 2018 season as a reserve. He held his own in that first season, ranking 15th among 47 qualifying defensive backs in PFF grade when covering the slot. Lewis then hit a bump in the road before the 2020 season, suffering an ankle injury ahead of Week 1. When he made his return in Week 2, he didn’t look like the same player. His slot coverage grade dropped to the fourth-worst among qualifiers for the season. — PFF

Fair enough, if you’re going to pick a surprise candidate, you need to back it up. Given the deep drop off from Lewis in Pro Football Focus’ grading metrics, Lewis could certainly make sense. There’s another issue for Lewis, he was nicked up in training camp and another defensive back excelled when given Lewis’ role.

Maurice Canady has been one of the darlings of camp. Canady opted-out last year, but has retuned and made a name for himself in camp.

Canady began to take off early in this camp after slot corner Jourdan Lewis went down with a nagging injury. He has a running competition with cornerback Trevon Diggs to see who comes out of this camp with the most interceptions.

The count?

“Five,” Canady said. “I think I’m up right now.”

Lewis is back though, and is not going to give up his job easily.

In year’s past, Lewis stood out because of his ability to get his hands on the ball and create turnovers. That was a skill that was in short supply in Dallas. He has to hope that he can keep that going to fend off Canady.

What’s his outlook?

Outlook for 2021: You don’t want to give Lewis an out for last season, but essentially everybody struggled defensively in 2020. He missed some time in training camp with a hamstring strain, but his practice against the Rams last week showed his value in how he defended DeSean Jackson and Cooper Kupp at times. He has the smarts to know how to protect his weaknesses and the instincts to understand how offenses are attacking the slot. New coordinator Dan Quinn will give Lewis — and everybody on the defense — a boatload of confidence they might not have had in 2020. — Todd Archer

If the starters play a lot on Saturday night against the Texans, keep an eye on Lewis. Will he start? Will he get the majority of the reps with the 1s in the game? How do his reps look?

If he can bounce back in 2021, then there is only one starting position left open among the corners.