In the lead up to the 2021 NFL Draft, everyone and their mother anticipated the Cowboys spending the tenth overall pick on a cornerback, with the bigger question being whether Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain II would be the newest player to wear the star on their helmet.
As it turns out, both of them were selected immediately before Dallas came on the clock, which led to the Micah Parsons selection. But the Cowboys found a cornerback with their next pick, taking Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph in the second round.
The irony, though, is that Joseph hardly played as a rookie due in large part to the strong performances of veterans Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis in 2021. Both players return in 2022, but the Cowboys have to be hoping Joseph can steal a starting spot from one of them sooner rather than later.
What He’s Done
What has Joseph done so far? To be quite honest, not much. He’s generated more headlines for non-football things - whether it’s injuries that caused him to miss offseason workouts both years now, or his involvement in a homicide case - than he has for his actual play.
Granted, a lot of that had to do with Brown and Lewis simply outperforming him. That’s not an indictment of Joseph either, as cornerback is one of the harder positions to play as a rookie, and both Brown and Lewis came with a sizable advantage in terms of experience.
Joseph started the season on the injured reserve and wasn’t active for a game until Week 8, but even then he saw just two snaps on defense. The vast majority of Joseph’s playing time in 2021 came on special teams where he performed adequately.
However, Joseph did see two starts towards the end of the year, one due to an injury and the other due to the Cowboys resting some starters. It was a very small sample size, but he definitely impressed in his few defensive snaps. Quarterbacks threw his way 17 times but completed just eight of them; that completion rate allowed of 47.1% was actually the second-highest figure on the team, though the sample size is obviously not statistically significant.
Joseph also showed similar ball skills to Trevon Diggs’ rookie year in terms of frequently getting his hands on the ball despite being unable to complete the interception. Joseph’s physicality in run support also drew some attention in a good way.
What He Can Do
Joseph was arguably the least impressive rookie from the Cowboys’ 2021 draft class, which partially speaks to just how good the rest of the group was. Joseph also has some good excuses for this, but excuses only go so far in the NFL, especially when you’re no longer a rookie.
As mentioned, both Brown and Lewis return in 2022 and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that either of them is in immediate danger of losing their starting job. Of course, that can all change in a hurry once training camp and the preseason arrives. Additionally, Brown is entering the final year of his contract, while Lewis has a potential out in his contract after this season, so it would be financially advantageous to the Cowboys if Joseph can become the guy before those contract decisions have to be made.
As for Joseph specifically, he needs to prove he can be reliable. In college, Joseph struggled and eventually transferred out of LSU after violating team rules. And while Joseph performed well at Kentucky, he reportedly clashed with coaches a few times, which factored into his decision to declare for the draft as early as he did.
At the time of his drafting, Joseph was lauded for his elite traits and potential, but he’s still very green as a player. That potential flashed last year when Joseph got his chance to play on defense, but he’ll need to demonstrate that on a more consistent basis if he’s to crack the starting lineup.
If Joseph can do that, and play up to his potential, then he has the potential to establish himself as an upper echelon cover corner; furthermore, he could create one of the more dangerous cornerback tandems in the NFL playing alongside Diggs. The caveat here is that it all comes down to projection, which is just a fancy way of saying guesswork.
There’s not much question about the talent with Joseph, but can he be counted on? That’s no different from a year ago when Joseph first arrived in Dallas. It’s hard to learn that much about a player when they don’t actually play, so training camp will be a crucial factor in whether or not we see any kind of second-year jump from Joseph.