During the 2021 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys would add three players to their secondary, Kelvin Joseph in round two, Nahshon Wright in round three, and Israel Mukuamu in round six. Of those three, Mukuamu, moved over to safety whereas Joseph and Wright would stay at corner. Joseph would end up appearing in 10 games with two of them in the starting lineup, and Wright would appear in 13 games with one start. Joseph in the final regular season game versus the Eagles showed flashes of why Dallas invested a second-round pick on him. Wright also started in that game as well, and also showed flashes of why he was drafted where he was.
Fast forward to the 2022 NFL Draft, it appeared that Dallas would go in a different direction and not draft a player from the secondary because in the previous two drafts, Dallas used a decent amount of draft capital by using two in the second rounds, one each in a third, a fourth, and a sixth. Well, as the great Lee Corso always says, “Not so fast, my friend” and at pick 167 in the fifth round, the Dallas Cowboys drafted cornerback DaRon Bland out of Fresno State. It appears that the Cowboys valued Bland similarly to NFL network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, and decided the value was too good to leave him on the board and made him a draft pick of the Cowboys. By drafting Bland, it gave Joseph and Wright more competition; a kick in the rear could make both players crank things up to another gear and prove to the doubters wrong.
Before moving onto how things have fared for Bland thus far, we’ll take a better look at his career before joining the Cowboys.
DaRon Bland wasn’t highly recruited out of high school but was a solid player nevertheless. Bland played on both sides of the ball and during his junior year, he put up 1,089 all-purpose yards, with eight touchdowns on offense. On defense during his junior year, he was credited with 48 tackles. As a senior, he tallied two picks and recorded 44 total tackles. By the time his high school playing days had concluded, he was named second team all-state medium school by Cal-Hi Sports as well as the Valley Oak League Defensive Player of the Year. With a successful high school career behind him, he then enrolled at Division-1 FCS program Sacramento State of the Big Sky Conference.
During his three-year stint with the Hornets, he was on the school’s track and field team where he posted a career best 10.73 in the 100 meter event which in terms of a 40-yard dash comes in just a shade under 4.5. Although he was on the track and field team, he also played football where he appeared in 30 games and started in 23 of them. When it was all said and done with Sacramento State, he had 92 total tackles, three interceptions, and one sack. He did receive First Team All-Big Sky honors in 2019, and Preseason All-Big Sky honor in 2020. Before he was able to potentially garner back-to-back First Team All-Big Sky honors by the end of the 2020 season, the season itself was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What was an obvious unfortunate situation across the globe, turned into positive one for DaRon Bland as he was able to utilize another year of eligibility which is where for one season, he moved up to FBS level and played for the Fresno State Bulldogs of the Mountain West Conference.
During his lone season with the Bulldogs, Bland appeared in all 13 games and ended up starting in nine of them. He was a part of a pretty good defense that recorded multiple shutouts for the first time since 2017. Bland also helped Fresno State win two games on the road over ranked opponents which was the first time in school history that feat had been accomplished. From a statistical perspective, he tallied 45 total tackles and two interceptions. After the season had concluded, he played in the 2022 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and was able to showcase his skills to a bigger audience. This exposure certainly helped him garner enough exposure to be drafted in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.
Although his time with the Cowboys has been brief, he has made a strong impression on the coaching staff, teammates, and fans alike. At first glance after the draft had concluded, it certainly appeared that he was going to be more a practice squad developmental prospect due to the amount of draft capital already invested in the position in the last two NFL drafts. However, he has impressed right out of the gate as you will see in this clip at training camp where he makes a great play on the ball and was able to get the interception.
Training camp, and joint practices aside, it was during the first preseason game against the Broncos where he showed out and proved that he should gain a spot on the roster. Check out these highlights from the first preseason game and you’ll see a player who came to play and played extremely well in all facets you are looking for in the secondary.
With Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright struggling in the preseason thus far and DaRon Bland impressing, do not be surprised if Bland takes one of these guys spot on the roster. As you will see in the tweet below by ESPN’s Todd Archer, Bland is already highly thought of by the Cowboys coaching staff and if you read between the tea leaves, he is most certainly going to be the backup nickel to Jourdan Lewis and making this year’s squad.
No Jourdan Lewis (hamstring) and rookie DaRon Bland working as the first-team nickel corner. They kept Anthony Brown outside.— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) August 23, 2022
Regardless of where a player was drafted, the tape doesn’t lie and DaRon Bland, although he was just a fifth round pick this year, appears to be the most NFL ready of the trio. Bland at this stage is a lock to make the team and do not be shocked to see him play meaningful snaps in 2022.