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Debating whether DaRon Bland is a true DPOY or just part of a well-oiled machine

DaRon Bland deserves to be mentioned in DPOY conversations.

NFL: Washington Commanders at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

“With the 167th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select DaRon Bland from Fresno State.”

Who?

That was many of us almost 20 months ago when the Cowboys took some obscure cornerback who embodied the traits they look for in their defensive back. What are those traits, you say?

  • Length
  • Physicality
  • Instincts
  • Closing speed

Bland might’ve been a priority free agent candidate for many other teams, but the Cowboys saw something they loved and took action to secure his services in the fifth round of last year’s draft. After the Nahshon Wright disappointment, it left some of us concerned that this team’s compulsion to fall in love with their type of DB would leave them with a player who just didn’t have what it takes to be an NFL cornerback.

Nope. Not in this case.

Bland has been exceptional over his first two seasons in the league. Last year, he had five interceptions, one behind the league leaders. This year, he’s the league leader thus far with seven interceptions on the season. He now has 12 picks through his first 28 games in the league and he’s showing no sign of slowing down. As a reference, Trevon Diggs had 14 interceptions over his first 28 games in the league and we all remember how special that was. Not only is Bland picking off passes, but he’s returning them for touchdowns as his fifth pick-six on Thursday set a new NFL record.

Bland’s name has been thrown into the hat of a possible Defensive Player of the Year candidate and with each week he keeps fueling the fire of that conversation. The Cowboys have something great with Diggs and he was recently signed to a lucrative multi-year deal. Do the Cowboys have another star in Bland?

To really answer that question, it feels like we need more time. That may seem absurd to some as Bland has already shown enough to earn such high praise. But there is something about his play that is reason for pause and that pause is because he allows too much separation. If you were to chart the percentage of targets vs. separation prevented, you’d find that Bland is on the fringe of being in the worst quadrant on the bottom left.

That tells us two things...

  1. Quarterbacks are challenging Bland as he’s thrown at a fair amount
  2. He’s giving up a lot of separation

Bland’s traits actually line him up to be an interception machine. He doesn’t have the twitchiness to drape all over receivers and that invites throws. Teams continue to challenge Bland because sometimes he affords too much cushion. This was even on display against Washington on Sunday as there were many plays where the receiver got open against him and Bland quickly brought them down. In fact, Bland finished the game with 10 tackles, the most by any player on either team.

While it’s true that Bland does give up separation at times, he’s one of the game’s best closing cornerbacks. He reacts extremely well and catches up in a hurry. He uses that great length to jump routes and surprise quarterbacks who thought they had enough room to sneak one in.

It also helps that the Cowboys sport the most fierce pass rush in the game. Opposing teams are forced to take risks and Bland has made them pay dearly. The constant rotation of edge rushers like Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sam Williams, Dorance Armstrong, and Dante Fowler is such a tough challenge for opposing linemen to deal with. Eventually, Dallas will get them behind the sticks and that is usually when disaster strikes for them. The end result has oftentimes become a pick-six for Bland.

The Cowboys second-year corner is having a remarkable season and he’s still got six more games to go. He absolutely deserves to be in the DPOY conversation. The effect of defensive touchdowns is of great value in a team’s ability to win football games. His contributions are substantial. He’s a great player that we will be cheering for in years to come as he’s only in the second year of his four-year rookie deal.

But if we’re being honest, it’s fair to also recognize that there are some parts of his game that could hinder his ability to be a true shutdown corner. As long as Stephon Gilmore is providing tighter coverage, teams will continue to challenge Bland. Good plays can beat him. The Cowboys are entering a stretch where they will square off against six Pro Bowl receivers Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown, Amon Ra St. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and Tyler Lockett over the next five games. While we should all be thankful that the Cowboys have a player like Bland in the secondary, it might also be wise to not put too high of expectations on him. Sometimes he will be the chicken, sometimes he will be the feathers.

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