If the postseason taught us anything about the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys, it’s that the delta between the haves and have-nots is magnifies once you get to the postseason. The Cowboys, needing more playmakers, couldn’t get past the 49ers, and the 49ers, devoid of quarterbacking, couldn’t get past the Eagles. Meanwhile, the Eagles without their pass rush stepping up, saw Patrick Mahomes win his second Super Bowl trophy. Being at your best at the most critical time is what the NFL is all about.
While we as Cowboys fans can say it should have been us, or we would have fared differently, the facts are we are still flawed and lack the premier talent to return to the pantheon of elite teams in league history who have hoisted the Lombardi trophy. We’re close but still far away. This team needs playmaking at every single level. While the conversation has centered around the offense and giving Dak Prescott more help, there is another approach and thatś on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cowboys currently have impending 21 free agents, nine of whom are on the defensive side of the ball, with a big one being starting cornerback Anthony Brown. Once Brown was hurt last year, the Cowboys were scrambling for options to fill that void and someone to play opposite Trevon Diggs. The current options on the roster are at best unproven, and at worst, uninspiring.
Kelvin Joseph was benched after a brief try and Nashon Wright had a mixed performance. DaRon Bland did see some time in his Brown’s place but is a better corner in the slot. This makes boundary cornerback a pressing need. We will examine one cornerback prospect in particular that could fill that void, a prospect that some have tabbed as the best corner in this year’s class, Christian Gonzalez.
The Colorado transfer has been shooting up draft boards after his transfer to Eugene with the Oregon Ducks and was seen as a huge grab for Oregon out of last year’s transfer portal. Gonzalez, a red-shirt sophomore, hasn’t missed a game in the past two seasons having started his last 24.
Gonzalez had a breakout season in 2022, recording 50 tackles, seven passes defended, and four interceptions, taking home Pac-12 first-team honors. Gonzalez joins a draft class that includes the likes of Joey Porter Jr., Devon Witherspoon, and Deonte Banks. After watching Gonzalez on the film, here is where stacks up.
Gonzalez’s size is the first thing you’ll notice. His length and ability to crowd receivers are what the Cowboys and a lot of teams are looking for at cornerback. He’s a big-body defender who forces quarterbacks into tighter window throws and impacts passing lanes. He’s also a very fluid athlete for his size and has no problem changing direction. He’s got very quick feet and excellent hip swivel. The way he transitions from his backpedal to running with receivers is seamless and his long strides make up for lost ground quickly.
Plus, Gonzalez has the long speed to take away plays deep down the field. In the games reviewed, hardly anyone was able to get over the top of him. And he has ball skills. Below are a few examples of those traits.
He does a great job here of sitting on the route and driving on the pass to knock it away without drawing a penalty.
Once again, you see his length and ball skills as he plays through the receiver and knocks the ball away.
Here’s the play that shows off the total package. His quick feet, effortless technique, and locating the ball. You can see he turns his head immediately after the receiver does to play the ball in the air with no problem
The first thing that stood out in the negative was Gonzalez in run support. Physically, he’s not a bad tackler and does a decent job in that area, but by no means is he a punishing hitter. He can make tackles in the open field. The real concern is the desire to make the tackle consistently. At times, it appears that he’s not rallying to the ball and takes questionable pursuit angles to the ball carrier.
Then in the worst case, you have this play. Gonzalez comes off the edge on the blitz and this should be a tackle for a loss, but instead, he misses the tackle, and the running is loose in the secondary and nearly scores the touchdown. He simply cannot miss the tackle in that type of scenario.
Other questions include his recognition and locating the ball in the running game. There were some plays on film where he didn’t identify the ball carrier on misdirection runs. This play illustrates him not recognizing where the ball is until it’s too late. All Gonzalez has to do is maintain his discipline, keep containment on that side, and Georgia doesn’t score on this play. It’s unfortunate, but Gonzalez is the last one to realize Stetson Bennett still has the ball, as Bennett jogs in for the score.
Finally, Gonzalez needs to get stronger. Some of this goes hand in hand with run support where he sometimes struggles to fight off blocks from wide receivers but it also shows up in coverage. A lot of times receivers were able to move him aside easily after working through his jam at the line of scrimmage. On this one play, you can see where the receiver gets about five yards of separation, after contact at the top of the route.
When it comes to Gonzalez, the positives are far outweighed by the negatives. Yes, he does need to be better in run support, especially against teams that like to attack the perimeter in the run game. You also want him to be more aggressive in initiating contact in the run game, recognize plays faster and want him to get stronger. That’s the big thing overall. His strength and understanding. The good news is that should come with time.
He’s played a lot over the past two years but is still very young. Gonzalez is a 20 year old redshirt sophomore and still will mature both physically and mentally in the next few years. The mental aspect will improve with the help of Dan Quinn and secondary coach Al Harris. The strength will come with time in an NFL program.
The physical foundation is already there and very solid as it is. Excellent footwork, great change of direction, and the length that this coaching staff is enamored with.
If you can ignore his current issues in run support, he’s an excellent value, especially in tandem with Trevon Diggs and his ball-hawking prowess, plus the ability to locate the ball in the air. If Gonzalez is there at 26, his potential ceiling and current floor as a prospect would be too enticing to pass up. But he may be gone long before Dallas is on the clock.