From the start to the finish of the 2022 season, some stats will tell you that the Dallas Cowboys were a Top-10 pass defense. However, those stats do not tell you the whole story as to the difficulties the corners faced throughout the year. In many ways, the Cowboys elite pass rush essentially protected the cornerbacks on multiple occasions each game. Another factor that came up was the injury bug.The franchise lost two major contributors to the secondary within the span of two months. Losing players like Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown put the microscope squarely on their replacements.
Those replacements featured young players like Kelvin Joseph, DaRon Bland, Israel Mukuamu, and Nahshon Wright which were all drafted within the last two draft cycles. There were other veterans that made brief stops in Dallas like Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander, but it was the young and inexperienced players like Joseph, Bland, Mukuamu, and Wright that got the majority of the reps while the team was dealing with the injury bug in the cornerback room.
Of the group of corners that stepped in due to the injury situation, it was DaRon Bland who stepped up and showed out with opportunity that was given to him. Bland has seemingly putting himself in a good spot ahead of the 2023 season to nab one of those starting gigs on defense, likely in the slot. Kelvin Joseph is more of a special teams player so far, and Nahshon Wright flashed ability at times while also looking shaky because of the lack of action he has seen. Israel Mukuamu has been deployed in various ways whether it was at safety or corner, and while playing the cornerback position showed some promise by the end of the year.
Currently, there is one cornerback on the 2022 roster that is now a free agent, and that is Anthony Brown. The franchise recently made a splash by adding two time All-Pro cornerback, Stephon Gilmore via trade, presumably he will take Brown’s spot. Even with this trade, Gilmore’s current contract expires after the 2023 season which means this quite possibly could be a one-year rental situation. This trade obviously helps in the short-term, but in the long-term drafting a corner early on in this year’s draft is still a high priority.
Here are three players that the Cowboys could draft early on to make the cornerback room that much stronger for the future.
Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Being the son of a former high-level NFL player like Joey Porter Sr. put pressure on Joey Porter Jr. to be good. Coming out of high school, Porter Jr was a highly touted four-star prospect out of the state of Pennsylvania. Nationally, he the 324th best player in the class of 2019. At his position, he was the 33rd best corner in the country. At the state level, Porter was the 4th best player in his class. As good as he was in high school, the offer sheet reflected it as he held offers from schools like LSU, and Miami before committing to in-state powerhouse Penn State.
During his freshman season in 2019, Porter would be one of 19 true freshman to play in game as he would appear in four games for the Nittany Lions. It was a little bit of slow burn for Porter in terms of his quality of play, but as each year passed, he became an even better football player. He went from a quarterback rating metric while being targeted starting at 156.3 to a mark of just 63.6 by the time he left. In 34 career games played, he would tally 113 total tackles, 20 passes defended, and one interception.
Coming from a family that featured not just his father but also his cousin Jason Gildon playing many seasons in the NFL, is a good bloodline to have in the tool box. Porter is a very fluid player that possesses good speed and quickness that works well in man coverage. He possess top tier height, hands, and arm length for the position and he knows how to use the physical abilities to his advantage especially in the jump ball game. Don’t fret about the lack of interceptions in college as quarterbacks would rarely throw the ball to the wideout he was covering. From a tackling perspective, it is in his blood to be good and he is a top level player in this department.
Even with the NFL pedigree, he isn’t a perfect prospect and does need to refine his skills in different areas. There is nothing wrong with being aggressive, but sometimes being a tad overzealous will get him in trouble. While in coverage, he tends to grab the opposing player more than you would like which resulted in a higher amount of flags being thrown in his direction. Even with the good height, hands and arm length, he certainly has room to bulk up more given these traits. Having the height that he possesses is definitely a plus, but he will need to play slightly less tall while in his stance.
The physical tools are obvious as he hits high marks at the position with his arm length which he uses well in coverage. His tackling ability is top notch as this will be a strength of his at the professional level. Technically speaking, he checks most of the boxes as a prospect but he will need to learn to be a little less aggressive and a little less handsy in coverage. The coaching up portion shouldn’t be much of a transition as he’s been schooled well for many years. Porter, in this year’s class, is about as close of a sure thing at cornerback that you’ll see and he should have a solid NFL career just as members of his family did.
Deonte Banks, Maryland
Also from the 2019 recruiting class, Deonte Banks was the 77th best cornerback as well as the 12th best player in his home state of Maryland. Banks was rated as a three-star prospect that didn’t have a massive offer sheet. Schools like Buffalo, and Kent State were interested but he would stay home and play for the Maryland Terrapins.
Right from the beginning, Banks would see immediate action as a true freshman by appearing in 11 games and starting in eight of them. His sophomore season of 2020 was cut to only five games due to Covid. His junior season would follow and that season was cut short for Banks due to a shoulder injury in the second game. In his senior season with the Terps, he appeared in 12 games and tallied 38 total tackles as well as an interception. After four seasons on campus, Bank would total 83 tackles, and two interceptions.
While on the playing field, Banks possesses tremendous awareness, especially in route recognition. His awareness also goes a long way while tracking and attacking balls coming in his direction. There is plenty of physicality in his game, and he is not only a willing tackler, but he is solid in this area as well. All of the tools just mentioned, along with having the size you look for, makes him a good prospect. Being a good prospect and given how well he performed at the combine, it is easy to see why he is climbing up draft boards.
As good of a prospect that Banks is, he does have some work to do in order to take his game to the next level. The area in which some work will need to be done is in the technical part of his game because of the lack of consistency. He also can be a little handsy, and grab onto opposing pass catchers more than you would like to see which will result in penalties from time to time. There will be times that Banks will get a tad too aggressive and will be susceptible to double moves which can result in big plays being given up.
Combining his excellent size, and length with his tremendous athleticism makes him a very intriguing prospect. If he can improve on his technique and be coached out of grabbing opposing wide outs so much, then he has tons of potential.
Eli Ricks, LSU/Alabama
Eli Ricks was a class of 2020 prospect. As a prospect, he was ranked 14th overall in the nation as well as the second best player at his position and in his home state of California. According to 24/7 sports, he is ranked as the 294th best prospect since their service started in 2010. As you can see, he was a highly touted five-star prospect with quite the offer sheet. Schools like Alabama and Georgia offered him a scholarship but he turned them down for LSU.
As a true freshman with the Tigers, Ricks would end up garnering third team AP All-American honors. He would also be a part of the Tigers program for his sophomore season of 2021, until a back injury he suffered mid-season would force him to sit out the remainder of that year. This would be the last season for Ricks in Baton Rouge as he would transfer to their arch rival, Alabama. In the beginning of the one and only season for the Crimson Tide, he would battle nagging injuries but would end up playing in 10 games with five starts. In 24 college games between both schools, he would tally 44 total tackles and five interceptions.
The ability has always been there for Ricks, and while on the field he showed elite playmaking ability. He is very clean out of his backpedal which helps to lead to more opportunities to make interceptions. His instincts are at a high level, especially while playing the ball. Speaking of playing the ball, his hands are very much like a wide receivers and he will certainly catch more passes that many corners will struggle with. His on-field awareness is top-notch as he does a great job reading the quarterbacks eyes and also is pretty adapt at understanding route concepts. Ricks plays both man and zone coverage very well.
Even as an elite prospect like Ricks is, his technique can sometimes be sloppy. Being as physical in coverage as he is, it can also lead to drawing more flags than you would like. The technique flaws at times can really show against vertical wide receivers as he sometimes lags in the recovery department. Another layer to his game that needs work is just getting more reps in as he hasn’t played in as many games as you may like from a high-level prospect that he is.
There is a lot to like about Eli Ricks, and the ceiling for him is quite high. Having been tutored by legendary coach Nick Saban, even if for one season, is never a bad thing, especially for the position that he plays. Coach Saban’s track record with corners speaks for itself. As Ricks gets more playing time along with those quality reps, he will show how talented he can be. If he can clean up some minor technical issues in his game, then his career in the NFL should be a quality one.