The Dallas Cowboys have been trying to improve their cornerback group for a while now.
Ever since they made the conscious decision not to hang on to Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, they have been searching for replacements. They struck oil with the second-round pick of Trevon Diggs in 2020 and he’s solidified himself as one-half of the starting outside pair, but it’s been a little difficult to find that that other guy.
The team thought they could get it nailed down in the 2021 NFL Draft when it seemed very likely that they would end up with either Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II or South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.
Unfortunately Fortuitously, both those corners were snatched up right before the Cowboys were on the clock forcing the team to come up with a contingency plan. And that plan ended up being trading back a couple of spots and settling for scoring the pass-rushing sensation Micah Parsons.
The team missed out on one of the top corners in that draft, but it didn’t deter them from trying to find answers. They took a chance on the high-risk/high-reward athletic corner from Kentucky in Kelvin Joseph when they selected him next in the draft at 44th overall. Some believed that pick was a little bit of a reach and looked as if the team panicked to cover a need. And speaking of reaches, all of us were caught off guard when they selected Oregon State corner Nahshon Wright in the third round of the draft as fans had to search deep through their draft notes to find any information about him.
Suffice it to say, both the Day 2 cornerback picks of 2021 haven’t worked out as planned. Neither saw much action their rookie season as the Cowboys were fortunate enough to have good health at cornerback as the combination of Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis handled most of the workload. Joseph and Wright started a total of three games between them.
In last year's draft, the Cowboys were in a precarious spot in terms of the talent layout in the draft. Thanks to the lack of self-control and haughty by nature actions of Jerry Jones we all got a good look at the Cowboys draft sheet last year and we could see how the Cowboys' top 34 draft prospects stacked up to each other.
Two corners that had first-round grades:
5. Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati selected fourth overall by the Jets
Three corners that had second-round grades:
24. Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington selected 39th overall by the Bears
29. Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida selected 23rd overall by the Bills
31. Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington selected 21st overall by the Chiefs
The Cowboys were never in play for the top two corners in last year’s draft but they also missed out on their second-round guys as well as they were all selected before the Cowboys were back on the clock. (Note: Tyler Smith was ranked 16th on their sheet)
Rather than panicking this time around, they stayed true to their board and selected the promising edge rusher Sam Williams in the second round. The Cowboys must’ve valued the remaining corners similarly as they waited all the way until the fifth round before picking Fresno State cornerback DaRon Bland. It was a wise move too as Bland looks like one of the better rookie corners taken after the first round of the draft.
The landscape of this year’s draft class looks eerily similar to last year as there are three top guys early and three late first-, early second-round guys. Here are the cornerback rankings according to Dane Brugler’s top 100 players.
5. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
11. Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
15. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
Late First/Early second:
31. Deonte Banks, Maryland
32. Kelee Ringo, Georgia
34. Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
Once again, the Cowboys (with the 26th overall pick) are sitting in the dead zone. They aren’t likely to get one of the top guys, and there’s a good chance they’ll miss out on the next group as well. This means that the Cowboys might have to again draft a corner from the next tier which may need more development before they could step into a starting role. With both Joseph and Wright coming off a second disappointing season and no Anthony Brown in their pocket this time around, this leaves a big hole at cornerback opposite Diggs.
Enter Stephon Gilmore.
With the savvy veteran corner now on the roster, the Cowboys have some breathing room. That’s not to say they won’t be looking at a corner early, but the trade for Gilmore means they no longer have a great sense of urgency to fill that void. Maybe they are creative and move around in the draft to get their guy? Maybe one of the players they love falls to them. Anything is possible, but what we can say is this team has taken action to cover themselves just in case things don’t fall perfectly in place.