The 2022 Dallas Cowboys had plenty of players exceed expectations. No player did so more than rookie cornerback DaRon Bland. After being drafted in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Bland came into the 2022 season not being expected to produce very much. Thankfully for the Cowboys and the 23-year-old cornerback, he did the exact opposite.
Bland was one of the best rookie cornerbacks in the entire league last season. The Fresno State product’s ability to make plays on the ball was on full display during his rookie year; the 23-year-old tied for the second-most interceptions in the league with five. Time and time again when the Dallas’ defense needed a big play, Bland was the guy who came up big and changed the direction of the game.
Pre-MNF, PFF's highest-graded defender in Week 13 is none other than #Cowboys rookie CB DaRon Bland with an outstanding 94.3 mark.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) December 5, 2022
He was allowed 2 receptions from 7 targets for just 9 yards while generating two INTs, a PBU and a coverage stop. pic.twitter.com/Syk82ptmHQ
On the season, quarterbacks had a very low 86.5 passer rating when targeting the rookie, fifth-best among rookies that played more than 450 defensive snaps.
Bland’s emergence was not something many saw coming, and even after an extremely impressive rookie year, the cornerback has not gotten tons of recognition around the league. So much so, that in a recent article by Bleacher Report, Bland was named the Cowboys’ “Best-Kept Secret” on their roster heading into 2023 OTAs.
Unless you’re a Cowboys fan, when you think about rookie corners from the Class of 2022 it’s Sauce Gardner and Tariq Woolen that immediately spring to mind. Perhaps Derek Stingley if you just think of the highest-rated corners coming out of college.
But DaRon Bland was second among all rookies with five interceptions on the season.
Those interceptions weren’t just products of the ball being tipped in the air and falling into Bland’s hands either. He proved his ability to work as both an inside and outside cornerback. He has strong hands with the ball in the air and earned a role as a fifth-round pick.
The addition of Stephon Gilmore via trade might force Bland to work more as a nickel cornerback this season. While the 32-year-old Gilmore gives the Cowboys another high quality defensive back in Dan Quinn’s secondary, it’s Bland’s versatility that is going to allow them to adapt to any injury that may happen during the 2023 season.
As mentioned, the addition of veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore will only help Bland get better during his second season in the league. The 23-year-old can slide back inside and has a very good chance to beat out veteran Jourdan Lewis to be Dallas’ primary nickel cornerback this season.
Overall, if DaRon Bland can build off his outstanding rookie year and continue to show impressive ball skills and playmaking ability, he won’t stay a secret to the rest of the league for much longer.