Following a bittersweet 2016, the Dallas Cowboys have significantly upgraded their secondary, having looked no further than the draft for help. Out of nine picks, four were defensive backs, as Dallas drafted three corners and one safety. What could be described as rejuvenated and/or revitalized, the secondary looks more than promising on paper, with each of its new members capable of being high caliber as it pertains to talent. Nevertheless, the Cowboys have not been all that successful when selecting defensive backs, though Anthony Brown and Byron Jones have both proven themselves thus far.
What immediately separates this group is the fact that they are men of high character and students of the game. Rest assured that all will likely start sooner rather than later, most notably corners Chidobe Awuzie of Colorado and Jourdan Lewis of Michigan, both who I believe to be steals and underrated. Having said that, don’t sleep on former Florida State cornerback Marquez White or hard hitting safety Xavier Woods out of Louisiana Tech. Labeled as conservative in 2016, Dallas’ brand new secondary will exhibit the notion behind the word opportunistic under risk-taking defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, sure to challenge each of the four names mentioned above.
I as well as those affiliated with America’s team are curious as to why the Cowboys waited until the second round to draft a defensive back. However, it would be wrong to dispute the selection of former Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton, as Dallas was also in dire need of a pass rusher. Yet there was a small amount of leeway, given the upsides of Brown and Jones.
Here is my projected defensive backfield for the Cowboys come 2017.
Anthony Brown (cornerback)
Let’s start with the surprising sophomore and 2016 third-round gem. Brown immediately burst onto the scene, putting forth a quiet but highly productive rookie season. Shining bright statistically, he intercepted a pass, forced a fumble, and broke up eight passes, accumulating 40 tackles while starting ten of 16 games. 15 assisted tackles speaks for his willingness to contribute on any given play, as the ball is Brown’s first priority. Though a bit undersized at 5’11”, he excels in bump and run coverage, often sending a physical message to receivers.
Chidobe Awuzie (cornerback)
Taken in the second-round was Dallas’ selection of Chidobe Awuzie, a surprise to some, though many became well aware of his name leading up to the draft. Awuzie will likely start Week 1, given he is arguably the most NFL ready corner of the three listed. Able to play in both man and zone coverage, he is a duel threat and one man wrecking crew. That said, Awuzie is a disruption on the outside, not afraid to match up with anyone, often making the right decisions.
His 2015 junior campaign was exceptional, as Awuzie posted 85 combined tackles, 12 for loss, four sacks, and two interceptions. In addition, he broke up seven passes and forced two fumbles. Owner Jerry Jones and company were quite lucky in stealing Awuzie, as those numbers serve as the credentials of a first-round talent at corner. He also placed fourth in the Pac-12, with 70 solo tackles.
Jourdan Lewis (cornerback)
Shifting to maybe the shock of the draft, had the Chicago Bears not drafted quarterback Mitchell Trubisky second overall is Michigan star corner Jourdan Lewis falling to the Cowboys in round three. The 92nd overall pick was charged with domestic violence, and is set for trial in July. Lewis profoundly believes to be innocent, not shying away from questions of any sort. Though is it really a surprise that yet another player with off the field issues ends up in Dallas?
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has sung, is singing, and will always sing the highest of praises of Lewis, mainly for his level of character on and off the field, thus maybe knowing something I as well as others my not at the moment. Notwithstanding, this system is tailor made for Lewis, providing him with an opportunity only a select few have, that is playing with an iconic blue star on the side of that metallic silver helmet.
Lewis was the heart and soul of Michigan’s defense, constantly appearing on the highlight reel, most notably for his one-handed game saving interception against the Wisconsin Badgers. He is quick and aware of when to jump routes, boasting spectacular timing as a corner. Like Awuzie, it was his junior season that Lewis put his best on display. His stat line read 52 total tackles, 37 solo, along with a sack, forced fumble, and two interceptions.
Byron Jones (safety)
Having taken care of the corners with either Lewis and/or Awuzie starting opposite or filling in for Brown, it would only be right to keep current free safety Byron Jones in a starting role this coming season. 4.36 speed is all that needs to be said as it pertains to Jones’s strengths. The former 2015 pick posted an impressive 114 tackles, averaging 10 per game in a span of two years. However, Jones must step up his game in 2017, as he only intercepted one pass and forced one fumble thus far in his young career.
Jones is a hard hitter with an unrivaled work ethic. Perhaps it is his infectious personality that galvanizes his contemporaries, hence my choosing of him as the “cover boy” of this piece. Jones will serve as a perfect mentor for the four newcomers, given the bevy of superstar wideouts Marinelli has trusted him to cover.
Xavier Woods (safety)
Last but not least, the wild card that is former Louisiana Tech safety Xavier Woods, who may pan out be Dallas’ best selection. Standing at 5’11”, Woods is a fearless ballhawk and competitor, whose hands always seem find the ball. The sixth-round pick also possesses the rare skill of reading a quarterback’s eyes.
It will be up to head coach Jason Garrett, though I would personally start Woods at strong safety next to Jones. Woods is a raw talent, only to be built throughout the season while starting. As I stated above, Jones’s mentorship will immediately better his play, ultimately bringing out the best in Woods.
Overall, there is much to look forward to. In addition to my projected starters, the Cowboys now have significant depth in the secondary. White’s future is also bright, as he will most definitely see playing time at corner. Though let’s not forget about safety Jeff Heath, who’s role will be significant in the defensive backfield.
Could this reinvigorated secondary take the Cowboys a level higher? Super Bowl or bust is more than fit to describe 2017, as this season could very well be the year the Vince Lombardi trophy dons a star in Dallas.
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