Dallas Cowboys Draft: CB isn’t a sneaky need, it’s a bona fide need

Chidobe Awuzie #24 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Chidobe Awuzie #24 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys front office recently called the cornerback a “sneaky need” this draft cycle, but the reality is, it’s much more than that.

When Dallas Cowboys COO/EVP/ Director of Player Personnel, Stephen Jones, called cornerback a “sneaky need” this offseason, ears perked up everywhere. Last season, Byron Jones Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis rounded out one of the best cornerback stables Dallas has had in years. To call it anything but a strength sounded preposterous.

But deeper evaluation indicates Stephen was more right than he may care to admit, and the cornerback position is a legitimate concern as Dallas heads into the 2019 NFL Draft

Free Agency Looms Large

Two of Dallas’s top-3 cornerbacks, Jones and Brown, are in contract seasons here in 2019. With both being possible departures in 11-months, it would be dangerous for Dallas to enter the season without either a promising rookie on hand, or a contract extension in the works.

Last week I discussed the crossroads Dallas is at with Byron. If they pay him top-5 CB money (what he’s going to expect on his next deal) can he live up to it? If they wait to see how he performs in 2019 it may be too late…

Trending. Here's the big dilemma with Byron Jones. light

Quality of Play

While the quality of play at CB last season was considerably better than usual, it wasn’t quite as good as many like to make it seem. Byron Jones had a Pro Bowl worthy season by all accounts. Pro Football Focus rated Jones as the seventh best rated CB in the NFL last season. He was particularly effective covering deep, only giving up three receptions of 20 yards or more (targeted 18 times and rating 4th overall per PFF).

Anthony Brown had a great rebound in 2018. He established himself as one of the better nickel CBs in the NFL last season and put his forgettable 2017 season behind him. Nickel CB is one of the hardest positions on the entire defense. Since receivers can break in either direction, the advantage clearly goes to offense.

Being a competent nickel CB is about staying close and never getting burned. He needs to have an eye for the ball and ability to disguise coverage to keep QBs guessing. All things considered, Brown did very well last season.

Chidobe Awuzie, on the other hand, had a rough campaign.

Chidobe Awuzie struggled all season long as the corner opposite Jones. His aversion to playing with his back to the QB was obvious and Chido was frequently targeted down the sideline.

It wasn’t that Chido was terrible in coverage, it’s that he was terrible at looking for the ball. Since he was no threat to make a play on the ball, passers attacked him knowing there was little-to-no consequence for an otherwise dangerous pass.

Contrary to popular belief, Chidobe Awuzie did not look great last season and may never develop into a good fit at outside cornerback in Dallas’ system.

This is a problem in the Kris Richard/Rod Marinelli system: The Dallas Cowboys often operate out of single high coverage (not to be confused with Cover 1). Single high asks their outside CBs to do a variety of things. One of those is to protect the sideline and back third (making it a Cover -3) and the other is to play bump-and-chase on the sideline.

Coming out of college, scouts pointed out his coverage strengths and weaknesses, citing his strength as sitting back in zone, watching the QB, and moving up to make plays. And his weakness as running with a receiver and looking back to the ball.

He played significant snaps in his three seasons in college and only managed three interceptions. That’s why many scouts projected him best as a nickel CB and even safety. Since Chido was one of the best blitzing defensive backs and prone to making splash plays behind the line of scrimmage, more of a inside safety/chess piece role would highlight his strengths while covering his weaknesses.

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Clearly, value is greater at CB so Dallas rolled with him there in 2017 and ’18. And while he’s good enough to keep up with receivers, the role of outside CB on the Cowboys certainly does not play to his particular skills. I can say I have personally watched most of the All-22 of last season again (up to Week 13), and Chido refuses to look back for the ball to matter how easy the play appears to be.

It’s important to point out, I don’t think he’s a dumpster fire by any means, but he appears to be miscast and I can’t see him suddenly becoming something he hasn’t been the last five years of his college/pro career.

So the quandary is, Dallas’s two best cornerbacks are both free agents at the end of this coming season. One, maybe even two, of them is likely going elsewhere. The one proven player the Dallas Cowboys do have is Chido. And he doesn’t appear to be a great fit as an outside CB in this system.

light. Related Story. Why Dallas should move Chido to safety

Finally, we have Kris Richard. Richard is a hot name in coaching circles so he may be coaching his last season in Dallas. Since Richard is defensive back specialist with a good track record for developing talent, wouldn’t it make more sense to have him groom someone this season before he and one of the starters leaves next winter?

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Contrary to popular belief, Chidobe Awuzie did not look great last season and may never develop into a good fit at outside cornerback in Dallas’ system. Together with the uncertain future of Byron Jones and Anthony Brown, cornerback should be seen as a legitimate need heading into the 2019 NFL Draft.

  • Published on 04/18/2019 at 11:02 AM
  • Last updated at 04/18/2019 at 08:04 AM