Dallas Cowboys: Can Kelvin Joseph effectively replace Anthony Brown at CB2?

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

Late in the second half of Sunday’s blowout win, the Dallas Cowboys suffered a significant injury to one of their thinnest position groups. A ruptured Achilles ended Anthony Brown’s season, and possibly his Cowboys career. It also left Dallas in quite a precarious position at CB2.

Typically, when a starter goes down to season-ending injury and the “next man up” is a second round draft pick, you consider yourselves blessed. Top-50 picks are expected to be starters in this league so when the Dallas Cowboys lost their starting cornerback for the year, they were thrilled to have 2021 second rounder Kelvin Joseph waiting in the wings…right?

Kelvin Joseph has the talent to effectively replace Anthony Brown at cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys but it will require a team effort

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say Kelvin Joseph has struggled to live up to the expectations of being a second round pick. The 44th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft was essentially drafted to be Anthony Brown’s replacement, after all. But up until this point, the highest he’s been able to elevate is special teams gunner and reserve CB.

It’s not like Anthony Brown’s stellar play had been blocking the path either. Brown has struggled this season (I suspect he was playing injured this season) leaving the CB2 job there for the taking. The problem was there just weren’t any worthy challengers.

Jourdan Lewis fell to season-ending injury earlier in the year and neither Kelvin Joseph nor fellow top-100 2021 draft pick, Nahshon Wright, showed they could competently supplant him. In fact, after a strong showing late last season, Kelvin Joseph appeared to regress as a CB this season. So what gives?

Assessing Kelvin Joseph's impressive debut. light. Related Story

In the breakdown above I assessed Kelvin Joseph’s performance late in 2021. As you can read, I walked away pretty impressed and fairly optimistic going forward. This season it’s a completely different story. As former Dallas Cowboys scout, Bryan Broaddus pointed out in training camp, KJ appears to have lost his confidence and he’s letting it impact his game.

After watching his snaps this season, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. When left on an island, be it in Cover 1 or Cover 3, Joseph has looked apprehensive, reactive, off-balance, and scared. He’s numbers are nearly twice as bad as last year’s, in half the number of snaps.

But as I pointed out here in the film thread posted earlier this week, it’s not all doom and gloom and there is hope for his development going forward.

When playing with safety support, Kelvin Joseph looks like a a much more confident player. It’s understandable that when the fear of getting beat deep is off the table, Joseph plays more aggressively and with more confidence.

If Dan Quinn can alter his coverages to fit Joseph’s strengths while hiding his weaknesses, the Dallas Cowboys can easily survive the loss of Anthony Brown

The bulk of Joseph’s snaps this season came in Green Bay. Dan Quinn committed the Dallas Cowboys defense to stop the run so he used heavy Cover 1 that afternoon. This was arguably the worst coverage to call for a struggling player like Joseph and it showed. Not only did Joseph get exposed but the Cover 1 defense didn’t even stop the run. It was total failure that day.

Things went differently against the Colts. When KJ replaced Anthony Brown late in the second half, the Cowboys were getting off to a big lead. The Colts went pass-happy and the Cowboys used more shell coverage than they traditionally call. It played to Joseph’s strengths and gave him a little confidence to build on.

Knowing safety support isn’t always possible, there are other ways to play to KJ’s strengths. Joseph plays best with his eyes on the QB so playing off-coverage or zone coverage is much better for him than playing press, press-bail/bump and run, etc…

When his back gets turned, panic seems to set in. That wasn’t always the case but in these days of diminished confidence, it’s a glaring issue. If Dan Quinn can alter his coverages to fit Joseph’s strengths while hiding his weaknesses, the Dallas Cowboys can easily survive the loss of Anthony Brown

In fact, he could actually be an upgrade at CB2 at some point.

Like Trevon Diggs opposite him, Kelvin Joseph likes to play the ball. His college tape shows there isn’t a route he’s not afraid to jump and if anything he’s too aggressive to attack the ball and too confident to care about the repercussions.

The Dallas Cowboys need THAT version of Kelvin Joseph.

The Dallas Cowboys have to find a way to get JK’s swagger back and that comes from playing to his strengths here in the short-term. Once that confidence grows the Cowboys can start putting him back in those difficult situations and with any luck, he’ll become an upgrade to Anthony Brown on the boundary.

One thing is clear – he’s going to be targeted. Matt Ryan targeted him on Sunday and until he proves he dangerous, every other QB the Cowboys face is going to target him going forward.

The next two weeks are confidence boosting time. Even though Quinn may want to run different schemes and different coverages, it’s imperative he builds up Kelvin Joseph. It’s in the long-term best interests of the team and could pay off enormously in the playoffs.

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This is on Dan Quinn right now as much as it’s on Kelvin.