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Sturm: Cowboys Draft Digest: Volume 7 – Cornerbacks

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  • Sturm: Cowboys Draft Digest: Volume 7 – Cornerbacks

    Cowboys Draft Digest: Volume 7 – Cornerbacks





    By Bob Sturm 7h ago

    Each week during the buildup to the NFL Draft, we will take a look at around 5 prospects at a given position. The hope is to cover all of the potential candidates at what we perceive as the Cowboys' positions of greatest need in Rounds 1-3, using about 200 snaps of the most recent college tape from each of the prospects. I am certainly not an NFL scout, but I have found over the years that much can be learned from giving each player a couple hours and really studying how he might fit at the next level. With a little luck, we will be plenty familiar with the options when the draft arrives in late April.

    Every year we are asked what positions are strong and what positions are weak in the coming draft. People want to know where scarcity will rear its head. It is an important question because if we don't have a good idea where positions of premium importance meet positions of scarcity, then we can be caught scrambling on draft day.

    Some positions will nearly always have slim pickings. For years now, we have talked about the challenge in finding offensive linemen – the style of college football has evolved so far into the spread that finding prototypical pass-protectors has become difficult. Also, there are only so many 6'6, 300 lb studs that populate the college football ranks. Tight Ends are seldom asked to run block in the current college landscape, so if you want a TE who is basically a big WR, they are everywhere. But, if you want a TE who understands how to in-line block, pass protect, and run the full route tree, I wish you good luck in finding Prime Jason Witten.

    Conversely, if certain positions are going to be hurt by college football, other positions will undoubtedly benefit. And we have seen cornerbacks benefit as much as any positional group as the game has developed. This is for two basic reasons. One, with the game developing upwards, the players certainly are plenty familiar with many of the schemes they will see on Sundays, but more importantly, nickel is the new base defense. 10 years ago, a team was thought to have two starting corners. Today, a defense clearly needs three starters and probably two more depth players.

    In 2017, the Cowboys selected three corners (Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Marquez White – who is on the off-season roster) and with Byron Jones (2015) reportedly moving back to corner and Anthony Brown (2016) for depth, it is fair to assume they feel they have a pretty strong group already in-house. But, we do know, in the last 20 seasons, the Cowboys have drafted 26 different corners among the 160 players they have selected overall. They have picked up more corners than any other position – and it isn't even close.

    Behold, the list of Cowboys selected corners during that span – along with their games started in the NFL and career interceptions:

    2017 2 60 Chidobe Awuzie CB 6 1
    2017 3 92 Jourdan Lewis CB 7 1
    2017 6 216 Marquez White CB
    2016 6 189 Anthony Brown CB 20 3
    2015 1 27 Byron Jones CB 43 2
    2014 7 254 Terrance Mitchell DB 11 5
    2013 4 114 B.W. Webb DB 9 2
    2012 1 6 Morris Claiborne DB 58 5
    2011 5 143 Josh Thomas DB 10 1
    2010 6 196 Jamar Wall DB 0
    2009 5 143 DeAngelo Smith DB 1
    2009 7 227 Mike Mickens DB
    2008 1 25 Mike Jenkins DB 68 10
    2008 5 143 Orlando Scandrick DB 69 8
    2007 7 212 Courtney Brown DB 1
    2007 7 237 Alan Ball DB 47 6
    2004 4 121 Bruce Thornton DB 11 2
    2004 7 205 Nate Jones DB 11 3
    2004 7 223 Jacques Reeves DB 36 6
    2003 1 5 Terence Newman DB 205 42
    2003 6 178 B.J. Tucker DB 1
    2002 3 75 Derek Ross DB 9 6
    2002 5 168 Pete Hunter DB 6 3
    2000 2 49 Dwayne Goodrich DB 1
    2000 4 109 Kareem Larrimore DB 6
    2000 6 180 Mario Edwards DB 50 4


    They have drafted at least one corner every single season since they skipped in 2006, so you can plan on throwing another one in the pile in 2018 with the 10 selections they have. Roughly 35 corners are selected in every draft – they alternate with Wide Receivers as the most-drafted position. As the game continues in this direction, the trend should stay consistent. Everyone needs corners.

    Here are the best of the bunch: 5 corners who all look like Day 1 players. Hey, college programs – the NFL will take every cornerback you can produce.

    Denzel Ward — Ohio State — 5-10 — 183 – 4.32

    Positives: Ohio State is becoming a defensive back factory under Urban Meyer, and Denzel Ward is the next prototype off the shelf. He's a remarkably smooth athlete who can do it all out on the edge and has remarkable testing scores to verify the tape. He can be a real lock-down cornerback outside and is comfortable in man or zone. He wants to be in the face of his man and really looks the part in press coverage. Ward also doesn't mind trying to get physical in run support and will really battle. There isn't a ton of action in his direction as opponents quickly decide to look elsewhere. He is a pure athlete and can cover with great confidence step-for-step. Change of direction is not even a slight concern and his 40-time made a lot of jaws drop.



    Ward (12) demonstrates his fine recovery – and his tendency to grab – here vs Michigan.

    Concerns: My biggest (and only) concern with Denzel Ward (aside from his love to grab his opponent which will result in penalties until he cleans it up) is that he is really, really tiny. They got him above 180 for the Combine, but if you watch him play, he certainly looks like that is even a stretch. The height at 5'10 is an issue for some teams, but I saw enough from him, considering his leaping and athleticism, that this isn't a real problem. But when you start talking about NFL cornerbacks that don't even weigh 180, you are discussing a small, small group. He has the disposition for it and perhaps the durability will follow, but wow, is he a small corner.

    Overall: I know there are some draft people that will tell you he is their top corner. I will stop short of that and I will also admit that I am a “big corner” kind of guy. But, when you sit down and give Denzel 200 snaps, it is tough to shoot any holes in his game to this point. He is very easily a FIRST ROUNDgrade and will likely be off the board in the top half of that round.



    Ward finds the ball very well and has incredible fluidity to recover on anything down the field.

    Jaire Alexander — Louisville — 5'10 – 196 – 4.38

    Positives: Skinny and physical, Alexander is a very impressive Louisville corner who plays an awful lot of zone and is able to shut receivers down with his physicality and emotional edge. He is a real ball hawk who is always watching the QB and looking to break a game wide open. Alexander is certainly not the biggest of corners either, but at nearly 200 lbs, falls well within the normal range of what you are looking for. He has a really interesting punt return component to his game as well and can do just about everything you look for from a corner. I think his best trait is that he always looks comfortable and in full control with what he is asked to do.



    Alexander can cover for sure, but he also gives a fine effort to dive bomb and play in his zone.

    Concerns: Some nagging injury issues kept him out of a large part of 2017, so much of the film study was looking at his 2016 work. That said, in his 2017 games, he allowed next to nothing – with a QB rating against of 17.7 when they threw in his direction. He is grabby and will commit penalties, and I would only call him average against the run to his side, but overall, he is another top player. I think one issue is that he might watch the QB too much, which can make him susceptible to double moves and other deception from veteran QBs.

    Overall: Stacking these corners will be a real task, but it might simply come down to what scheme you are looking for. If a team primarily wants a zone corner who has confidence, wants to go get that football and has the elite hands to know what to do with it, look no further. Jaire Alexander is another easy FIRST ROUND prospect and will be an excellent pro.



    Here Alexander forces a perfect throw out in front. It's not there, so he creates a turnover in the end zone.

    Josh Jackson — Iowa — 6-0 – 196 – 4.56

    Positives: Sometimes the best indicator of one's ability to go get takeaways is actually… getting takeaways. And what Jackson did at Iowa is go get the ball for eight interceptions (which led the NCAA) and also defend 18 more passes. He very routinely gets his hands on the ball and is a 6'0 corner who knows what he is doing. He is a converted wide receiver and definitely shows those traits. He also rose to the occasion in the big games. I try hard to target a player's toughest opponents to see how he plays against elite competition, and Jackson obviously excelled. He is also one of those guys people mention as a potential team leader for his personality and the way he goes about his business.



    Josh Jackson hawks the ball as well as anyone in this draft and has a spectacular int vs Ohio State to prove it.

    Concerns: In a sea of corners who are running under 4.4, it is never easy to convince people that this player is on the same plateau at 4.56. However, many a corner in the NFL has been fine in the mid 4.5 range. Marcus Peters ran a 4.53 at his combine before setting the NFL on fire with 19 interceptions in 3 seasons, and Richard Sherman clocked in at 4.56. He does not have the big catch-up speed and certainly can get caught flat-footed and guessing at times, but overall, he is a very nice player.

    Overall: I'm a fan of big corners and have an affinity for takeaway artists, so you knew I was going to be in on Josh Jackson – and you are right. Jackson is a very strong corner who seems perfect for a Cover-3 team and should be able to get better with a little work on technique and eye discipline at the next level. You probably have to drop him below the others on this list, but he still fits late in the FIRST ROUND for me.



    Jackson singlehandedly kept Iowa alive at Wisconsin with two Pick-6's.

    Mike Hughes — Central Florida — 5'10 – 196 – 4.53

    Positives: This guy is a corner I didn't know too much about when this process began, but I have certainly grown to admire his very impressive body of work. I would say he does everything very well and is a smooth athlete who has tons of confidence. He plays press man and is physical. He wants to defend your best WR and badly wants to win that matchup. He is a field corner who is physical and aggressive and finds the ball. His disposition is infectious. His hips are fantastic and fluid, allowing for fine man coverage attributes. Central Florida seemed to mix coverages plenty and he was easy to adjust to whatever was asked. He has great awareness and also returns kicks and punts with equal levels of confidence.



    Hughes said no to Memphis' Anthony Miller on this physical recovery in the end zone.

    Concerns: He had an off-field incident or two that caused him to transfer from North Carolina, which does not always help one's reputation as a young man. He has just the one year at Central Florida to rebuild his image and by all accounts did fine. He has very few issues on the field, aside from being a little short and a step slower than you would hope for the elite of the elite. None of that worries me too much, but when separating this top group, sometimes you are picking nits.

    Overall: In grading Hughes in a number of categories for this study, I really was unable to find anything that really looked less than “above average” and therefore might actually like him more than most. I also admit that his testing results are mixed. The 40-time and wingspan were low, but his 3-cone, bench press, and broad jump all say he has the goods. If you are worried about his speed, watch him return some kicks or punts. I am a big fan and will put him squarely in that FIRST ROUND bin.



    Hughes has no problem making plays aggressively in the support game versus Auburn.

    Minkah Fitzpatrick — Alabama — 6'0 – 204 – 4.46

    Positives: I certainly have a lot of nerve making this guy the last in our group today – and trust me, it has nothing to do with his grade. Fitzpatrick is an awesome football player who can do everything very well. He covers a ton of ground and was used by Alabama as a hybrid DB which mixes all sorts of elements of safety (both), corner, and even some linebacker. He covers ground and chases with reckless abandon. He blitzes with great feel and anticipation and makes plays on the ball. But, truly, the component that gets people most excited at times is his vision to see plays and his overall ability to coach/QB the defense and be its best player. He is one of those players that has quickly been identified as an extremely high IQ player. That generally translates from level to level.



    Fitzpatrick (#29) blurs onto the screen to overtake a crossing route and make a play.

    Concerns: He is being graded here as a cornerback and that appears to be his best fit, but if there is a concern, it would be that there isn't much film to study where he is actually playing corner on the outside. The slot stuff is there, as is enough elite tape to feel comfortable that it won't be an issue, but if the team in question wants to put him outside, they are projecting. Beyond that, he could tackle a bit better in space, but again, we are picking nits.

    Overall: Minkah Fitzpatrick can honestly play a high level at any secondary position you wish to put him out at. His greatest value might be close to the line of scrimmage, playing a Troy Polamalu-type role, but I also concede that playing outside shutdown corner probably yields the greatest value which should be a consideration for a team that will select him within the top 5-10 picks. Either way, there is little to debate and he has all the components you want in a franchise player. It's easy to place the FIRST ROUND grade upon him.



    Fitzpatrick reads the presnap motion and destroys a WR screen by shoving blocker back into play.

    Next week, we dive into the Offensive Line prospects – starting with the interior players at guard and center.
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

  • #2
    I love Denzel Ward but Josh Jackson was ridiculous this year. Not sure why he is consistently ranked as the 2nd or 3rd best CB in this class

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