The Dallas Cowboys’ front office spent considerable resources this offseason looking to add talent and depth to their cornerback group. With Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis set to be free agents in the 2021 offseason, Dallas re-signed Anthony Brown and C.J. Goodwin. They drafted Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson II. And then the Cowboys brought in Maurice Canady, Saivion Smith, and Daryl Worley in an attempt to infuse some new energy at the cornerback position.
First of all, with all of the additions at cornerback this offseason, I think we’ve been a bit quick to push Chidobe Awuzie out of the starting lineup. Sure, he has had some struggles, but generally, he’s not a player that’s allowing a ton of separation or getting burnt in coverage.
Per Pro Football Focus, Awuzie had a better passer rating allowed than Jalen Ramsey, Casey Hayward Jr., A.J. Bouye, Patrick Peterson, and Chris Harris Jr. He’s a reliable number two cornerback and perhaps will get less attention now that Byron Jones isn’t on the other side of the field.
Now to the biggest question facing the Cowboys heading into training camp. Who starts alongside Chidobe Awuzie at cornerback?
The Cowboys could go in half a dozen different directions here.
With the preseason games eliminated for 2020, the cornerback depth chart will likely be an evolving one throughout training camp and even into the regular season as the coaching staff looks for their best group of players.
Daryl Worley and Trevon Diggs figure to be the two players most likely to compete for the other starting spot in base personnel.
Trevon Diggs is a highly touted cornerback out of the University of Alabama that many thought had a chance to go in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Diggs, like most cornerbacks making the transition to the NFL, will have an adjustment period as he adapts to the NFL game, but a lot of the tools are there to make him a long-time starter in the league.
Worley comes to the Cowboys on a one-year deal from the Oakland Raiders and has a ton of experience in the NFL. Worley’s played in 56 games, and 49 starts over four seasons. He is the most experienced cornerback on the Cowboys roster at this point. His experience may give him a slight edge in the cornerback battle early on. Worley comes to the Cowboys after a 2019 season that saw him allow fewer yards per snap than Patrick Peterson, Darius Slay, and A.J. Bouye. Like Awuzie, Worley had a better passer rating allowed than Peterson and Bouye and was just behind Ramsey.
Anthony Brown, Reggie Robinson, and Jourdan Lewis certainly have a shot to take a role on the outside, but that seems less likely.
Reggie Robinson II has the potential to be a starter in the NFL. However, making the jump from the University of Tulsa to the NFL will require a bit of an acclimation period. He could certainly make an impact in year one, but the transition to the NFL for the cornerback position is one of the more difficult in the game. Robinson has the versatility to be a chess piece for the Cowboys, much in the same way Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie were in their rookie years.
In the slot, the competition figures to boil down to Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis. Both players have played a ton of slot cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys over the years.
Anthony Brown returned to Dallas on a three-year contract but seemed to be more of an insurance policy than a replacement for Byron Jones. He’ll likely compete with Jourdan Lewis and Maurice Canady for snaps in the slot. Brown provides a lot of experience to the Cowboys depth chart with 33 starts and 56 games played in his four years with the Dallas Cowboys.
Jourdan Lewis played the most in the slot in 2019 while Brown dealt with injuries, and had mixed results. He played well in the first half of the season but struggled down the stretch. It all started against the Buffalo Bills, where he allowed eight receptions on nine targets for 132 yards and a touchdown. In weeks 13, 14, and 16, Lewis allowed a passer rating higher than 118 and allowed a touchdown each week.
Before the week 13 game against the Bills, Lewis had only allowed a passer rating against greater than 85.4 twice in his previous ten games during the 2020 season. Did the increase in snaps have something do with the drop off in play? It certainly could have been a factor.
The Cowboys secondary will look different in 2020, especially in the way they cover with the idea of playing more press-man, hence the addition of so many press-man cornerbacks. 2020 could see two new starters when the Cowboys are in their nickel defense, which is the new base defense in the NFL. Or it could be mainstays Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown starting alongside Chidobe Awuzie in the Cowboys five defensive back defense.
As things sit here before the start of training camp, Daryl Worley and Anthony Brown figure to be the most likely to start alongside Chidobe Awuzie for the Cowboys defense. Jourdan Lewis will give Brown a run for his money in the slot cornerback competition, but if all things are equal, the defensive coaches will go with the guy that has more size. It’s just the way of the new NFL world. With the shortened offseason, experience will play a significant factor in how the defensive staff deploys its cornerback group to start the season.
However, as I mentioned earlier, the cornerback position will evolve as the season goes along. Performance and injuries could lead to changes in the secondary. As the rookies get acclimated with the NFL game, they could begin to force their way on the field as the season goes along. Even without Byron Jones, I’m excited about this group. There’s a lot of promise and potential for it to be a good collection of cornerbacks, even if there are looming questions right now.