DaRon Bland has quickly risen from a late-round hopeful to one of the Dallas Cowboys' more trusted cornerbacks going into his rookie season. Even in this early stage, Bland's career is already starting to remind you of the last guy to wear #30 in Dallas, his teammate Anthony Brown.
Bland hasn't just taken Brown's old jersey number. He's heading into 2022 as arguably the team's fourth-best CB behind Trevon Diggs, Brown, and Jourdan Lewis. Despite being just a 5th-round pick in April, DaRon has earned the team's confidence more than second-year prospects Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright.
Anthony Brown had a similar start in Dallas. A 6th-round pick in the 2016 draft, Brown beat out some more experienced competition that year to be the #4 cornerback behind Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, and Orlando Scandrick.
At the time, Brown's proximity to playing a significant role on defense was a cause for concern. Playing time came quickly due to a hamstring injury for Scandrick, then a groin injury to Claiborne later in the year. Anthony ended up starting nine games for the 2016 Cowboys but was surprisingly solid, helping Dallas go 13-3 in one of our best modern-era seasons.
Since then Brown has continued to surprise with fantastic longevity for a late-round pick. He maintained a spot among the team's top-three CBs for the next four years, earned a second contract, and became a full-time starter last season. Now in his sixth season, Brown is a trusted veteran who is often underappreciated by Cowboys fans.
Earlier this offseason, Anthony joined the movement of corners who were changing their jersey numbers to single digits under the new NFL rules. He will be wearing #3 in 2022.
Incidentally, DaRon Bland has taken over Brown's old number and his old role as a surprising late-round standout. The competition was even stiffer for Bland with Joseph and Wright both being Day 2 picks from last year, but DaRon enters his rookie year with more hype and momentum than any other CB prospect.
Granted, the next step for Bland is what really matters. He has to prove in the regular season, as Brown did in 2016, that he can hold up against the NFL's best in real-game speed. With three guys ahead of him in those primary CB roles, and two of them passed the age of 26, DaRon will almost assuredly see significant playing time at some point this year.
Bland's potential ascension couldn't come at a better time for roster management, either. Anthony Brown's contract expires after this season and Jourdan Lewis will have just one year left on his. Dallas could get back $5 million in cap space on Lewis' deal if he's released, making him a potential cap casualty in 2023.
Right now, DaRon is forcing his competition further down the depth chart. If he lives up to the hype, could he wind up forcing Brown or Lewis off the team next year?
Five years ago, neither Morris Claiborne nor Brandon Carr returned to Dallas after Anthony Brown's rookie season. While far from the only reason, Brown's surprising rise contributed to their demise.
Again, it's still early and DaRon Bland still has a lot to prove. But his current trajectory is surprisingly good and reminiscent of Anthony Brown becoming a long-term asset for the Cowboys. With other young CBs not yet emerging and 2022 potentially being Brown's last season in Dallas, Bland's arrival couldn't have come at a better time.