The Dallas Cowboys’ 2017 draft class is already doing some heavy lifting throughout the roster, and nowhere more than in the defensive backfield. One guy who has already contributed a lot, and has plenty more expected of him, is third-year cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.
Awuzie and Xavier Woods are both projected starters at CB and safety, respectively. However, while Woods is one of the more exciting young players on the team, Chidobe as perceived having a sophomore slump last year. They aren’t coming into 2019 with the same momentum.
That makes this third season a critical one for Awuzie. Even he fights off Anthony Brown and retains his starting role, Chidobe still has to worry about the 2020 offseason. The Cowboys will have a fresh batch of draft picks and free agent options to use if they feel that can upgrade the position.
Thankfully for Awuzie, and Brown for that matter, the modern NFL requires teams to carry three starting-quality cornerbacks. Defenses deploy their nickel scheme more than any other in this pass-focused era.
To illustrate, Anthony Brown played on 690 defensive snaps last season as the third cornerback. The Cowboys third linebacker, Damien Wilson, only had 286 defensive plays.
Even if Dallas thinks they can get better at the other starting position, Awuzie and Brown can still make a push to be retained as the team’s third CB. Awuzie has the edge right now, both as the incumbent starter and the more ideal slot cornerback with his playing style.
Also helping Chidobe is his contract, which has him in Dallas thru 2020 at just a little over $1 million per year. Anthony Brown will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
That said, Awuzie needs to get a firm grip on that starting role now. If he doesn’t, the Cowboys could easily use their 2020 first-round pick on a new wingman for Byron Jones.
Remember, all of these players were drafted when Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard was still in Seattle. At this point, Byron is the only CB whose performance has guaranteed a continued welcome in Dallas. Richard, who is essentially the Co-Defensive Coordinator with Rod Marinelli, should have a weighty voice on who comes and goes in the Cowboys’ secondary.
If Richard does start renovating the secondary soon, Chidobe Awuzie needs a strong third year to avoid being discarded.
Hopefully, the additions of Robert Quinn, Trysten Hill, and others on the defensive line will improve the Cowboys pass rush. The chain reaction will ideally make life easier for Awuzie and the other defensive backs as well.
If that improvement up front and Chidobe’s own third-year development can have a compound effect, his play could make a significant leap forward in 2019. That would be great for all parties involved; Dallas’ defense could be the league’s best if there are less weak spots in the secondary.
As a former second-round pick, Chidobe Awuzie shouldn’t be a guy who leaves after his rookie contract. But if he doesn’t establish himself now as a clear part of the defense’s future, Dallas might start preparing for his departure in the next offseason.