One of the most important units to the Dallas Cowboys success in 2020 will be the play of their secondary. After revamping the defensive line with free-agent additions Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and Aldon Smith, as well as drafting Neville Gallimore, the Cowboys defense will be much improved when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback.
That in turn will help the secondary seeing as it will cut down on the amount of time they’ll have to cover downfield. Entering into this season Xavier Woods, Jourdan Lewis, and Chidobe Awuzie, all drafted in 2017, are looking to excel on the field and secure a big payday before they become unrestricted free agents in 2021.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB
The first of these three selections from the 2017 NFL Draft was Awuzie in the second round. With cornerback and safety experience during his collegiate days at Colorado, Awuzie was seen as a foundational piece to retool the Cowboys secondary. His career in Dallas started out rocky as hamstring and ankle injuries forced him to miss most of training camp. After making his debut in Week 1 vs the New York Giants, he earned his first start a week later vs the Denver Broncos, but unfortunately, he re-injured his hamstring and missed the next two weeks. He finished with 25 tackles, six pass breakups, an interception, and a forced fumble in 10 games with six starts.
Over the last two seasons, his production has been solid. In 2018 he totaled 71 tackles, 11 passes breakups, an interception, and a forced fumble. Last season, he followed it up with 79 tackles, 14 pass breakups, an interception, and a fumble recovery.
The problem when it comes to Awuzie is the plays he’s left on the field. Initially, he rarely gets beat in coverage, however, he has a hard time getting his head around which allows receivers to make plays on him even when he’s in position. So much so, that the talk of him possibly being moved to safety has been brought up in order to keep the ball in front of him. Wherever he ends up playing, he’ll not only be playing for long-term security but a roster spot in the future in Dallas.
Jourdan Lewis, CB
One round after Awuzie was selected the Cowboys added Jourdan Lewis, who was one of the more sought after cornerbacks coming out of college. The former two-time collegiate All-American during his days at Michigan came on the scene and showed his potential. Appearing in 15 games with seven starts Lewis registered 54 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and an interception. What hurt him was when the Cowboys hired Kris Richard in 2018 as the defensive backs coach, whose philosophy was geared towards taller corners, and at 5’10 Lewis got lost in the shuffle. He played in 15 games but only tallied 12 tackles, an interception, and two fumble recoveries.
Fortunately for Lewis, he caught a break last season when teammate Anthony Brown was lost for the season with a torn tricep. In 15 games (seven starts) Lewis totaled 51 tackles, six pass breakups, two interceptions (tied for team lead), four sacks, and a fumble recovery (returned for a touchdown).
So it’s clear to see that when given the opportunity Lewis is arguably the most talented member of the Cowboys secondary. Last week in an interview with DallasCowboys.com, Lewis talked about having a clean slate with the new coaching staff:
“It’s definitely a clean slate,” Lewis said. “You know everybody has a clean slate and they’re just looking at what we’ve done in the past. They’re looking at the sample size that they do have to go out there and watch us and watch the film and the movements, and they see what they want to implement in their new defense.”
Now, under new Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan’s new scheme that will focus on turnovers, Lewis can use his ball-hawking skills to possibly secure a large bag this season.
Xavier Woods, S
In the sixth-round, in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected Woods in an attempt to sure up the safety position. After a productive collegiate career at Louisiana Tech that saw him collect 14 interceptions in his final three years, Woods has been a solid pro. As a rookie, he finished with 42 tackles, three pass breakups, an interception, and a fumble recovery after appearing in all 16 games with four starts. In 2018, as one of the leaders of a top ten defensive unit, Woods elevated his game to 56 tackles, nine pass breakups, two interceptions, and a forced fumble in 14 games (missed two with a hamstring issue).
Even with the Cowboys 8-8 struggles as a team last season Woods was one of the few bright spots. Having his best season as a pro, Woods racked up 77 tackles, five pass breakups, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in 15 games (missed one with an ankle injury).
With a substantial pay increase well within his reach, Woods simply has to continue on the incline he’s been on in terms of production since he entered the league. He hasn’t put his name in the conversation with guys like Jamal Adams, Tyrann Mathieu, or Earl Thomas but Woods is a very solid free safety. However, in order to get the kind of money he’ll no doubt be seeking, he’ll have to raise his game to an even higher level this season.
Awuzie, Lewis, and Woods are all talented, and even though none of the three is seen as elite, they can be pieces that can contribute to a formidable defense. The only thing left to see now is whether they can have their best seasons as pros and locked down their financial futures.