The Dallas Cowboys are heading into the 2020 NFL Draft with the cornerback position as arguably their biggest need. Unfortunately, the team also has a checkered past when it comes to drafting corners in the first round. Should that history add doubt or concern if Dallas selects a new CB on Thursday night?
If he’s still on the board at the 17th pick, Florida’s C.J. Henderson is the consensus right now for who the Cowboys will draft. There are a few other CB prospects that Dallas could look at here such as Trevon Diggs or Jeff Gladney, but they also might try to trade down at that point.
Other positions are also on the table. If the right cornerback isn’t available then the Cowboys might look to upgrade at safety or linebacker, or perhaps go ahead and find a new receiver to replace Randall Cobb.
But unless he gets taken ahead of the 17th pick, and there’s a fair chance of that with the Falcons at #16 and also needing a CB, then Henderson is the most likely pick for Dallas.
This would continue a trend of the Cowboys taking a corner in the first round every 3-5 seasons, going back to Terence Newman in 2003. The pattern brought us Mike Jenkins in 2008, Morris Claiborne in 2012, and Byron Jones in 2015.
All of these guys have had to deal with the pressure and lofty projections for 1st-round talent. Players taken that early are expected to be decade-long fixtures for your franchise.
But the Cowboys keep having to go to the well at cornerback because these picks haven’t turned into long-term assets.
To be fair, Morris Claiborne is the only true bust on that list. Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, and Byron Jones all went to at least one Pro Bowl, and Newman did last nine seasons in Dallas.
But neither Jenkins or Jones received a second contract, which is ultimately disappointing for any 1st-round pick. And even with his tenure in Dallas, Newman never lived up to the elite expectations of being the 5th-overall pick in his draft class.
Terence ended up playing 15 seasons, shocking given his early battles with injuries, and redefined his career with incredible longevity for a cornerback. But when the Cowboys released him in 2012, Newman was seen as an oft-injured liability with declining performance.
While Mike Jenkins did make it to the 2009 Pro Bowl as an alternate he regressed in subsequent seasons. He was still on the roster when Dallas drafted Claiborne in 2012 but fell to the fourth spot on the depth chart, beaten out by Orlando Scandrick. He left in free agency the next offseason.
Claiborne also battled injuries that likely stunted his development, but even at his healthiest he never looked like a 6th-overall pick or even a 1st-round talent. He is barely alive in the NFL today, having been an inactive bench player for the Chiefs during last year’s Super Bowl.
Byron Jones just left the Cowboys as a free agent, playing five seasons under his rookie deal and the 5th-year option. He deserved a second contract but just wasn’t good enough to justify his asking price, and Dallas allowed the Dolphins to make him one of the richest CBs in football.
Time will tell if the Cowboys made the right choice in letting Byron go.
Will 2020 be Different?
If the Cowboys do end up taking C.J. Henderson or some other corner in the first round this year, should we be worried that this pattern will continue?
One issue that Dallas has had for a while now is a lack of consistent talent development for defensive backs. We’re seeing that now as neither Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis is really where you’d want them as fourth-year players.
The Cowboys have done better with later-round players like Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown, getting more out of them than their draft position would suggest. But it’s not like either of them turned into a star, let alone someone you’d want as a full-time starter.
Among the many changes to Dallas’ coaching staff in 2020 is in the secondary with Maurice Linguist replacing Kris Richard as Defensive Backs Coach. Hopefully his arrival will bring about an upgrade in the training and development of our corners and safeties.
And unfortunately, no matter how much you doubt Dallas’ ability to coach up a cornerback, it’s still the biggest need on the roster. Plus, we still have mostly the same scouts and general management staff who’ve been evaluating and choosing these players for a long time.
In the end, any 1st-round CB that the Cowboys might draft in 2020 could still be a bust no matter how good the coaches and scouts are. Injuries might be the culprit, or maybe they just wilt from the pressure of the NFL and superior competition.
Whether it’s C.J. Henderson, some other CB, or even a player at some other position, we can only hope that the Cowboys will strike gold with their 1st-round pick in 2020.