The Dallas Cowboys have spent considerable assets this offseason preparing for the possible departure of three of their key players in the secondary. Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods are each entering a contract year with something to prove. They’ve added Maurice Canady, Trevon Diggs, Reggie Robinson, and Daryl Worley this offseason to the cornerback competition for 2020 and beyond.
After three seasons in the NFL and very little to show for it, Chidobe Awuzie has lost a bit of the allure that led to his selection in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. However, don’t give up on Awuzie just yet.
Coming into the NFL, Chido was seen as a versatile defensive back that could help a team at a variety of positions. While at Colorado, he played all over the secondary including slot corner and box safety. In his first year with the Dallas Cowboys, that’s pretty much how they used him before putting him at the left cornerback spot full-time in 2018. Though a considerable portion of his snaps were played as a “wide corner” in 2017 per Pro Football Focus, he did lineup as a safety (box or free) for 24 snaps and as a slot corner for nine snaps.
As the slot corner for those nine snaps, seven of which were in coverage, he was only targeted once, allowing a six yard touchdown reception. Despite the touchdown allowed, he still had a better target per snap rate than he did at “wide corner;” seven snaps for every target in the slot and 6.6 snaps for every target out wide.
It’s not a considerable difference, but thing that playing in the slot allows you to do is be a bit more instinctual and reactive and play with the receiver in front of you. In 2019, Chidobe Awuzie had a better passer rating allowed when playing from the slot than he did outside though he played considerably more on the outside. His slot coverage sample size isn’t very big.
However, given his speed and quickness, it makes sense that you’d want to put him in a position to play with the receiver in front of him as opposed to playing a trail technique like he did under Kris Richard.
There’s been talk that the Dallas Cowboys may consider moving one of their cornerbacks to safety and Chidobe Awuzie makes for an obvious choice and he could thrive at safety. But, he would have to lose his job to one of the incoming players for them to consider making the move. Despite struggling to locate the ball, he’s still one of the more experienced cornerbacks on the squad.
If new defensive backs coaches Maurice Linguist and Al Harris put Awuzie in a position to keep his eyes on the quarterback or help him learn to get his head around when playing press-man coverage, he still has all the athletic tools and speed you want in an outside cornerback. Rarely was Awuzie in the wrong position or letting his player run free. The issue has been making plays on the football when his back has been to the quarterback. However, when he sees the ball, Awuzie often makes a play on the ball. Per Pro Football Focus, Awuzie led the Dallas Cowboys defensive backs with 11 pass breakups in 2019.
Though he’s in the final year of his rookie deal, I wouldn’t write him off just yet. Coaching changes and a change in defensive style could help Awuzie to shine in 2019. If Mike Nolan does in fact bring a more blitz focused defense, quarterbacks will have less time to get rid of the football, which will make it easier for the cornerbacks to cover.
The Cowboys want to be more versatile and unpredictable on defense. Too often under Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard opposing offenses could read what the Dallas Cowboys wanted to do on defense. As good as they were at times, they could have been even better with a bit of gamesmanship.
Chidobe Awuzie’s versatility to play across the defense can help Mike Nolan disguise what he wants to do with his coverages. Awuzie has the opportunity to experience a breakout season under the new defensive regime. He’s got the tools to be a really good defensive back, he just needs to take the next step. With more competition in snaps and in the final year of his deal, here’s hoping that Awuzie rises to the occasion.