Editor's note: This story first appeared on dallasnews.com on April 29, 2017.
The Cowboys gambled on the 2017 NFL Draft on Thursday that the positions they needed would be plentiful enough to offer them exceptional options late in the second and third rounds on Friday. I believe the evidence indicates they gambled properly and were rewarded for it.
They were able to grab two of the highly coveted corners -- two of my top 12 corners available -- and were able to solidify their secondary nicely with several rounds remaining in the draft. Seldom does a weekend go according to plan like this one when you pick near the end of each round, but in the 2017 draft, the Cowboys now only have to hope their evaluations are correct. Because they were able to pretty much sit and grab the highest available at the positions they choose for the top 3 picks. In other words, for once, the draft supply matched the Cowboys' demand perfectly. We speculated that this would be a year where that should happen, but the reality is far more important than prior speculation. Through 100 picks, the Cowboys have been able to say that most everything has fallen as they had hoped.
The two have some real similarities in that they are deployed near the line of scrimmage to come on blitzes and make plays behind the line of scrimmage with some corner aggressiveness that is not always seen in these parts. They also will make plays on the ball and make the secondary a bit of an unpleasant place to be.
Now, they also have some limitations, so please allow me to go back through my reports on both of them and share my findings with you this morning:
He is a "line of scrimmage" corner -- slot guy at times -- who is brought on blitzes and dive bomb run plays or WR screens to make plays behind the line of scrimmage on a regular basis as his 26 plays behind the line in the last 2 seasons would indicate. He has very nice size and speed with a 40 of 4.43 that plays with aggressiveness that is revved all the way up. It is clear Colorado wanted their flanks to force action into very tight spaces rather than "off and soft" a lot of times. There are some games where they seem to blitz him over and over again. In fact, his deployment and his production both put him in a similar class with Jabrill Peppers as a safety who seems to be playing more of a hybrid near the line, but also has some more slot ability than Peppers has shown.
For a player with these types of skills, you would think he would be a candidate to be a corner on the outside, but that seems like a bit of a projection at this juncture based on the tape I have seen. I don't know if he can follow a top WR around the field because he wasn't asked to do that. I also want to know about his ability against double moves and play-action because he is so aggressive it seems he is jumping everything which will make him a target on Sundays if he doesn't clean that up. Also, if converted to safety at the next level, is he merely in the box? At barely 200 pounds, I think that can work, but you would love to see someone with a bit more size for durability issues.
Otherwise, there are so many things to like. I think Awuzie is the type of player I tend to over-value, because I love a player at his size who plays with reckless abandon and aggressiveness. He will also be a force on coverage teams, too. This is a very nice football player.
Lewis played every where and would compete at high levels. He has great hips and footwork that allow him to compensate for less than amazing speed and size. He gets his hands on guys and while he flirts with penalties, he manages to cover guys quite well, including the slot. They blitz him and let him return kicks, too. He is a real football player who understands the game quite well.
The issues are what the Combine brings to light. In a group of corners who have ideal size and measurables, Lewis does not have either. He is one of the smaller corners in this group and he is also one of the slower corners at the top of the draft. He is not a real physical option and he will not have the long speed. That said, he should be a fine slot corner. The questions will be how he is used. You will have to decide if you will ignore his college tape and focus on the combine stats, or if you are willing to trust the tape and label him a fine prospect who understands how to play the game.
For me, Lewis is a very interesting player. You absolutely recognize how useful he is, but in a group of corners who check more boxes, figuring out where his value is appropriate will be the major question.
In both cases, you had to ask what the appropriate value would be on them. For Awuzie, there was some talk he would squeeze in to Round 1, but I would have never been comfortable with pick #28 on him. But, 60? All day. And for Lewis, I never thought he might go to the end of Round 3, but again, at #92, this is well worth the gamble.
Now, as you saw in both cases, my first instinct was that they are best in the slot. You also know that my concerns were entering the offseason that I am not sure the Cowboys have corners who can win on the outside against the beasts of the NFL receiving groups -- who definitely now reside in the NFC East. Awuzie is big enough, but he hasn't spent much time on an island in those situations -- especially in the red zone. Lewis was hid from that almost completely in the action I studied. So, is Byron Jones their best matchup on third and goal from the 4 against Brandon Marshall?
Also, to complicate matters, you had all sorts of noise last night that Orlando Scandrick was on his way out. It was a confusing story, that some reported Scandrick was being shopped for a third-rounder. That alone makes the story ridiculous, because much like Romo for a first-rounder, you aren't getting a third-rounder for Scandrick at this point of his career. He is a useful player, but with his contract and medical history, he is worth more to Dallas than he is in a trade. Further, you were already at the critical stages of depth at corner, so the confusing idea of moving your one known commodity and making second-year depth guy Anthony Brown your "dean of corners" seemed insane.
It is tough to fully explain what was going on, especially since Scandrick has been repeatedly unhappy about his money during his career, so I am sort of lost on the origin. Also, maybe he was being shopped for a third because everyone knows that is above his reasonable value and if someone agreed, you would trade him. But, for me, I need him here (and I don't need $6 million more in dead money) and that should now be that after Jerry Jones rejected the premise in the press conference on Friday night.
But, you can see the issues here a bit. Scandrick's best spot is in the slot. Lewis' best spot is in the slot. Awuzie has more flexibility, but his best spot could be in the slot. And Brown? Perhaps, again, in the slot.
Basically, they have 6 corners right now -- if you add in Nolan Carroll and Leon McFadden, and none of them are 6-feet tall. Some play taller and most have very nice wheels, but my desire to get bigger at that spot likely went away when they passed on Kevin King for Taco Charlton and then decided that Cordrea Tankersley may be tall, but he isn't physical enough for their tastes and opted for Awuzie.
They clearly aren't worried about it and believe they have things in pretty good shape. They also valued corners who will make plays on the ball and it sure looks like that is improved.
I want to say it again -- I think they had a fantastic Day 2 and should be commended for reading the draft correctly. Now, they have very few picks on Day 3, but can turn their attention to "best player available" and consider offense or defense and just round out their roster.
If you add Charlton, Awuzie, and Lewis to Charles Tapper and Jaylon Smith, that is 5 new and talented "rookies" who are joining your defense. You also added Nolan Carroll and Stephen Paea as free agents. This 2017 defense has a chance to really be better, despite the exodus of some free agents.
They let their veterans walk and wanted to replace them at the draft. I think they have taken considerable steps in that interesting direction.
Now, they attempt to finish strong with a big Day 3 where the Cowboys have shown us they are quite opportunistic in the undrafted free agency market, as well. Names from last year's roster who were never drafted beyond Tony Romo? Barry Church, Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, Lance Dunbar, Ron Leary, Cole Beasely, Jeff Heath, Kevin Smith, La'el Collins, David Irving (via KC), and Lucky Whitehead. Only Seattle and Green Bay had more of those players on their roster in the NFC last year.