The Dallas Cowboys have had two starting cornerbacks over 6 feet tall since 1995. Those were Deion Sanders and Ryan McNeil. Both of whom were picked up in free agency. Translation: the Cowboys don’t like drafting tall cornerbacks. But why?
I posed the same question to Calvin Watkins, the beat writer for ESPN Dallas. His best guess was that the Cowboys thought shorter cornerbacks were more athletic. While the Packers (Charles Woodson) and the Eagles (Nnamdi Asomugha) care to disagree, there has to be something said for having an entire organizational philosophy built around under-sided defensive backs.
Most of the great defenses of the past fifty years have had tall cornerbacks. Steel Curtain? Check (Mel Blount.) Doomsday Defense? Check (Mel Renfro and Herb Adderley.) 1985 Bears? Check again (Leslie Frazer and Mike Richardson.) These defenses mixed shorter, more athletic defensive backs with larger corners that could cover receivers of all sizes.
Today the Cowboys struggle in stopping anyone, especially large receivers such as Plaxico Burress. Even though I opined last week drafting Dre Kirkpatrick and expecting him to be a shut down cornerback is overly optimistic, if used in the right way (to cover large receivers like Vincent Jackson and the aforementioned Burress along with tight ends) he could be a nice pick up, finally adding size the Cowboys have been lacking the last 16 years.
Drafting for the sake of size in the early rounds isn’t smart, and as I also opined, cornerback is a terrible first round investment. At least that would solve the size-crisis in the secondary. Unfortunately, Jonesophobia actually permeates throughout the entire team, from quarterback (where it matters) to punter (where it doesn’t.)
Over the last two years there have been four day one quarterbacks (Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, and Tony Romo) and of those four, only two have been taller than 6’2. The cowboys haven’t had an effective tall receiver in five years (surely enough time to find a large possession receiver) and haven’t had a tall safety the last five years either.
Talent was exposed as an issue in the latter part of the season as the Cowboys were mercilessly destroyed by more the more talented players on a weekly basis. Everyone remembers Terrence Newman and the missed tackle on Victor Cruz, but no one remembers in the first half when Mike Jenkins deflected two touchdowns in the end zone. While he did his job and deflected the passes, his short stature stopped him from getting a pick, which would have taken three points off the board.
This key difference could have let the Cowboys go to the playoffs (where they would have been abused, but there are enough stories on the blogosphere to cover the reasons behind that.) The Cowboys could use height all over the defense, even at other positions than cornerback. A short inside linebacking corps struggled to cover tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and even Jake Ballard (!)
While interior line height is a plus (no starter is under 6’4) the inability to cover game-breaking tight ends will severely impair the team in the long run. However, the Cowboys have a way to fix their problems all along the defense: draft with height in mind.
The ‘Boys should try to conquer Jonesophobia in the latter rounds, when large fast players like Trumaine Johnson can be found in larger bulk. I’m not saying Johnson should be drafted (he’s a punk) but sizing up through mid-round picks could be especially helpful to a height ravaged team.
Drafting with size and forty times will undeniably cause a team to decay from within very quickly and make recovery incredible difficult (see the raiders) drafting height in rounds 5-7 can insure that should a freak injury occur and a starter is taken out, there is a new dynamic that teams have to adjust for on the fly. They can’t think of the replacement as the same player but worse, but instead can think of him instead as a player who has a wider range of defense than the starter he replaces.
That is, if the team can get over Jonesophobia. Who knows? Jerry Jones might start drafting tall players one day, but they better be athletic.