On Sunday, The Landry Hat’s very own Tyrone Starr made a convincing argument that the Dallas Cowboys should stay away from a cornerback in the first round. Using data to back up his point, Starr pointed to the relative lack of success in recent years by cornerbacks drafted in the opening round.
Starr and I agree on many points – for example Starr indicated that although linebacker and running back are two positions of need, the Cowboys can address those needs either through free agency or in later rounds in the draft (not to mention by re-signing some free agents of their own).
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This leaves two areas that the Cowboys must address: defensive line and cornerback. Here again, Starr and I agree.
But based on the historical performance of cornerbacks drafted in the first round in the last five years, Starr believes that the Cowboys should avoid drafting a cornerback in the first round and instead focus on taking a defensive lineman early. This is where we differ.
While historic data is helpful, it is not a true predictor of an individual’s success or failure. There is risk with every single player taken in a draft, no matter the round. Lost in Starr’s breakdown of data are considerations like how coaches chose to approach developing a player for NFL playing time.
For example, Starr pointed out that 16 out of 22 cornerbacks taken in the first round dating back to 2010 were only listed as primary starters for two years or less. But some coaches believe in treating young cornerbacks like some young quarterbacks– that they should not start right away and be given time to develop.
A defensive coach like Rod Marinelli could make the right player fit the Cowboys scheme immediately. Even if the drafted cornerback only gets reps in the nickel or dime package, he should develop quickly. On a team like the Cowboys, lacking in-depth at the position, the young prospect would contribute significantly.
The lack of cornerbacks on the Cowboys roster coupled with the ages of starters Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr (should he be back with the team) makes getting a young cornerback to develop this year a priority. Carr will be 29 years old in May, while Scandrick just turned 28 in February.
The problem with waiting on a cornerback is that this particular draft class lacks depth at the position. The same is true in free agency this year. There are just not that many good to great cornerbacks available.
This lack of depth drives up the price in free agency for a cornerback that is merely good. This makes acquiring a quality cornerback in the draft much more attractive, especially early when the top cornerbacks will be available.
Meanwhile, both the draft and the free agent pool is rich with talent this year at defensive line. The Cowboys are not likely to miss out on an instant contributor at either defensive end or tackle even if they wait until the second round or later.
In my opinion, there are only six defensive linemen that the Cowboys should consider drafting before taking a cornerback first: defensive ends Randy Gregory, Shane Ray, and Bud Dupree; or defensive tackles Leonard Williams, Danny Shelton, and Malcolm Brown.
All six are projected to be gone by the time the Cowboys draft at number 27. In the unlikely event that one does fall to them, then they should make the pick.
But if the draft does go as expected, then the Cowboys are better served to select a much-needed cornerback with their first round pick. There is a good chance that one or two of the top four cornerbacks in the draft– Trae Waynes from Michigan State; Marcus Peters from Washington; Kevin Johnson from Wake Forest; or P.J. Williams from Florida State– will still be on the board.
If the Cowboys do select a cornerback first, it is a near certainty they can still draft a quality defensive lineman in the second round. Names like Mario Edwards, Jr., Danielle Hunter, Nate Orchard, or Preston Smith could be had at number 60.
There is no question that the Dallas Cowboys must address the defensive side of the ball in this year’s draft. While attention seems to have shifted to the defensive line, the Cowboys would be wise to get a quality cornerback locked up early. The lack of depth at the position combined with the relative wealth of talent at other needed positions makes cornerback the top priority in round one.