Will the Dallas Cowboys draft a replacement for Byron Jones?

The Dallas Cowboys could be in the market for a cornerback in April’s draft. Would the team use their first-round pick in order to address that need?

Nearly four years ago, the Dallas Cowboys forced a regime change in their defensive secondary. Moving on from veterans like starting cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne plus safety Barry Church in early 2017, the Cowboys used their impending draft class to replace them. Could Dallas do something similar this offseason?

During the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in the second round, Michigan corner Jourdan Lewis in the third, and found themselves a gem in
Louisiana Tech safety Xavier Woods in the sixth. And all three have played major roles in the secondary ever since.

Now, veteran cornerbacks Byron Jones and Anthony Brown plus safety Jeff Heath are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next month. And with a new head coach in Mike McCarthy now in charge, along with a massive amount of coaching staff changes, it’s anyone’s guess how the Cowboys secondary might look in 2020.

One of the bigger mysteries this offseason has surrounded the future of Byron Jones in Dallas. The former first-rounder has posted two stellar seasons back-to-back in Dallas, earning his first Pro Bowl nomination in 2018.

Where Jones has struggled is in creating turnovers, posting just two interceptions in his entire five-year NFL career. Combine that low number with a reference reportedly made by Mike Nolan recently where the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator quoted former quarterback Troy Aikman who said he was never concerned with throwing at a corner who only gets pass deflections instead of picks, and you can see how the pending free agent might not be viewed as a priority re-signing in Dallas.

Yet, one NFL insider believes the Cowboys must absolutely re-sign Byron Jones this offseason. Even making Jones more of a priority than four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper. Here’s what NFL.com Columnist Adam Schein wrote recently on the league’s official website …

“I am a big fan of [Byron Jones]. Great player. Great teammate who will do anything to win, including changing positions. He was a Pro Bowler in Year 1 as a full-time corner in 2018, and just enjoyed another fine campaign at the spot. If the Cowboys weren’t so distracted with the Dak [Prescott] back and forth, this could be done. And should be. I would absolutely prioritize Jones over [Amari] Cooper.”

Unfortunately for Byron Jones, the new regime in Dallas might not be so willing to invest top cornerback monies on a player who does not create takeaways. Instead, the Cowboys could adopt a similar philosophy to the one they had back in 2017, using the draft to inject a youth revolution into their secondary.

If the Cowboys believe they need to find a starting cornerback in the draft to replace Byron Jones, they may opt to use their first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft to do so. According to a summary of 16 different mock drafts listed on DallasCowboys.com recently, Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson was named three times as the projected first-round pick by Dallas, who’s selecting 17th overall.

At 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, Henderson has the ideal frame and reach for the position. According to The Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs, he also possesses the skills and coverage ability to become a Pro Bowl cornerback on the outside. Unfortunately, Henderson’s numbers from last year are very Byron Jones-like, posting 33 total tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 11 pass deflections, and zero interceptions in nine games for Florida.

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As for a potential draft selection replacing starter Byron Jones at cornerback this season, rookie defensive backs are notorious for struggling to adapt to the speed of the NFL in their first-year. But the Dallas Cowboys do have both Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis under contract for another season, which should allow a potential rookie cornerback more time to acclimate.