DaRon Bland, CB
Bland was a fifth-round pick (No. 167 overall) in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Fresno State, and quickly became a hidden gem for the Cowboys.
The rookie excelled early in training camp and that continued into the preseason as well. But with Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown manning the outside and Jourdan Lewis in the slot, Bland failed to get any defensive snaps in Dallas’ first three regular season games.
But when Lewis missed Week 4 against the Commanders with an injury, Bland stepped in and didn’t disappoint. He played 59 snaps and finished the game with three tackles, one pass defended, and secured his first big league interception.
Still, with Lewis in the picture, Bland went back to the bench in Week 5 and failed to log any defensive snaps in the next two Cowboys games.
However, his time to shine came shortly after as Lewis suffered a season-ending injury in Week 7 against the Lions, opening up playing time for the rookie slot cornerback. And Bland did not disappoint in the slightest.
He finished the season with five interceptions, 54 tackles, and seven passes defended. Bland didn’t get as much recognition in his rookie season as Tariq Woolen of the Seattle Seahawks, but he should have.
The Seattle cornerback had his own impressive season, finishing tied for first with a league-leading six interceptions. He had 63 tackles and 17 passes defended in 2022. Woolen was also a fifth-round pick in the same draft.
But remember, Bland only played more than seven snaps in 11 of 17 Cowboys games. In those games, he allowed just 8.7 yards per reception, which ranked as one of the lowest in all of the NFL.
Bland did a nice job all season long in the slot for Dallas. He was physical and made plays when given the chance; the perfect type of player in Dan Quinn’s system. After his incredible rookie season, Bland will surely get more playing time in 2023.
Lewis will be back after his season-ending injury, though, and is still under contract. With both players primarily playing the slot, how will that work? Could Lewis be cut and save the Cowboys $4.7 toward their cap space?
It’s a possibility, but what is certain is that Bland impressed as a rookie and will get rewarded with more playing time as a sophomore.