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Position Series: CB Depth Looms As One Of This Draft's Top Priorities
(Editor's Note: April is here, which means the first wave of free agency has passed and the NFL Draft is just around the corner. DallasCowboys.com’s 11-part series analyzes every position on the Cowboys’ roster at this point in the offseason: free-agent additions and subtractions, draft possibilities, returning players and question marks. The series continues with cornerbacks.)
Roster Holdovers: There aren’t as many as there used to be, after a busy free agency period saw both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne – who spent five seasons here – depart for AFC clubs.
Orlando Scandrick was the longest-tenured defender on this roster already, and that fact is even more glaring heading into 2017. The Cowboys drafted Scandrick in the fifth-round all the way back in 2008, and he’ll expected to be one of their top three cornerbacks once again in his 10th NFL season. Whether Scandrick will spend most of his time outside or inside remains to be seen, but he has the versatility to do both.
Anthony Brown wasn’t even on the roster at this time last year, and he didn’t capture anyone’s attention until Scandrick was injured last September. But entering his second season with the team, he’ll be counted on as an experienced starter and a viable member of the secondary. It’s not a stretch to think part of the reason the Cowboys didn’t try harder to retain Carr and Claiborne was due to their faith in Brown.
The problem is that, behind this duo – there’s not much in the way of holdovers. Leon McFadden is still here, after appearing in nine games last season. But he has just two NFL starts to his name, both of which came in 2013.
There are several other practice squad holdovers. Jeremiah McKinnon and Sammy Seamster both kicked around the roster for stretches last season, and the front office signed Duke Thomas to a futures contract in January. None of the three qualifies as an experienced option, though.
Free Agency Overview: The Cowboys did make one of their biggest investments of the free agency window at cornerback. Two days into the free agency period, they signed veteran corner Nolan Carroll to a three-year, $10 million contract.
Carroll certainly fits the bill of an experienced starter, with 101 appearances and 54 starts over the past seven years. Like Scandrick, he was originally a fifth-round draft pick, going 145th overall to Miami in 2010. After leaving the Dolphins, he spent the last three seasons in Philadelphia, where he tallied three interceptions and 24 pass breakups in 28 starts.
As it stands right now, it’s a good bet that the trio of Carroll, Brown and Scandrick will serve as the Cowboys’ starting three at the cornerback spot.
Draft Outlook: Of course, it’s also a good bet that the position sees a few changes between now and training camp. Cornerback is one of the Cowboys’ biggest needs on the roster – both for the short and long-term. Brown, Carroll and Scandrick form a serviceable trio of starters for the time being, but there isn’t much in the way of depth behind them.
On top of that, the Cowboys would surely like to get younger at the position. Carroll and Scandrick are both 30, which is an advanced age at one of the game’s most demanding positions.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the front office use a premium draft pick – meaning a first, second or third-round selection – to address the cornerback spot. There are many names worth considering, such as Washington’s Kevin King, USC’s Adoree Jackson, LSU’s Tre’Davious White or Alabama’s Marlong Humphrey – among many others.
Any of the above would be a welcome addition to the secondary.
Time To Shine: There’s no other way to view Anthony Brown’s rookie campaign than as a rousing success. Drafted 189th overall, in the sixth round of the NFL draft, he wasn’t even a guarantee to make the team.
Not only did he make the 53-man roster, he excelled. He appeared in all 16 games, and he took advantage of injuries to earn 10 total starts on the season to go along with 51 tackles and an interception. If not for the efforts of a sensational rookie class, headlined by the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and Maliek Collins, Brown’s impressive efforts would’ve been even more noteworthy.
Unfortunately, past accomplishments don’t count for much in the NFL. Brown was a welcome surprise in 2016, but in 2017 he’ll be expected to make the next step. With a thin secondary, the Cowboys need him to continue his progress and prove himself as a viable starter. If he can’t do that, it might spell trouble for what already looks like a depleted secondary.Read