Patrik [No C] Walker joined the Dallas Cowboys digital media group as a staff writer and media personality in July 2022, having professionally covered the NFL and, more specifically, the Cowboys since 2007.
He most recently did so for CBS Sports by way of 247Sports, where he also spent time delving into collegiate recruiting as well – ultimately becoming well-known for his level of unapologetic objectivity labeled by many as his own unique brand of football "science".
Welcome to "The Science Lab", a place where football facts and in-depth analysis always triumph over feelings.
FRISCO, TX — It's no secret that in order to be prom king you have to be one of the most popular kids in school. The same logic applies to winning certain awards in the NFL and, while that's wildly unfair, it's unlikely to ever change. It's why you haven't heard DaRon Bland mentioned in the conversation as a candidate to be awarded the honor 2022 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Well, the conversation starts right here and right now, so step away from the punch bowl and listen up, because it might be spiked and it's time voters sober up to what Bland is doing in Dallas.
In a dialogue that should be all-encompassing, but isn't, let's go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: Aidan Hutchinson and Travon Walker are two of the stronger possibilities to take home the award at the conclusion of this season, but I find it more accurate to compare Bland's production against four other cornerbacks whose names are involved in the wagering.
That would be Sauce Gardner (Jets), Roger McCreary (Titans), Tariq Woolen (Seahawks) and Jack Jones (Patriots) — all worthy candidates, yes, but also whose numbers are not exactly blowing Bland's out of the water.
I present the following list to the committee, in order of draft selection, and their corresponding resume through 15 games:
- Sauce Gardner, 1st-round/4th-overall: 15 starts, 2 INTs, 16 PBUs, 65 combined tackles (45 solo), 55.4% completion allowed, 397 yards allowed, 9.7 YPR, 4.3 YAC average per catch), 1 TD allowed
- Roger McCreary, 2nd-round/35th-overall: 15 starts, 1 INT, 6 PBUs, 80 combined tackles (66 solo), 70.5% completion allowed, 715 yards allowed, 3.4 YAC average, 6 TDs allowed
- Jack Jones, 4th-round/121st-overall: 13 starts, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs, 1 DEF TD, 30 combined tackles (25 solo), 54.1% completion allowed, 357 yards allowed, 17.9 YPR, 8.3 YAC average, 0 TDs allowed
- Tariq Woolen, 5th-round/153rd-overall: 15 starts, 6 INTs, 14 PBUs, 1 DEF TD, 53 combined tackles (40 solo), 52.1% completion allowed, 308 yards allowed, 12.3 YPR, 5.9 YAC average, 3 TD allowed
- DaRon Bland, 5th-round/167th-overall: 6 starts, 5 INTs, 7 PBUs, 45 combined tackles (32 solo), 76.1% completion allowed, 325 yards allowed, 2.2 YAC average, 3 TD allowed
Of the five listed, Bland is the lowest-drafted player but is either besting the other four in a category or being in direct competition with them. His 2.2 yards after catch allowed is the best of the group and balances his 76.1% completion percentage, and the latter has to be measured in context with where he plays the large majority of his snaps — the slot in nickel packages where he faces primarily quick slants and inside routes.
The other candidates are mostly boundary protectors, similar to Trevon Diggs, tasked with defending routes that require longer windows and allow for increased reaction time to prevent PBUs or to grab interceptions. And still, even with that being the case, Bland is only one INT behind the leader in the group of five above, Woolen, and has as many as Gardner, McCreary and Jones … combined.
As it turns out, Bland is a synonym for spicy and not an antonym as we've long been taught.
Meet me outside, Webster.
"I'm extremely impressed with him," said veteran safety Jayron Kearse, another resident ballhawk and playmaking defensive back in Dallas, of Bland's consistently impactful performance in Year 1. "If you take the name out of it, if you ask me, he's [Rookie] Defensive Player of the Year. Six starts, five picks. He comes up and is a physical tackler.
"He's tight in coverage. He's a tremendous athlete and you see it every Sunday, Saturday or whenever the game is. He's going out there and making plays."
Bland was a training camp star in Oxnard this summer who has instantly translated that hype into a stellar rookie season, despite not being named a starter until the team lost an incumbent ballhawk in Jourdan Lewis to Lisfranc injury against the Detroit Lions in Week 7.
Not so coincidentally, it was Lewis who told me in camp that Bland would end up being the "best defensive rookie" of the Cowboys 2022 draft class, a major nod when considering the presence of Sam Williams and Damone Clark.
Bland was asked to take Lewis' place due to a groin injury that sidelined the veteran in the Week 4 clash with the Washington Commanders and grabbed his first career interception as a result.
He got a taste of it then and his appetite for takeaways has been insatiable ever since, matching that aspect of Diggs' game and perfectly complementing the First-Team All-Pro in the process; seeing as opposing quarterbacks now hesitate regularly to target either of the two.
Also, take a look at the efficiency in which Bland is operating when it comes to interceptions: averaging nearly one takeaway per NFL start, a number none of the others are anywhere near; and then comes the fashion in which the interceptions arrive.
Only one of Bland's five INTs has been with no interference from a receiver.
"I believe four of his five picks have all been him and the receiver right there and he comes away with it every time," Kearse said. "That goes to show how competitive he is and the strength he has in getting the ball."
But hey, let's be real here. The likelihood of Bland winning DROTY honors in 2022 is slim, and that's fair when you start mixing in the entire pool of entrants that include Hutchinson, Walker and others, though his odds should be arguably higher than some of the CBs mentioned above.
To say he has zero chance? Which is what is silently being conveyed every time the DROTY conversation comes up and Bland isn't mentioned??
That just tells me the punch in that bowl is indeed spiked.