The team already has seen a huge change at the cornerback spot, as longtime starter Terence Newman left for Cincinnati via free agency, and owner Jerry Jones wooed Brandon Carr from Kansas City with a five-year contract worth an estimated $50 million.
But many still feel Dallas will draft a cornerback — or perhaps more than one — in the upcoming NFL Draft. If that’s what the Cowboys end up doing, which players make the most sense?
Early (1-2) rounds:
Even with the addition of Carr, it’s a legitimate possibility that the Cowboys will take a cornerback in the first round (they pick 14th overall). If they do, the name that comes up most often is that of Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick. A three-year starter for the Crimson Tide who is leaving Tuscaloosa after his junior season, Kirkpatrick is big (6-2, 186 at the NFL Combine) and fast enough(he was clocked at 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine), drawing comparisons to New York Jets star Antonio Cromartie. He’s very strong, making him very effective in press coverage at the line of scrimmage, is a consistent, powerful tackler and has the confidence and short memory cornerbacks need. Whether he could claim a starting job in Dallas right away is impossible to predict, but he immediately would make cornerback a position of strength for the Cowboys.
One of the most intriguing players in the draft is Janoris Jenkins (5-10, 193, 4.46 at the Combine), who started for three years at Florida before transferring to North Alabama after repeatedly clashing with legal authorities and UF coaches. So while there are questions about his character and discipline, one scout told ranchreport.com that Jenkins has “the best cover skills of any DB in the draft, and it’s not even close.” That assessment, the scout said, included Kirkpatrick and LSU’s Morris Claiborne, who won the Thorpe Award as the country’s top defensive back and is projected to be a high first-round pick. Jenkins has great football instincts and is a rare athlete, and fared well against some of the elite — and big — receivers in the Southeastern Conference, reducing concerns some might have about the caliber of competition he faced at North Alabama. Top NFL receivers with size might give him difficulty, at least early on, but against average If he falls to the Cowboys’ pick in the second round (45th overall), there are few who believe Jones would let Jenkins get away.
Middle (3-5) rounds:
If Georgia’s Brandon Boykin (5-9, 182, 4.45) makes it to the third round, most feel it won’t be by much. The three-year starter is an elite athlete with speed, quickness and strength. The two things keeping him out of the first (and maybe second) round are his height and his coverage skills, as he has been known to let his athletic ability cover for inconsistency in technique. But he breaks out of his backpedal smoothly and is surprisingly successful when he goes up in the air to battle bigger receivers for high passes (he had nine career interceptions at Georgia). If Dallas would be willing to let him learn behind Carr, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, the Cowboys would have a superior athlete as a backup corner and special teams contributor.
UCF’s Josh Robinson is another player who has shot up some teams’ charts and has hovered in the middle rounds for other teams. If he is available in the fourth or fifth, he should be hard to pass up. The 5-10, 199-pound Robinson dazzled at the Combine, turning in a blistering 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, leaping 38.5 inches in the vertical jump and 11-1 in the standing broad jump — each of which was among the best performances at the Combine. Robinson started three years at UCF, picking off 10 passes, including six in 2009. His size is adequate but not great, and he is viewed as a risk-taker on defense, but that can be coached, and shouldn’t overshadow his solid tackling, rare athleticism and playmaking ability.
Late (6-7) rounds:
No, Oregon’s Cliff Harris is not related to the former Dallas cornerback who had the same name. What he is, though, is an average sized athlete who was considered one of the nation’s premier kick returners and a promising cornerback prospect after his sophomore season in 2010. The 5-11, 175-pounder had enough off-field trouble after his sophomore season that he was suspended from the Oregon team, and when he returned, he did so in a limited (non-starting) role. In addition to his kick return abilities, Harris likes to use his acceleration to jump routes and break on passes — he had eight interceptions in three seasons, including six in 2010 — but he will have to convince a team that his character issues are behind him.
Boston College’s Donnie Fletcher (6-1, 199, 4.5) who brings good size and versatility, as some teams see him as a future NFL safety. He led the Eagles with five interceptions in 2011 and was fourth on the team with 58 tackles (43 solo). He has good strength (he did 17 reps of the 225-pound bench press at BC’s Pro Day), but his overall athleticism is considered only adequate. That, coupled with his size, explains why some feel he is better-suited to a move to safety. If nothing else, he could offer versatility by learning both positions in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s system and is a willing contributor on special teams.