Dallas Cowboys Draft: 2012 Cornerback Draft Options
To put it bluntly, the Dallas Cowboys secondary has been a sore spot on the team for the last two years.
Any fan of the team who remembers the 'Boys being eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Giants in Week 17 last year surely winces when he or she thinks of Terence Newman running behind Giants WR Victor Cruz on the long catch-and-run that emphatically put a stamp on a disappointing year.
If not, refresh your memory here.
In the first year under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Dallas finished 23rd against the pass. In a division playing against playmakers such as Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, DeSean Jackson, Santana Moss and Jeremy Maclin, this is an area that will remain a challenge for the Cowboys defense.
So, fixes are needed in the secondary, and owner Jerry Jones indicated in a recent interview that the team "very likely will have new faces over there," according to ESPN.com.
While Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins seem likely to return, Frank Walker and Alan Ball are free agents, and Newman could be a cap casualty (Dallas would save as much as $6 million against the cap depending on when they release him).
The Cowboys have been linked to Kansas City cornerback Brandon Carr and Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan as possible free-agent acquisitions. Even if one of these high-profile players makes his way to Big D, it's well within the realm of possibility that Dallas drafts a cornerback as well.
Should a free-agent prize be claimed by the Cowboys, it's likely that additional CB help will come later in the draft. Therefore, I won't be looking at players like Janoris Jenkins from North Alabama or Stephen Gilmore from South Carolina, who have been discussed as possible first-round selections.
Instead, I'll highlight a few players that could be on the draft board as Dallas drafts in the subsequent rounds.
Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard had been projected as a possible late first-round pick in early mock drafts, but since the end of college's regular season, it seems that his star has dimmed somewhat.
South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery got the better of him at the Capitol One Bowl, and he did not shine at the Senior Bowl, either. Evaluations from the combine peg him as a well-rounded player without an elite skill to tantalize prospective teams.
He was not a ballhawk in college (no interceptions his senior year, though that could be due as much to the respect of opposing QBs). He ran a 4.55 40-yard dash at the combine, which was solid but not eye-opening.
At 5'10", he doesn't intimidate physically. Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller projected him to Cincinnati with pick No. 53 in his recent mock draft, but Dennard would merit consideration with the Cowboys' pick at No. 45.
Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
As a resident of Virginia, it would be fine with me if the Cowboys drafted this Hokie.
I have several good things to say about Jayron Hosley, but let me get the big knock on him out of the way first. He’s small, or at least slight (171 pounds), which has raised questions about how well he will stand up to the game at the pro level and leaves his projected landing spot on draft day as the third or fourth round.
However, he is fast, as his 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine will support. And he has a nose for the football, with 12 interceptions during his sophomore and junior seasons.
He also returned punts all three years at Virginia Tech, averaging over 11 yards per return each season, so he would help on special teams as he bulks up a bit while playing in nickel packages.
He’s only 21, and at 5’10”, he has room on his frame for some weight. Hosley has drawn comparisons to Asante Samuel, which would be fine value here.
Dallas might consider this addition with its pick at No. 83.
Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
With only one year of high school ball and an injury-marred senior season (only six games played largely due to a recurring hamstring issue) for Coryell Judie, the former track star may be considered something of a project.
However, by playing in Dallas' backyard, comparatively, the Cowboys are in position to have scouted him a little more closely than most.
The Cowboys may like his combination of speed (4.48) and athleticism (his vertical and broad jumps both rated in the top six at the position). He is rated as a solid, aggressive tackler with good skills in zone defense who is still developing skills as a man defender.
For the players likely to be on the board at the end of the fourth round, Judie seems to have significant upside if he can remain relatively injury-free.
Dallas could please the local fans with its pick at No. 114.
Mike Harris, Florida State
Mike Harris is a junior college transfer with only one year of starting experience at Florida State, but he proved himself to be an exceptional run supporter and a big hitter, as Miami RB Damien Berry can confirm.
He didn't have the best combine, only clocking a 4.64 40-yard dash, but he will likely get another shot at FSU's Pro Day. The consensus opinion is that Harris is not ready to start but can assist in nickel packages, on receivers at or near the line of scrimmage and on special teams
Should he develop a stronger feel for the NFL game, this pick could pay off nicely.
This former Seminole might catch Dallas' eye in the fifth round, at No. 145.
Cliff Harris, Oregon
Getting an All-American in the sixth round would surprise anyone, except those familiar with the Cliff Harris story.
In 2010, he led the Pac-10 with six interceptions, returned four punts for TDs and was named an All-American as the Ducks reached the national championship game.
From there, things went south.
Furthermore, while he is quick and athletic, he is not fast (he ran the 40 in over 4.6 at the combine) and obviously has some maturity issues. That said, Dallas is a team that has proved willing to gamble on talented players with baggage, and the financial risk is little to none at this stage of the draft.
For long-time fans of the franchise, the name alone would conjure up nice memories.
Harris would likely garner a look from the Cowboys at pick No. 176.
Justin Bethel, Presbyterian
By now, Dallas better have either added a free-agent cornerback to the mix and/or drafted at least one. However, if for whatever reason, the Cowboys are hunting a last-round bargain at the position, Justin Bethel seems like an interesting prospect.
Bethel started four years at the I-AA school and was a special teams ace, blocking nine kicks in his career. The first Blue Hose (yes, that is the team nickname) invited to the combine, Bethel put together a solid mixture of speed, strength and athleticism.
Some of the blogosphere has Bethel plugged into the fifth or sixth round, and it does only take one team to be in love with a player to make that happen. But if that is not the case, Dallas could look to pick him up with its last pick at No. 207.