In the 60s and 70s, we had Mel Renfro, one of the best safety-cornerbacks to play for the Cowboys and in the NFL. His agility, both mentally and physically, had quarterbacks hesitant to throw the football in his direction, and he had the numbers to back it up. Renfro finished his Hall of Fame career with 52 interceptions for 626 yards.
In the 80s, we witnessed the strength and tenacity of Everson Walls. He became a fixture in the Cowboys secondary after being signed as a free agent from Grambling State University. He did more than “beat the odds.” As a rookie, he logged 11 interceptions (a feat that’s yet to be matched by any other player), and he’s the only cornerback in NFL history to lead the league in interceptions in three seasons.
The 90s, of course, was primetime. Deion Sanders left his electrifying mark on Dallas’s secondary in only five seasons of wearing the star. He was a Pro-Bowler in four of them. A triple threat, who arguably set the standard for the trending “shutdown” cornerback term, with the star power to match the heyday of America’s Team.
Then, there’s… who? Who was the last Cowboys defensive back to excite you? Like REALLY excite you?
There have been some players in the last two decades with the potential. But, it’s one thing to have the potential and another thing to live up to and exceed that potential. I don’t think I could confidently name a player from this era to put in the conversation with those aforementioned greats. Could you? Makes for a fun debate.
But while you mull that, let me tell you why you should get excited for the 2020s. Because of the arrival of new defensive backs’ coach Kris Richard and a Cowboys roster that currently boasts a secondary with 80% of its players at or under the age of 25.
Ah, the youth.
Talks of the Cowboys’ new, young image has heightened with the departures of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant this offseason, but the refurbishing really began last offseason with the drafting of defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Marquez White. We got a taste of what could be in Awuzie and Lewis, and both guys ended the season as starting cornerbacks with 25 and 57 tackles, respectively. Woods also made a case for himself at safety, appearing in all 16 games with 42 tackles and a diving interception against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys said goodbye to Orlando Scandrick, and hello to a new cornerback in Byron Jones. Richard moved Jones from safety, a decision the third-year veteran appeared to be excited about. This change is like a fresh start after having just two interceptions in his first three seasons.
“I think it’ll be a good move for me and the team,” Jones said. “It’s been something that as soon as Richard came in that’s what he was talking about, he wanted to move me to corner. So we had a discussion and he made the move.”
Anthony Brown. Jeff Heath. Kavon Frazier. The future of the secondary looks promising, and Richard couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. There’s some incredible hype around the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, and rightfully so. (See, Legion of Boom.) There is a lot of young talent in this secondary, and Richard has the opportunity to mold these guys into a unit that meets the standard of play that once defined America’s Team.
Is the next, great defensive back in this pool of players? I’d like to think so. (Looking at you, Chido.) But, like I said. It’s one thing to have the potential and another to meet/exceed it.It’s time to rise.
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