The Dallas Cowboys have long been known for their offensive stars, but cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is going to buck that trend.
For the first time in several years, the NFL is loaded at cornerback. Between Jalen Ramsey, Marcus Peters, Xavier Rhodes and many, many others, the league has an abundance of a talent at the position. In a league that has become so pass-heavy, there are now enough adequate cornerbacks to match the talent on offense and provide terrific matchups each week in the NFL.
Part of the reason the quality of cornerbacks has improved so much in the NFL is due to the last few draft classes, specifically the 2017 draft. In that class, there were 18 cornerbacks selected in the top-101 picks in the draft. Not only was it a deep class, but it was also extremely talented. The list includes players such as Marshon Lattimore, Tre’Davious White, and Adoree Jackson, all of which had spectacular rookie seasons for their respective teams.
But as good as that class was and is, Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie has a chance to be the best corner of that entire group. Last season, he showed flashes of brilliance but battled a hamstring injury that kept him out for more than half of the season. But through training camp and the preseason in 2018, Awuzie looks like he could be the next future star the position.
Today, we are going to take a look at some of Awuzie’s film from the preseason to show why he has a chance to be one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league by the end of the 2018 season.
But before we do that, let’s start with some background information before we dive into the film. As an athlete, Awuzie is one of the best in the entire league, testing in the 97.9 percentile, according to 3sigmaathlete.com.
At 6-foot and 202 pounds, Awuzie is one of the bigger cornerbacks in the entire league but also possess the speed (4.43 40-yard dash) and explosiveness (132″ broad jump) to match up with any type of receiver the NFL has to offer.
However, as we all know, athleticism doesn’t make a shut-down cornerback. Having sound technique is so important for the position. One misstep could result in a touchdown or it could force a defender into committing pass interference.
That’s why Awuzie is such an impressive player. Not only is he a great athlete, but he is so sound fundamentally as well. Take a look at this play from the preseason and you will see just what I am talking about. Awuzie is covering speedster J.J. Nelson on the outside. Nelson is quite a bit faster than him, but Awuzie is able to stay with him due to his technique.
Awuzie is watching the eyes of Nelson. The moment Nelson looks back for the ball, Awuzie follows and undercuts the route to knock the pass away. He doesn’t panic or grab the receiver. Instead, he just mirrors exactly what his opponent is doing. While it may look like a simple pass deflection, it’s an impressive showing of his patience and belief in his technique.
Chidobe Awuzie is going to be a star. pic.twitter.com/s5kGPkP2Sj
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 27, 2018
While there are plenty of top cornerbacks who can mirror the best receivers in the league, the best ones are able to take the ball away at a high rate. That’s what makes Marcus Peters and Marshon Lattimore so special.
However, that’s been one of the knocks on Awuzie throughout his career. During college, Awuzie had just three total interceptions. However, he had 25 career pass deflections meaning he was around the ball often.
That area of the game is something Awuzie has been working on since entering the NFL. Each and every week, we have seen the improvement. In the preseason, Awuzie had one of the most impressive interceptions you will ever see as he skied for a pass and was able to bring it in with just one hand.
Chidobe Awuzie has elite ball skills. pic.twitter.com/hl8v8TTUv6
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 4, 2018
If Awuzie can continue to grow in this part of his game, there is a chance he could be one of the most valuable defenders in the league given his skillset. But Awuzie already is a big piece for the Cowboys’ defense because of his willingness to tackle.
Every cornerback in the NFL will get beat from time to time. But when they do, they have to limit the yards after the catch and that is something Awuzie already thrives at. According to Pro Football Focus, Awuzie allowed the fewest yards per reception in the entire NFL last season.
Chidobe Awuzie allowed the fewest yards per reception last season! pic.twitter.com/Qa2BBqTmkW
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 2, 2018
As good as Awuzie was tackling last season, he has improved even more in that area this season. This was evident in the preseason as he was flying all over the field. He seemingly has a better feel for the position. Here is a play from the team’s third preseason game in which he tackled rookie receiver Christian Kirk in the open field.
Doesn’t get much better than this by Chidobe Awuzie: pic.twitter.com/Qcc0EpGH8W
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 27, 2018
Awuzie plays this perfectly as he stays under control throughout the entire play. His technique is flawless as he aims for Kirk’s waist and brings him down. As a rookie, we saw this time and time again from Awuzie. He’s not afraid to mix it up in the run game. In fact, he even embraces it. And if you want to be a complete cornerback in today’s NFL, you have to be willing and able to tackle like Awuzie.
In terms of a ceiling, Awuzie has a skill-set that is reminiscent of former Raiders and Packers’ defensive back Charles Woodson. Like Woodson, Awuzie has the quickness and coverage skills to be a star at cornerback, but also the size and physicality to play safety as well. Awuzie started his career for the Cowboys as a safety but now has moved him back to his best position as an outside cornerback.
In a league that is becoming more positionless on both offense and defense, a defender like Awuzie is incredibly valuable. If the Cowboys are facing a Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr., the team will have no problem at all throwing him out there on an island. If they are facing a top tight end target like Rob Gronkowski, his size and toughness will allow him to win there as well.
With new passing-game coordinator Kris Richard in the mix in Dallas, expect Awuize to make a big leap in Year 2. Don’t be surprised if Awuzie becomes a Pro Bowl defender in 2018.