Cowboys’ Jourdan Lewis named one of NFL’s top slot defenders
The Dallas Cowboys were believed to be an offensive juggernaut, and proved themselves worthy of such accolades early in the 2021 season. But the defense was a question mark after how they plummeted to among the league’s worst performers in the one season under coordinator Mike Zimmer. Dan Quinn’s mid-season firing from the Atlanta Falcons as head coach allowed him a few months to reinvent himself as a defensive coordinator, and the Cowboys were both sly and fortunate to bring him into the fold.
The difference, fueled by the selection of unicorn Micah Parsons in the first round of the draft, was evident at all three levels. That includes cornerback where ascending star Trevon Diggs turned in a franchise record 11 interceptions. Teams didn’t shy away from throwing at Diggs, though, because the options elsewhere weren’t enticing either. A lot of that had to do with the play in the slot of fifth-year man Jourdan Lewis, who was recently ranked the third-best at his role by Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire.
Last season as a slot defender, Lewis allowed 41 catches on 61 targets for 471 yards, 225 yards after the catch, one touchdown, three interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 74.5.
Lewis was at his most effective when he was targeted the most — he was targeted 10 times against the Buccaneers in Week 1, and 13 times against the Giants in Week 15. He had interceptions in each game, and gave up just 10 receptions in the two games.
It was a long road to this level of respectability for Lewis, who suffered from a lack of playing time in his sophomore season after Kris Richard took over the secondary. Whether it was a personality conflict or the passing-game coordinator’s disdain for Lewis’ size at 5-foot-10, the former third-round bargain out of Michigan started just six games in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
He’s started 13 in each of the last two years under Nolan and Quinn, and made the most of his 817 snaps in 2021.
Lewis finished the season with three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. As far as his coverage, he ranked No. 38 in Cowboys Wire’s Adjusted Net Yards per Coverage Snap (ANY/CS) metric this past season. However Lewis’ sure tackling and run stopping, despite his diminutive frame, has always been a plus part of his game at a position where business decisions are often the norm.
The Cowboys signed Lewis to a three-year deal ahead of last season for $13.5 million. He’s certainly seemed to have paid dividends for them after one season. If Diggs continues to be the ball-hawking headliner and Anthony Brown’s improved play sticks, Lewis will make it extremely hard for 2021 second-round pick Kelvin Joseph to see the field.
Depth at cornerback, like at defensive end, is a staple of the league’s top defenses. If Farrar’s rankings are accurate it appears that the Cowboys are well equipped in the first part of the equation.
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