Last Friday, the NFL announced that it was inviting 330 players to its annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, Indiana. The combine gives the NFL’s 32 teams a chance to evaluate the talent and skill set of the upcoming draft class through a variety of drills. Among those chosen to participate on Feb. 28 were four Colorado Buffaloes: cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, quarterback Sefo Liufau, free safety Tedric Thompson and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
The CU Independent’s Jack Stern examines the four Buffaloes who will compete at the upcoming combine, beginning in this piece with Awuzie.
Chidobe Awuzie’s potential suitors: Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers
Philadelphia Eagles: Awuzie is a quality cover corner who excels in man coverage. Additionally, he has the flexibility to play all over the field. During his time at Colorado, he transitioned between the nickel, dime and slot cornerback positions. He has also shown flexibility in covering receivers with varying skill sets.
This would make him the ideal target for a team like the Eagles, who were torched repeatedly by the deep ball. In fact, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit allowed an average of 240 yards through the air and gave up 57 plays of 20 yards and over in 2017, the sixth-highest in the NFL.
While showing signs of progress in 2016 with a solid pass rush, and overall good play from rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles will have no chance of winning the division if they don’t take drastic measures to improve their secondary — especially when they face the likes of Odell Beckham, Jr. and Dez Bryant four times a year. Even if the Eagles draft a cornerback in the first round, like ESPN draft guru Todd McShay projects them to, the Eagles will likely need extra help at a cornerback position they’re looking to build from the ground up.
Following the departure of seven-year veteran Leodis McKelvin and uncertainty surrounding Nolan Carroll as he heads into free agency, they’ll likely look to the draft to address the cornerback position.
Bottom line: I would say it’s likely the Birds pull the trigger on Awuzie as a late round pick, maybe in the third or fourth round. They have been yearning for consistency at the position since the departure of cornerback Asante Samuel, and Awuzie is a guy with extreme upside potential who has the ability to put a team’s top receiving threat on an island. Schwartz has a knack for flexible, shifty corners, especially guys who can play in the slot which explains why he drafted Jalen Mills in the seventh round last year.
Overall, Awuzie is a blue-collar worker who can make an lasting impact in Philly from day one.
Dallas Cowboys: The Dallas Cowboys are another team which struggled mightily with their pass defense. In 2016, the Cowboys ranked 25th in pass defense, and gave up an average of 273.5 yards per game through the air.
This combined with the fact that Morris Claiborne is likely to leave in free agency makes the Cowboys a possible destination. With the Cowboys likely to improve their pass rush and receiving core in the early rounds, Awuzie would be a good addition for later on. The Cowboys have a solid corner for Awuzie to play across from in Brandon Carr, and other corners such as Anthony Brown filled in nicely in 2016, which only makes him a more attractive target. Dallas would have the ability to develop him, rather than throwing him right into the ring of fire.
Bottom line: Possible. Logistically, Awuzie makes sense. He contains many of the traits that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes to look for: He is physical, flexible, and has great ball skills.
The one thing that may be of concern is his speed. In a division where you’re forced to face Odell Beckham, Jr. twice a year, and the lingering possibility of the Eagles landing a big name wide receiver on the horizon, the Cowboys may opt to get a guy who is slightly quicker. In addition, the Cowboys may look to sign a big name, more experienced, corner such as Stephon Gilmore of Buffalo, or A.J. Bouye of Houston, which only makes it more unlikely that he’ll land in Dallas next season.
Carolina Panthers: From a team’s perspective, I feel Awuzie would be an absolute bargain here. In 2017, the Panthers ranked 28th in pass defense and dead last when playing on the road.
It is no secret that the Panthers secondary needs help. Awuzie’s flexibility would allow newly hired defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to play cornerback James Bradbury primarily in the slot where he found a lot of success last season. Likewise, the Panthers are going to need consistency and depth at the cornerback position when facing the Falcons and Buccaneers talented receiving core four times a season.
Bottom line: Possible. As I stated earlier, I would love to see Awuzie go to the Panthers. It would allow them to get a franchise running back in Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook in the first round, and a mainstay offensive linemen like Utah’s Garett Bolles or Indiana’s Dan Feeney in the second.
Those two pieces could make the Panthers’ offense scarier than ever before with an additional running threat, and more protection for quarterback Cam Newton on the O-Line. While I think this scenario would work for the team, it is highly likely they opt for a more sure thing at cornerback in one of the first two rounds. In a division where having a solid secondary is key, and a year when the free agency market at cornerback is both thin and expensive, I feel they’ll look to get young talent who is as close to a sure thing as possible.
The last thing the Panthers would want to see is the likes of star wideouts Julio Jones or Mike Evans faking the pants off a rookie, and then beating him for an easy deep ball.
Contact CU Independent Sports Writer Jack Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org.