When the Cowboys drafted Kelvin Joseph in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, most assumed they would be settled for the job. It was a surprise when they took another cornerback a round later. The player they actually picked was even more of a surprise: Oregon State’s Nahshon Wright.

Most fans had never heard Wright’s name, and draft pundits had almost universally rated him as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect. But Wright was 6’4″ and had five assists in 16 games for the Beavers, making him a prototype of what defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was looking for in his cornerbacks.

Much like fellow rookie Joseph, Wright didn’t see much action in his rookie year due to strong seasons from veterans Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, but that doesn’t mean Wright can’t make a step up. ahead in 2022. Here’s what should be expected from the massive defender.

What he did

It didn’t take long for Wright to turn many of his skeptics into fans. Wright consistently made wow plays, whether in training camp or preseason, and some began to question whether or not Wright was the best rookie corner in Dallas.

It ultimately didn’t matter, as Brown and Lewis both locked starting spots on the outside and in the slot, respectively, and never looked back. As such, Wright found himself in a special team role quite early on. The silver lining here, however, is that Wright thrived so much in the role that he quickly became one of John Fassel’s most trusted special teams. Wright finished the year with the team’s fourth-most special teams snaps behind aces CJ Goodwin and Luke Gifford, as well as veteran Corey Clement.

Wright’s biggest rookie moment of the year came when the cornerback recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown during a Falcons beating:

Wright recorded a start on defense, however, and it came in the regular season finale when Dallas rested most of its starters. In this game, Wright played on every defensive snap and looked solid. He was targeted eight times and allowed just four catches for 65 yards.

Wright returned to his special teams role in the playoffs, but the small sample size of live game action — between preseason and the regular season finale — showed a rookie who has done well. played better than the initial reactions to its drafting.

what he can do

Going into 2022, Wright is in a very similar situation to Joseph, minus the off-pitch stuff. Brown and Lewis return and neither should be sidelined on the bench unless Wright or Joseph can steal their jobs. But from a contract standpoint, Brown is in the final year of his deal, while Lewis’ current contract expires after this season.

The Cowboys clearly liked Wright enough to draft him long before most pundits thought he’d be taken (sound familiar?), so if Wright can show Quinn and company enough, he’d be in the interest of the team to give it the green light. on, say, Brown. But he’ll have to show them enough first.

Last year, Wright showed the coaches a lot, and that led to them being comfortable enough to make him a starter on special teams. It might not seem like much, but when Bones Fassel is your special teams coordinator, that’s a big deal as a rookie. Ultimately, though, the Cowboys just didn’t feel comfortable starting a rookie as a starter at cornerback last year, especially after how terrible the 2020 defense had been. But now Wright has a year of experience, both as an NFL player and under Quinn’s program (for which Wright is a natural candidate).

There are two areas where Wright will need to make the greatest progress. The first is its setting; fresh out of college, Wright weighed just 183 pounds. It’s already light enough for a defensive back, but it’s accentuated by the fact that Wright is as tall as he is. With so much action on special teams, physicality didn’t seem to be an issue for Wright’s slender frame, but that’s a different task when dealing with receivers and tight ends on a regular basis. Wright needs to build muscle without losing the closing speed that makes him so dangerous on coverage.

Another factor for Wright is that he really only has one way to play time on defense. While Joseph has shown the flexibility to play in the slot, Wright is pretty much exclusively an outside corner. Given that Trevon Diggs is pretty safe as one of the two starting outside corners, that means Wright has to topple Brown. Not only that, but Wright has to fend off Joseph, who will be competing for Brown’s job in addition to Lewis’ job.

It won’t make it any easier for Wright, like those coaches want. Competition breeds success, as they say. Last year, Wright impressed with the few chances he had on defense, which bodes well for his projected development. But he won’t be able to develop those flashes without first locking in a starting role. Otherwise, expect another top Special Teams role for Wright, which isn’t a terrible consolation prize.