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Cowboys pick Chidobe Awuzie explains why he’s not your typical cornerback

One of this year’s top DBs says he loves to hit and play like a linebacker.

USC v Colorado Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys picked Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie 60th overall in the NFL draft. Awuzie plays a different kind of game than most of this class’ athletic corners.

“I’m a cornerback that thinks like a Mike linebacker,” he told SB Nation in an interview. He clearly prizes hitting and tackling, traits not instantly associated with most cornerbacks.

“My preparation is everything for me. I didn’t really have any hobbies outside of football. If I’m not playing football, I’m watching tape on some player. I’m trying to study on Google, just trying to find any kind of tidbit that I can.”

Awuzie’s an ultra-physical, search-and-destroy defender.

His play style really is sort of linebacker-ish. During a four-year run at Colorado, Awuzie played outside cornerback, nickelback, and safety. He never became an interception master (he had three in four years), but he knocked down a bunch of passes and made a bunch of tackles.

“Learning defenses, being able to prepare for other teams, and really understanding the game and understanding what everybody else is doing, I think that separates me,” he said. “My instincts, my cerebral-ness as a football player.”

Awuzie wasn’t an unbeatable cover corner, but his strengths fit CU’s. Playing in the Pac-12 meant facing three- and four-wide spread offenses, and Awuzie’s ability to double as a cover man and a tackler was critical.

The Buffs had one of the most active secondaries in the sport, so Awuzie had to lurk near the line of scrimmage. He and his fellow DBs got pretty good there, closing on the ball quickly and blowing up safe-gainers.

Colorado State attempting to bypass Awuzie with a screen pass to the flat.
ESPN

Physicality underpins everything Awuzie does.

“I see myself as my own player. I try to take pieces from a lot of people,” he said. “Growing up, the first player and the first exposure I had to football was seeing Brian Dawkins flying all over the field. Before the game even started, he’s jumping around in the pregame warmup. His faith in God, his off-the-field was outstanding as well.”

Dawkins, Darrelle Revis, and Charles Woodson are the players he looks to.

Awuzie’s godmother is an aunt to former Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. He’s gotten guidance from former Chiefs star Christian Okoye, the “Nigerian Nightmare” with whom he and Asomugha share a national heritage. (Awuzie’s parents immigrated from Nigeria to the United States.) Fullback Okoye was known for one thing above all else: power.

“That’s so important, because football’s always been my physical outlet,” Awuzie said. “When I play football, I’m trying to get out all this tension in my body — my roughness, my toughness, whatever. When I get on the football field, that’s where I release it. I don’t release it anywhere else. So every time I step on the football field, I try to impose my will on other people. If my coach wants me to get the job done, he knows that I’m gonna do it in a way where I’m being physical with another player.”

Dan Kadar’s scouting report:

Awuzie does a little bit of everything from playing inside and outside at corner to blitzing off the edge, which led to eight sacks in his last two seasons at Colorado. Teams that run a lot of zone coverage will love Awuzie because he’s more experienced in it than most and expertly reads routes. He’s a screen pass killer. Coaches will love him. He may never get a lot of interceptions, and will get beat over the top by speed receivers.

Awuzie ran a strong 4.43-second 40-yard dash and had an elite broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine. He did 16 bench press reps and measured in at 6’0 and 202 pounds, giving him above-average size and strength for a corner.

Awuzie got to Boulder as a two-star recruit in 2013.

He started immediately. The Buffs were terrible on defense that year, ceding 38 points per game, No. 114 in FBS.

By last year, they were in the top 20 in scoring D and had gone from 4-8 to 10-4, largely on the back of one of the Pac-12’s best defenses.

“That just pretty much became the culture, where everybody was holding each other accountable,” Awuzie said. “The coaches didn’t have to say much. The players were really running things and organizing workouts outside of the organized workouts. It really just became a culture thing. I got better, and everybody else got better on this team as well.”

Awuzie expected to fit wherever he landed. Now, that’s Dallas.

“My greatest strength is, no surprise, my versatility,” he said. “Everybody knows pretty much what I can do for a team in the defensive backfield. I can play corner, safety, nickel, and I can excel at all those positions.

“So they’ve been telling me that that’s really a great thing, that teams can use me anywhere. If they have an injury, I’m the first guy they’re gonna look at to see if they can experiment with, and they know I’ll probably do good.”