How Stephon Gilmore fits with Dallas Cowboys after being traded from Indianapolis Colts

East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Indianapolis Colts cornerback Stephon Gilmore (5) before the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

  • Dallas Cowboy trade for Stephon Gilmore: Dallas sent a compensatory fifth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for the veteran CB.
  • Elite man-coverage cornerback: Even at 30-plus years old, Gilmore has remained one of the NFL's best CBs in single coverage (79.1 grade in 2022).
  • Get ready for a pass-catcher in Round 1: With the cornerback need filled, the Cowboys will likely focus on a pass-catcher in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

After a quiet start to the tampering period portion of NFL free agency, the Dallas Cowboys made a splash Tuesday when they traded a compensatory fifth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for star cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

With long-tenured starting cornerback Anthony Brown hitting free agency after a torn Achilles ended his 2022 season early in addition to the idea that Jourdan Lewis and DaRon Bland appear most comfortable in the slot, the Cowboys developed a big need at outside cornerback opposite Trevon Diggs. Even though many thought the Cowboys would opt to go the draft route to fill that hole, especially with an extremely talented cornerback class this year, they decided to use 2023 draft compensation to acquire an extremely talented veteran cornerback instead.

Measuring in at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds with 31-inch arms, Gilmore should fit defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's defense like a glove. Despite toiling away for a bad team in 2022, Gilmore performed quite capably, allowing 53 receptions from 84 targets (63.1% completion rate) for 588 yards and two touchdowns while registering two interceptions and eight pass breakups en route to an 81.1 coverage grade (seventh among CBs; min. 100 snaps).

Historically, Gilmore has been one of the NFL's premier man-coverage cornerbacks, boasting a 99th percentile grade (90.1) in that facet since 2018. While Gilmore plays in press alignments routinely, he actually prefers to “soft shoe” at the line of scrimmage rather than stick a strong jam, as it allows Gilmore's process the receivers' release and stems to inform him of the routes the receivers are most likely to run. Gilmore will then institute some physicality to help him “feel” the route and match the receiver's pace. Moreover, he understands the intricacies of hand fighting, which enables him to limit a receiver's ability to create separation with subtle push-offs as they are coming out of their break. After that, Gilmore's notable timing and ball skills enable him to find consistent success at the catch point.

While he's slightly less effective in zone coverage (58.9 grade in 2022), Gilmore is still fundamentally sound, showing the ability to his landmarks, process hi-low concepts, drive on underneath targets and play with anticipation.

While Gilmore still possesses high-end coverage skills, his age does show up when he's forced to defend twitchier receivers without help, as Gilmore just isn't the caliber of athlete who can keep up with quick stop-starts consistently.

Nonetheless, whether it's zone or man coverage, Gilmore's football intelligence and football savvy enable him to maintain a high level of success even as his athleticism has waned with age (he will be 33 years old during the 2023 season). Gilmore could teach a college course on how to read a receiver's body language within the route, enabling him to consistently maintain tight coverage regardless of the route. He's excellent at understanding a coverage concept's weakness, which enables him to use his alignment and leverage to limit the offense's ability to expose those weaknesses.

He also excels at disguising his coverage, which will be exceedingly helpful when Quinn makes the call for the defense to show one coverage pre-snap before playing another post-snap. Having a smart, veteran like Gilmore makes that process much easier, so don't be surprised if Quinn leans more heavily on disguised coverages in 2023 in an effort to give the defense a better chance against the NFL's most talented QBs.

Gilmore's presence enables Quinn to continue to lean on using man coverage on the outside, especially against vertical concepts (Cover 1/3, which was used on more than 60% of Dallas' defensive snaps in 2020), and it significantly boosts the ceiling play of Dallas' secondary as a whole. With two excellent man-coverage cornerbacks who have elite ball skills on the outside in Gilmore and Diggs, a solid veteran slot cornerback in Lewis, a promising cornerback with slot/outside versatility in Bland in addition to three effective and versatile safeties in Jayron Kearse, Donovan Wilson and Malik Hooker, the Cowboys could have one of the NFL's premier secondaries in 2023, especially if Micah Parsons and company continue to do a stellar job generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. 

Even off the field, Gilmore's veteran presence could be a boon for Dallas' young cornerbacks — Diggs, Bland, Nahshon Wright and Kelvin Joseph — as he can be a mentor who imparts valuable information on and off the field — similar to what Jason Peters did last season with Tyler Smith.

In terms of the 2023 NFL Draft, this move likely means the Cowboys will zero in on a pass-catcher of some sort in the first round, as cornerback was the team's other primary need that deserved first-round consideration, meaning players such as Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba, TCU's Quentin Johnston, Boston College's Zay Flowers, Utah's Dalton Kincaid and Georgia's Darnell Washington (among many others) should be on every Cowboys fans study list in preparation for late April's premier event.

Even though the 32-year-old Gilmore likely only has a couple years of high-end play left, the fact that he only cost the Cowboys a compensatory fifth-round pick is a huge win for the franchise, as it not only enables the Cowboys to have one of the better secondaries in the NFL but it also provides a two-year bridge for someone like Bland to develop to a point where he can be counted on as the every-week starter opposite Diggs.


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