DaRon Bland is the latest 2022 Cowboys draft pick to emerge as a legitimate contributor this season.
The cornerback got his first start back in Week 4 and recorded his first career interception against the division-rival Washington Commanders that sealed the win for the Cowboys. Against Indianapolis in Week 12, Bland recorded another two interceptions that ignited a furious 33-point fourth quarter, turning a close game into a blowout in a matter of minutes.
Bland spent most of his college career at Sacramento State University, a small school not known for its football program, before transferring to Fresno State for his final year of college in 2021. The Cowboys selected Bland in the fifth round. Bland survived through training camp and earned a spot on the 53-man roster by impressing the Cowboys coaches with his speed, length, and athleticism.
“He wasn’t at the combine or the all-star games, but he has NFL traits. We think there’s a lot of physical upside to him. And he fits the profile of what we’re looking for,” vice president of player personnel Will McClay said to ESPN. “He can do all the things you like to fit in our system.”
Bland has gotten more playing time after starting cornerback Jourdan Lewis went down with a Lisfranc injury in his foot. Lewis is currently on the Cowboys’ injured reserve list. An already thin secondary got a little thinner on Sunday when cornerback Anthony Brown suffered an Achilles tear that will end his 2022 campaign.
Bland started out the season as a special teams contributor before being pressed into action in Week 4. Since Week 7, Bland has been lining up more often, including a Week 11 performance in which he was on the field for 91% of defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Reference.
The three interceptions have been highlight-reel-worthy, game-changing plays, but the real impact Bland has brought is in the speed and aggression he has played with up to this point.
He has recorded 21 solo tackles, seven assists, and four pass defenses. One of those passes was on a two-point conversion attempt against Indianapolis on Sunday that preserved a Cowboys two-point lead and was the initial spark to the team’s historic fourth-quarter scoring bonanza.
With Brown out for the season, the Cowboys may look to involve Kelvin Joseph more in the secondary. Joseph has limited playing time this season as a backup but is the next man up on the depth chart behind Brown. The Cowboys have just one cornerback on the practice squad, Kendall Sheffield, who followed Dan Quinn from Atlanta but has not played in a game since 2020.
The Cowboys 2022 draft class is showing excellent results with a number of players making a major impact as starters and coming in to provide relief as injuries have happened. Bland has been quietly earning not just his spot on the roster, but an increased number of snaps and a more decisive role on the Dallas defense.
Bland will get an opportunity to add to his stats on Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys face the Houston Texans.