While almost everything coming out of Sunday’s big win has been positive and encouraging, there have have been some critical remarks about how little we saw of the Dallas Cowboys’ 2019 rookie class. But rather than get discouraged about our newest players, we should understand the circumstances and appreciate what this says about the depth of the Cowboys roster.
Before we dive into this, here’s a recap of our eight 2019 draft picks and their current status with the Cowboys:
- DT Trysten Hill – On roster
- OL Connor McGovern – IR (eligible to return)
- RB Tony Pollard – On roster
- CB Michael Jackson – Practice squad
- DE Joe Jackson – On roster
- S Donovan Wilson – On roster
- RB Mike Weber – Practice squad
- DE Jalen Jelks – IR (season-ending)
Just from that, you see how limited to class is right now at being able to make an impact. Half of the rookies aren’t even on the 53-man roster, and Donovan Wilson missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury.
The most jarring absence was that of 2nd-Round pick Trysten Hill, who was one of the seven inactive players that didn’t suit up to play the Giants. With other rookies like Tony Pollard and Joe Jackson getting to play, it may have been alarming to see our young defensive tackle as a healthy scratch from the 46-man game day roster.
But even though he was the highest draft pick on the team this year, keep in mind that Trysten was still just the 58th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. If you thought he was going to come in and make an impact like Leighton Vander Esch (19th overall in 2018) last year, those weren’t reasonable expectations.
Hill is also competing with a loaded group at his position. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods are well-established now as a starting duo, and veteran Christian Covington was signed in free agency before the Cowboys ever drafted Trysten.
While we still want to see positive things from Trysten Hill in 2019, it’s important to remember that he was drafted with a long-term perspective. With Maliek Collins a free agent and Tyrone Crawford likely being released in 2020, Hill was added to provide current depth and hopefully a future starter. He was scouted as a raw talent who needed development; an ideal player for the role Dallas had available this year.
The same goes for 3rd-Round pick Connor McGovern. He was drafted with potential free agency departures from La’el Collins and Joe Looney in view next year.
Dallas wound up re-signing Collins, and McGovern’s ongoing pectoral injury limited his ability to compete in training camp and preseason this year. Even if he gets recalled from IR later this season, Connor isn’t going to be more than a backup linemen as a rookie.
Tony Pollard and Joe Jackson were the only two rookies who actually got to play on Sunday, but neither was able to do much with their opportunities. Pollard’s 13 carries amounted to just 24 yards, and Jackson was part of the defensive line rotation that got very little pressure on Eli Manning throughout the game.
It’s easy to say, “don’t overreact to just one game.” That’s valid, but we should prepare ourselves for the reality that most of these 2019 rookies could have very quiet seasons.
Barring injuries, Trysten Hill probably isn’t going to moved ahead of any of the other defensive tackles on the depth chart. Once veteran DE Robert Quinn comes off suspension next week, Joe Jackson could easily be joining Hill on the inactive list.
The two guys who have the best chance to make impacts as rookies are Tony Pollard and Donovan Wilson. Hopefully, future weeks will give Pollard better looks and see Kellen Moore utilize him as a weapon in the passing game. It would also be nice to see Tony on kick returns, where he was a stud in college.
After arguably being MVP of the preseason, Donovan Wilson returned to practice yesterday and will hopefully be among the active players against Washington. Even if he doesn’t oust Jeff Heath from a starting job this year, Wilson should still get opportunities to play.
A key thing to remember with this 2019 draft class is that the 1st-Round pick went to Oakland for Amari Cooper. There is no Leighton Vander Esch, Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, or Zack Martin in this bunch when it comes to that projected early impact.
Cooper’s instant effect on the offense last year, and his strong game against the Giants on Sunday, far outweigh the benefits from any 1st-Round rookie that Dallas might have selected last April. This caveat can never be forgotten when we talk about the class of 2019; it’s greatest asset is not reflected in the rookie pool.
That being said, the Cowboys have been spoiled in recent years with immediate contributions from players like Connor Williams, Michael Gallup, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis as rookies. It’s easy to start holding everyone to that standard, counting on Will McClay’s draft magic to keep producing these kinds of players.
But one of the issues you’re now seeing is how good drafting and free agent scouting can eventually fill the cupboard to capacity. Michael Jackson didn’t make the team because there was already so much talent at cornerback, and all of them still on their rookie contracts. Joe Jackson, good as he’s looked, may wind up playing very little because of a good pick last year in Dorance Armstrong and a shrewd signing in Kerry Hyder.
Because of their depth, the 2019 Cowboys were able to draft for the future rather than the present. They were ready to use guys like Hill and McGovern if needed, but were happy to let them develop for a year behind a wealth of returning talent.
Again, it’s still early. We may see Trysten Hill get on the field and even become a prominent rotation player by the end of the season. The Cowboys are certainly invested in his future, so they will be happy to give him those opportunities if it’s mutually beneficial.
But for now, given the depth of the team and the circumstances of these rookies and the positions they play, we may need to adjust our expectations for their immediate impact. The class of 2019 has talent and will be heard from in due time, but it may not be as soon as we usually hope.