With the Dallas Cowboys (6-2) on bye, it feels weird not having to stress about America's Team on a Sunday. While they did need the bye to heal from the knicks and knacks they suffered through the first part of the season, I feel “naked” that the Boys aren't playing today.
However, it's all good. I can watch other games throughout the day and mentally prepare for their showdown with the Green Bay Packers next week.
But to not get too ahead of myself, and to shift topics from rambling on about their bye and their matchup with Mr. Discount Double Check, Aaron Rodgers next week, I wanted to focus on something else.
And that's midseason grades for the rookies.
Out of the nine guys drafted, five have seen significant snaps. With the other four, one player has had trouble finding playing time (Jalen Tolbert), one got waived (John Ridgeway), and two landed on the IR (Devin Harper and Matt Waletzko).
Additionally, I will drop grades on the four undrafted free agents that got the most hype entering this season. Check them out below.
Tyler Smith: A-
On draft night, the Cowboys got criticized for picking Tulsa OT Tyler Smith in the first round. Smith, who was seen as a Day Two type of guy, was known as a mauler in the run game and for his “grown-man strength,” but higher-rated players were there for the Cowboys when it was their pick.
Although people swore the team would regret picking Smith, the tackle has proved the doubters wrong and has been one of the team's best offensive linemen. Initially, Smith was going to get eased into the offensive line, but when Tyron Smith went down, he got thrown into the fire.
And so far, he hasn't let the pressure eat him alive. While he has given up four sacks and needs to cut down on his penalties (seven), it's looking like the team hit gold on another talented lineman, as he will likely be one of their main guys of the future.
Sam Williams: A-
Before the season started, I predicted DE Sam Williams would be the team's best rookie. While Smith currently has the edge over him for that title, Williams is quickly rising, and as a bonus — he's making the team and fans forget about former DE Randy Gregory.
Williams still has a long way to go in the development stage, but he has been a freak of nature every time he was on the field in the first half of the season. But, once he reaches his full potential, the pairing of Micah Parsons-Williams rushing on each side is fun to imagine.
Jalen Tolbert: F
This grading hurts. I was on the boat that wide receiver Jalen Tolbert would be a massive weapon for the team this year, but he has been disappointing. It's concerning that his lack of development isn't there yet at the midpoint of the season, but he still has a chance to turn things around.
While he won't find any playing time soon (barring an injury), Tolbert will likely finish with an F-grade. But I hope he can find his way onto the field next season and work on his craft during the offseason. The talent is there, but I hope the Cowboys don't get impatient and let him go too soon.
Jake Ferguson: B+
Many people speculated that TE Jake Ferguson would replace Dalton Schultz this offseason, but once Schultz came back on the franchise tag — Ferguson was an afterthought. While he ultimately landed the backup gig, you figured Ferguson would see limited snaps.
But as we all saw, Schultz got banged up early in the season, and he and TE Peyton Hendershot (more on him later) got some run, and the tight-end position looks promising for the future.
A viable catcher and blocker, Ferguson has two touchdowns on the season. If the team moves on from Schultz, Ferguson is the perfect guy to slide into the starting role. Plus, he already has touchdown celebrations like this below. How can you not like the kid?
Matt Waletzko: C, borderline-B
It's unfortunate that Tackle Matt Waletzko suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, as he looked promising and was shaping up to be the team's starting swing tackle. For now, I went with a C, borderline B, because he hasn't seen the field, and it's unknown how he will look next year.
The body size and athleticism are there, but we will have to wait a year to see how good he is.
Damone Clark: C
For a guy who wasn't expected to play this year, it was cool to see LB Damone Clark take snaps last week against the Chicago Bears. Clark, projected to see playing time only on special teams, got thrown into the fire when Anthony Barr went down.
His highlight play came when he chased down Bears quarterback Justin Fields. An overall solid debut, but it will be interesting to see how much playing time he will now get.
DaRon Bland: B
Entering this season, DaRon Bland had a lot of buzz around him, and some people predicted he could crack the starting lineup. While CB Jourdan Lewis held the starting gig over him, once Lewis went down with a season-ending injury, people saw it as a “blessing in disguise.”
While we never wish any injury on a player, Bland now gets the opportunity to prove his worth, and if he balls out, it may be the end of Lewis' tenure with the Cowboys. A lengthy, physical player, Bland has shown off his ability to cover wideouts and be a critical playmaker for the Cowboys' defense.
Devin Harper: INC
LB Devin Harper has yet to take the field, as he landed on the IR with Achilles tendinitis. He displayed eye-popping athleticism at Oklahoma State and can play on special teams. But for now, we have to wait till his return.
UDFAs: Alec Lindstrom, Markquese Bell, Peyton Hendershot, and Malik Davis
These four guys were arguably the most notable names coming out of Training Camp, as each had a shot to land significant playing time. Starting with Alec Lindstrom, there was buzz that he could be the team's starting center.
But so far this season, he hasn't seen the field much. I'm giving him an incomplete grade.
Shifting to Bell, people saw him as a guy who could climb the depth chart quickly and get into the safety rotation. However, the safeties have played solid this year, and there isn't room for significant playing time for Bell.
It doesn't mean he's not talented, but he will be a critical contributor in the future. I'm giving another incomplete grade.
Hendershot and Davis are the only two undrafted free agents who have seen a good amount of snaps, and during their time, they have made the most of it.
With Hendershot, he's another pass catcher in the TE room, and he and Ferguson are shaping out as the tight ends of the future. Shifting to Davis, he showed promise in the preseason, but in his limited snaps during the regular season — he displayed that he's a viable runner.
While I'm not calling for him to be the starter, he could see his role increase next offseason if the team doesn't re-sign running back Tony Pollard or if they move on from Ezekiel Elliott.
The two get B's for their performances.