The Dallas Cowboys made nine selections in the 2017 NFL Draft this past weekend, with seven of those being on the defensive side of the ball. What the front office was saying in the lead up to the draft rang true; this draft set up well for them to draft defense.
With the additions of the nine draft picks, there will be some pretty great training camp competitions this year. While many think as many as three of the new rookies will start come week one of the NFL season, I think it's more likely that it doesn't happen.
Pro Football Reference lists each team's starters year by year, based on who started the most at a given position. Based on that reference material, let's look at how often a Jason Garrett-coached team has started a rookie.
2016 - Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Anthony Brown, and Maliek Collins
Ezekiel Elliott was a day one starter because he was the best option for the job coming out of training camp. Incumbent Darren McFadden was on the Non-Football Injury list and had he been healthy, would have likely been a reserve anyway. Alfred Morris didn't and doesn't have the same ability as Elliott. That one was a no-brainer.
Dak Prescott, Anthony Brown, and Maliek Collins all are listed as players that started for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 and all were due to injury.
Prescott took over for the now-retired, but then injured, Tony Romo.
Anthony Brown filled in for Orlando Scandrick in the slot and for Morris Claiborne on the outside throughout the season.
Collins didn't start the season as the starter and only saw 17 snaps (30%) in the opener against the New York Giants. By the end of the season though, he was seeing greater than 60% of the snaps on a regular basis.
2015 - La'el Collins
La'el Collins was the only rookie to start for the Dallas Cowboys in 2015, according to Pro Football Reference, but again, he didn't begin the season as the starter. He actually didn't even play in the season opener.
It wasn't until week two that he was inserted into the starting lineup, for Ronald Leary.
2014 - Zack Martin and Anthony Hitchens
2014 marked the beginning of a career that is going to be littered with 1st Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors; that was when Zack Martin was inserted as a day-one starter on the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.
This was just a continuation of the rebuild of the offensive line that had been taking place over the previous several years. He was a no-brainer day-one starter then.
Anthony Hitchens was the other rookie considered a starter. A closer look at his game-by-game snap counts reveal that he didn't start until week 3. The first two weeks of the season, he only played 8.6% and 16.3% of the defensive snaps respectively. Eventually he became a regular player for the defense, but he still wasn't THE established middle linebacker for another season or two.
2013 - Travis Frederick and Jeff Heath
Travis Frederick, like Zack Martin above, earned his starting job during training camp and became a week one starter and the team hasn't looked back since. He's been everything they hoped he'd be when the team selected him in the first round in 2013.
Frederick has brought an intelligence, leadership, and stability to the offensive line that has allowed them to become the best unit in the league.
Jeff Heath was also listed as a starter for the Dallas Cowboys, according to Pro Football Reference. Heath, though he is the GOAT, struggled to find regular playing time until midway through the 2013 season.
Heath didn't see more than 30% of the defensive snaps until week eight of the season and that was related more to the ineffectiveness of the defensive backfield that gave Heath a shot.
Heath is now getting a chance to compete for a starting safety spot in this, his fourth year.
2012 - Morris Claiborne
Morris Claiborne was the lone rookie from the 2012 draft class to be a full-time, day-one starter.
I think it's safe to say that his draft position helped during that season, because in 2013 we saw Orlando Scandrick become the other starting corner in base situations -- alongside Brandon Carr -- and Claiborne was brought in during nickel situations.
Claiborne was the beneficiary of being the sixth overall pick and, while his game got a lot better as his time with the Cowboys went on, it was rough in those early years. He struggled with confidence and injuries. Perhaps he was forced into the lineup a bit too soon.
2011 - Tyron Smith and Dan Bailey
In Jason Garrett's first campaign as the head coach for America's team, two players started for them as rookies. Those two players have the look of being potential Hall of Famers: Tyron Smith and Dan Bailey.
Tyron Smith's selection in the top-10 of the 2011 NFL Draft started the overhaul of the Cowboys offensive line that is now the best in the NFL. Smith started on the right side of the line, then in his second year switched with Doug Free to the left tackle spot.
Dan Bailey has been darn near automatic for the Cowboys through the years and has been either #1 or #2 in the HISTORY of the NFL in field goal percentage.
What It Means for the 2017 Rookie Class
There has been an infusion of talent on both sides of the football. Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, and Marquez White are all set to compete for defensive snaps for the Dallas Cowboys.
The problem is where are they going to get them?
Charlton could be a day one starter along the defensive line, but I think he is going to have to earn it. The line is deep with veterans and second year player Charles Tapper is coming back as well.
The defensive backfield may have some turnover this year, but if we know anything about the current group, it's a competitive bunch.
Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, and Nolan Carroll make up a solid veteran group that isn't going to give anything to anyone. Jeff Heath has been solid throughout his career and has experience. The coaching staff and front office are hoping Heath will seize the safety spot alongside Byron Jones.
While it's easy to begin penciling rookies into the starting lineup, as Coach Garrett told each rookie, there's a lot of work to do.
They're gonna have to earn everything.
2018 NFL Draft: Dallas Cowboys Meeting with Texas Safety DeShon Elliott
With more pressing needs on offense at guard and wide receiver, and defensively at DE or LB, the Cowboys' concerning lack of proven ability at safety has taken a backseat in this offseason's roster build. With the expectation that new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard will elevate the play of the entire Cowboys' secondary, the team is doing their due diligence on safeties available in the 2018 NFL Draft - starting with Texas' DeShon Elliott.
It appears Texas S DeShon Elliott is visiting the #Cowboys today
With 63 tackles and six interceptions in his final season at Texas, Elliott took full advantage of being a starter in the Big 12 for the first time in his career, flying onto the NFL Draft scene.
Elliott is a well-balanced, average athlete with the upside to be targeted late in April's draft and make a difference.
If they had to play a game tomorrow, the Cowboys would be rolling with Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier at safety.
Finding an expanded role this season for Frazier should be a priority in Dallas, as should supplementing Heath and Woods with additional talent. DeShon Elliott would fit this group well, along with the Cowboys' scheme, given his range and disruptive ability.
Should Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and now Byron Jones help the Cowboys reach their full potential at CB, the Cowboys safeties will not be tested in single coverage up the field often. This is an area that Elliott was exploited in at Texas plenty of times, performing better as a true free safety or second-level player.
Continuing to add young talent at the right price is key to the Cowboys' ongoing rebuild on defense, now visiting with a local safety prospect that should be available to them in the later rounds. Texas' DeShon Elliott is officially a name to consider come draft week in Dallas.
Cowboys Draft: PSU WR DaeSean Hamilton Fits Cowboys’ “Type”
Last week, I detailed what the Cowboys tend to look for when drafting a wide receiver. In terms of a combine profile, Dallas clearly has a "type" of wide-out they like to target.
The Cowboys certainly need to upgrade their receiving corps, but with the plethora of other holes to fill, they may not be able to do so until the 3rd or 4th round. Luckily for the Cowboys, there is at least one receiver which both fits their profile and should be available early on day three.
That player is Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton.
Working on something for @InsideTheStarDC... here's the height, weight, 40 time, and 3 cone for every WR DAL has taken since 2010.
First, let's re-examine what the Cowboys like to look for. As you can see from the above graphic, the Cowboys draft targets all seem to fit a similar profile. If we treat Dez Bryant as their "ideal" draft pick, the trends become even clearer. Dallas wants to find a wide-out who is about 6'1" 205 pounds, runs nearly a 4.5 40 yard dash, and about a 6.9 three come time.
DeaSean Hamilton, coincidentally, is 6'1" 203 pounds, ran a 4.47 40 yard dash at the Penn State pro day, and ran a 6.84 three cone at the combine. Penn State's all time receptions leader stole the show at the 2018 Senior Bowl, putting all of "Draft Twitter" on notice to his talent.
An efficient and smooth route runner, Hamilton looks natural coming in and out of breaks, creating separation with his precise routes. The Cowboys don't have many receivers on their roster who can win with their route running, and adding a player like Hamilton would greatly help third year quarterback Dak Prescott moving forward.
With the ability to play in the slot, as well as potentially being a Z receiver for the Cowboys and a replacement for Terrance Williams, Hamilton would be an excellent draft target in the third or fourth round. And, keeping in mind how nicely he fits their typical draft profile, I'd expect Dallas to target Hamilton during the 2018 NFL Draft.
Dallas Cowboys Mock Drafts Address Needs at 3 Different Positions
"Tier two" of NFL Free Agency is here, meaning the Dallas Cowboys can set their sights on adding depth and filling the holes left by departed FAs Anthony Hitchens and Jonathan Cooper.
It may take another week for mock drafts to reflect the losses of both starters by the Cowboys, but the ongoing draft process does not slow down at any point. A few of the names the Cowboys will bring in for pre-draft 30 visits have already been released, and this week's roundup of national mock drafts continues to address the overall needs on this Dallas roster.
CBS Sports: Calvin Ridley, WR - Alabama
"Ridley's stock is down after an unimpressive combine, but the Cowboys decided to use one of their predraft visits on the talented wideout, who might not fall any further than this pick. Considering wide receiver is one of the team's biggest needs, they could jump at the chance to draft Ridley, who could eventually take over the No. 1 role if the Cowboys move on from Dez Bryant next offseason, which would save them more than $12 million on the cap."
The Dallas Cowboys will be meeting with free agent WR Allen Hurns today, a tangible second receiver that could immediately upgrade Terrance Williams' position. Hurns, unlike the lesser-known pass catchers the Cowboys looked at previously in free agency, may have enough talent entering his fifth season to take Calvin Ridley out of consideration in the first round.
For now, Ridley should absolutely remain in the conversation as this draft's top receiver. Frequently finding his way to the Cowboys in many post-Combine mock drafts, the Alabama star is just getting started in reaching his football potential and becoming an option for Dak Prescott on the outside.
Draft Wire: Vita Vea, DT - Washington
"Vea could realistically go higher than No. 19, but there may not be a ton of teams willing to draft a nose tackle early on in the draft. Vea’s much different from the average nose tackle, though, which is something the Cowboys would see firsthand if they were to pick him."
The hype for Vita Vea as a prospective Dallas Cowboys target has died down ever since Stephen Jones mentioned the team's preference to find 1T DTs with the traits to also rush the passer as a 3T. Simply being "different from the average nose tackle," as Infante writes here, may not be enough for Vea to be selected at 19th overall by the Cowboys.
Should the Cowboys be surprisingly wiped out at both guard and linebacker on their board, considering a rare prospect like Vea and the impact he could make in Rod Marinelli's scheme could become much more realistic though.
An investment like Vea at nose tackle feels like the safest way for the Cowboys to protect their franchise tag investment on DE DeMarcus Lawrence - while also potentially boosting the play of Maliek Collins and David Irving inside at DT.
Drafttek: Isaiah Wynn, G - Georgia
"... Isaiah Wynn played LOT for the SEC Champion and National Champion runner-up Georgia Bulldogs. Bill O'Brien's South coaching staff moved Wynn inside and he was easily the most impressive interior OL prospect during practice sessions..."
This would be one of the highest value picks the Dallas Cowboys could make at 19th overall. As it stands today, this team is in need of a starting left guard they can trust, which Isaiah Wynn can be from day one at the next level.
Despite their clear need up front, using another first round pick on an offensive lineman will surely generate some eyes rolls around Dallas on draft night. As if his mauling style of play and NFL-ready build aren't enough for the Cowboys to sell their fans on Wynn, his flexibility to provide needed depth at OT puts this Georgia product over the top.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Recent trades by the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills to shake up the draft order may just be scratching the surface for the run of quarterbacks that takes place annually atop each draft. With as many as five QBs coming off the board prior to the Cowboys' first pick, their ability to add a quality starter at a position of need looks good.
Exactly what these positions of need will be by the end of free agency, and which prospects fill needs in Dallas, will update weekly as we continue to prepare you for the 2018 NFL Draft here at Inside The Star.
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