In part one of the series on expectations for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys, I talked about the great expectations for Dak Prescott improving on his excellent rookie campaign.
Today, we're looking at one of the 2017 rookies; Ryan Switzer.
The moment Ryan Switzer was drafted the comparisons to Cole Beasley were almost immediate. We know that Beasley isn't going anywhere. He has a great rapport with quarterback Dak Prescott so it's unlikely that Switzer is going to take any of Beasley's snaps.
While Beasley is an obvious comparison, based on their size, I think that Switzer may be more of a Ty Montgomery, Danny Woodhead, Lance Dunbar, and Tyreek Hill (minus the speed) type of player for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys.
Where Will Ryan Switzer's Playing Time Come From?
Ryan Switzer on Offense
As many have already suggested, Switzer -- who was drafted in the fourth round out of North Carolina -- will have a chance to take Lucky Whitehead's job in the offseason and thus take his offensive snaps.
Whitehead was used primarily as a gadget player in the offense. He's had some WOW moments as well as some facepalm moments. It's the facepalm moments that have opened the door to a competition at wide receiver.
Whitehead's offensive role was limited to only 13% of the snaps during the season. Part of that is due to his limitations as a pass catcher and the team's minimal use of five wide receiver sets.
In fact, when they went empty backfield, it was with four wide receivers and Jason Witten lined up as the in-line tight end. Their other empty backfield formation was with Ezekiel Elliott motioning out of the backfield.
Whitehead only received 13 touches on offense in 2016, which is actually down from his 2015 total of 16.
Ryan Switzer comes with more of a pass catching resume than Whitehead, catching 96 passes for over 1,100 yards as the top option for number-2 overall pick, Mitch Trubisky.
Lucky Whitehead's best season saw him catch 76 passes for 706 yards and six touchdowns. In his only other full-time season, he caught nine passes.
Switzer had three seasons with more than 50 catches, including the 96-catch senior season. He also scored offensive touchdowns each of his four seasons at UNC, totaling 19.
The other place in which Ryan Switzer could help the team is in the Lance Dunbar role and his 13% share of the team's offensive snaps. Dunbar is now a member of the Los Angeles Rams and many have been longing for a scat-back type to replace him on the roster.
What if that scat back is actually listed as a wide receiver?
Not sure if you're aware, because I didn't know until after the draft, but Switzer played running back in high school and was really, really, really good.
In 2011 and 2012, he carried the ball 504 times for 5,175 yards (2587.5 per season), and 72 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 402 yards and six touchdowns. And if those numbers aren't incredible enough, he tallied four interceptions his junior year, returning two for touchdowns. Stats taken from 24/7 Sports.
Kinda wish I would have lived in West Virginia to get a chance to watch young Ryan play. He must have been electric in high school.
The Green Bay Packers opened the door to converting running back-turned-wide receiver, back into a running back with what they did with Ty Montgomery in 2016. If they were willing to make him the feature back for a team that went to the NFC Championship game, surely the Dallas Cowboys can carve out some snaps for someone who was a really effective back in high school.
And before you start with the "but that was high school" stuff, lets remember Rico Gathers, who hasn't played football since the eighth grade.
To me, Ryan Switzer is the answer to two positions on the team.
He's the Lucky Whitehead "gadget" guy and the Lance Dunbar "scat-back" guy all rolled into one. Perhaps he is Inspector Gadget.
There is a minimum of 282 offensive snaps available to Switzer to earn, with a shot to take some from receiver Brice Butler as well. As things have been going in OTAs and minicamp, Switzer may just be able to do that.
Ryan Switzer on Special Teams
With an emphasis on special, Switzer was a very special returner for the Tar Heels. He was widely regarded as the best returner in the 2017 NFL Draft, even by himself.
His best season was as a freshmen when he averaged 20.7 yards per punt return and scored five touchdowns. As a junior, he averaged 13.7 yards per punt return and scored two more touchdowns.
Whitehead has much more experience as a kick returner than Switzer does, but hasn't been effective. As a punt returner, Lucky has only averaged 6.9 yards per return on his career.
In college, Switzer averaged 10.9 yards per return for his career.
Between Whitehead and Dunbar there are 208 snaps available on special teams. I'd imagine he'd also get some work on kickoff and punt coverage as well.
With what Switzer can do as a receiver, runner, and returner, it seems that there will be a nice role for him during the 2017 season. I'd expect him to see anywhere from 300-450 snaps this season, even if everyone is healthy.
If one of the wide receivers gets hurt, I expect that number to go up.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
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