The Dallas Cowboys rookie class from 2016 is one that will be difficult to top for a long time. Naturally, after having so much rookies have an impact a season ago, Cowboys Nation was truly excited to see what the 2017 class could bring to the table this year.
Some rookies have been pretty good, some not as much, but the Cowboys do have a young team that is very promising on both sides of the ball.
There are promising players in just about every position of the team. Now, there're a lot of things to work on, but the talent is there. This is a team in development rather than a team in "reconstruction mode." Yes, including the defense.
Last year, it was all about Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. Of course, Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown had pretty good seasons themselves, but the hype around Zeke and Dak took everyone's attention.
But what about this year? Eight weeks into the season and seven Cowboys games later, how has this rookie class fared so far? Who's been the best and the worst so far?
Let's go ahead and rank every Cowboys rookie who has played significant football this year. (No Cooper Rush on the list, sorry Cowboys Nation.)
#6 DE Taco Charlton
From the moment he was drafted back in April, we all had doubts about Taco Charlton. To some, he was a player with second-round talent at best. A lot of fans would've preferred someone like T.J. Watt or even a cornerback over him.
But the front office went for Taco Charlton and eight weeks into the season, the Michigan product has been disappointing.
Can he develop and become a legit pass rusher down the road? Maybe, but while we didn't expect him to be a player with double-digit sacks, we certainly didn't expect him to have no sacks after seven games and only four tackles.
Charlton's impact on this defense has been close to none. I would've thought that at this point of the season, we would already be seeing some positive flashes by the rookie DE, but he still has a very, very, very long way to go.
He's ranked as the worst Cowboy rookie of the season because of his play, and because he is a first round draft pick who hasn't even helped this defense in a small way.
#5 WR Ryan Switzer
It pains me to put Ryan Switzer in this spot. I hate to do so. When he was drafted by the Cowboys a lot of us were excited. He was considered a steal.
The thing about Switzer, is that we all knew he was going to come to Dallas to replace Lucky Whitehead as a returner on special teams. But we also expected to see him involved on the offense someway, and that hasn't happened.
It feels like every time Switzer is on the field, he fakes or runs a jet sweep. He is always used in gadget plays. The rookie wide receiver from North Carolina could be contributing to this offense way more than he is now.
Weren't we all excited about this offense exploring the use of 10 personnel and seeing Beasley and Switzer on the field simultaneously?
Finally, he hasn't been impressive returning kicks either, and has made a lot of questionable decisions when fielding punts and kicks. Switzer has a lot to improve on, and I'm sure he will. I know most of Cowboys Nation is rooting for him.
#4 WR Noah Brown
If you'd told me that I would be ranking Noah Brown ahead of Ryan Switzer through eight weeks, I wouldn't have believed you. But here I am.
Another rookie wide receiver who was expected to be a steal after being taken in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft has had some impressive plays as a Dallas Cowboy.
As any seventh rounder, he wasn't expected to come in here and have a big role on offense with a WR-loaded depth chart. But he's been there a few times, and he's stood in a couple of plays.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Noah Brown's biggest strength is his blocking game. In the above play, we can see a hell of a block by the rookie, creating a lane for Ezekiel Elliott on what resulted on a 72-yard touchdown. He's shown us excellent blocking on a few other plays as well, and he could very well see an increased role on this offense in the future.
Brown has also made a couple of plays on special teams, which is another reason why I put him above Ryan Switzer on this list. Props to the seventh-rounder!
#3 CB Chidobe Awuzie
The Cowboys' second round pick was expected to have an instant impact on this Cowboys' secondary, but injuries have gotten in the way for Chidobe Awuzie.
Awuzie has looked pretty good and pretty promising when he's played. Unfortunately, he hasn't been there a lot for Dallas. He's played in only three games this season. Here are his defensive snap counts in each of those games, per Pro Football Reference:
- vs NY Giants: 39
- @ DEN Broncos: 5
- vs GB Packers: 9
He's only played one full game.
However, I think Awuzie has looked good in the small amount of playing time he's had, and he will be a very important piece for this secondary as soon as he gets back. He will see snaps at CB and probably will get the chance to see some playing time as a safety.
#2 S Xavier Woods
Speaking of safeties, Xavier Woods confirmed what we all thought when he was drafted in the sixth round earlier this year. He was a steal!
Woods has impacted this defense most of the time he's on the field, and he should be taking over the starting job soon. Xavier Woods provides this defense with a play-making ability that this unit could use.
He's made some stops on key moments and he's flashed a lot of potential.
Cowboys in Cover 1: Xavier Woods shows off impressive range. Beautiful play from the rook. Hard to beat DAL deep with XW playing single-high https://t.co/ucQuIvyhHO
Woods is better than Jeff Heath. And I would love to see what Byron Jones and him can do when on the field at the same time.
It's fair to say that Heath has been disappointing through eight weeks, and I would think that giving the rookie the nod would be a nice change for this defense. Even if the Cowboys think Heath is better, I don't think there's enough difference between the two to ignore the upside that Woods brings to the table.
#1 CB Jourdan Lewis
Finally, the best Cowboy rookie so far... third round draft pick Jourdan Lewis.
The fact that the Cowboys were able to draft him on the third round is amazing. If Lewis hadn't been dealing with a domestic violence trial, the Michigan cornerback would've been drafted in the second, if not the first round.
Jourdan Lewis has been outstanding in just about every aspect of the game. He's been good in coverage and close to perfect in open-field tackling. As every rookie, he has a lot to work on, but none of the other Cowboys' rookies have had nearly the same impact than Jourdan after seven games.
Heading into week 9, Lewis is becoming this team's #1 cornerback. Dallas Cowboys Rookie of the Year.
The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up
Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.
The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.
As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.
Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.
Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.
Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.
Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.
All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.
How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?
Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?
With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.
Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.
I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.
I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?
Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.
Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.
Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.
Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?
Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook
Let me start this article with a strong opening statement: The Cowboys will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. There's been a lot of talk about the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. But when we break it down, the current setup will most likely play out better for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.
The Dak Stats
Certain quarterbacks shine when they have that go-to playmaker. We're talking about guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Ocho Cinco, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Dez Bryant. But other QBs do better at reading the defense and quickly adapting to what is given. Dak Prescott is the latter breed of QB.
Let’s do a quick numbers exercise to prove this.
When Prescott is targeting 8 or more receivers throughout the game, his passer rating jumps from 86.1 (targeting less than 8) to 104.5. He passes for almost 50 yards more per game and his touchdown to interception ratio drastically improves from 21-13 to 24-4.
Most importantly, when he targets at least 8 different receivers, the Cowboys are 14-2. When he targets less than 8, the team is just .500 at 8-8.
Without a doubt, Prescott is much better at adjusting to what the defense is giving him. He just isn’t one of those guys who can successfully "force" the ball (like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Not feeling the pressure of having to get the ball into the hands of the star playmaker will give this offense a new kind of depth in 2018.
Yes, losing Jason Witten hurts, much more so in my opinion than not having Dez.
Questions Still Loom
This is still the Cowboys' biggest concern on offense. There is some great depth. We have Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, and the young stud out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz. But between the three who have any NFL experience, there are only 9 catches between them. I must say that Dalton, with his 4.75 40-yard dash, has a legitimate shot at seeing a lot of playing time in his rookie campaign and could become an impact player with his size (6’5”, 244-lbs) and speed.
But despite the battle for TE being wide open, and debates about whether or not the team needs a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys are still expected to give the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East. Here are the odds on the defending NFC East champions and how (although early) it is expected to shake out:
- Philadelphia Eagles -167
- Dallas Cowboys +350
- New York Giants +650
- Washington Redskins +750
NFC East Week 1 Predictions
The Cowboys open the season in a difficult road game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been listed as 2.5-point favorites (follow the Cowboys NFL Odds here all season long) which isn’t surprising considering they are a tough team playing at home. You might be thinking, "crap, we're opening up as underdogs?" Don’t worry too much; it actually bodes fairly well because the lines-makers generally give a 3-point advantage to the home team. This means that they actually handicap the Cowboys to be a half-point favorite on a neutral field and a 3.5-point favorite in Arlington.
The Redskins open their season in Arizona against the Cardinals. The line is set at a pick ‘em (meaning there is no point spread; it's anyone's game). But, looking at the 'Skins and Cardinals, I think Washington gets disappointed in Week 1 and starts their season with a loss.
The Giants get to test their new offensive line and see if they were right in continuing to place their faith in Eli Manning against the best defense in the league. The Jags are 3-point favorites at MetLife stadium. This means the Jags are actually 6-points better. I do think that the Giants will be vastly improved this season, but they are also going to open with a loss.
The Eagles don’t have it easy either, but they will probably pull out the win at home as 4-point favorites against the Dirty Birds on Thursday Night Football. Their defense is just too good. Atlanta's road offense scored just 21 points per game last year while Philly scores 28 on average at home. The Eagles' home defense has been downright nasty, only allowing 12 points per game in Philadelphia.
This will be a two-horse race for the division between the Eagles and Cowboys. And even if the Eagles win the East, the Cowboys will wildcard into the playoffs.
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