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.
Will It Be The Cowboys, Or Another Team, Who Pays Byron Jones After 2019?
After having his fifth year option exercised for the 2019 season, cornerback Byron Jones enters a contract year this Fall.
Jones inarguably had the best year of his career in 2018: earning not only his first Pro Bowl selection but also Second Team All Pro honors for his performance. Doing it all without an impressive stat sheet, Jones was able to let his film speak for itself throughout most of the year, and he became the number one cornerback we'd all hoped he could be when the Cowboys decided to take the freakishly athletic defensive back in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
This contract year is quite unique for Byron Jones, however. Next offseason the Cowboys will be forced to re-sign and extend just about all of their key contributors on both sides of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence already got his contract, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and others still await their deals. Deals which the front office has all-but explicitly promised will come.
This leaves Jones, the former first round pick and now former All Pro, generally considered to be the odd man out. So while 2019 is a contract year for Byron Jones, he may be earning himself a contract from a completely different team.
Jones has had an interesting road to this contract season. One which would be a shame for the Cowboys to waste. Moving between cornerback and safety during the first three years of his career, Jones fell out of the coaches' good graces while playing out of his most natural position. Under Kris Richard's new regime, though, Jones had his best season to date. He looked to finally be comfortable in his role, and was now playing for a coach who believed he could be a special player.
Now that Byron Jones has found his place in the Cowboys defense, and has earned his way into conversations with the league's top cornerbacks, he's likely priced himself out of the Cowboys' future plans.
It's funny how that works out. Of course, Jones should go get paid, and I'd never fault a guy for maximizing his value on the market. But there's a good chance the Cowboys make the mistake of allowing a premier cornerback to walk out of their building next offseason. But if they want to retain players like Elliott and Cooper, they may not have any other choice.
Will 2019 be the Storybook Ending to Jason Witten’s Hall of Fame Career?
It's old news now, but Jason Witten will suit up for the Dallas Cowboys once again in 2019. After less than a year in retirement, he will return to the field with the hopes of chasing down that ever elusive Super Bowl ring that has eluded him, and the Cowboys, for nearly two decades. If successful, it would be the storybook ending to an impressive Hall of Fame career.
I may be in the minority here, but I actually wasn't too excited to hear Jason Witten was going to end his retirement and rejoin the Dallas Cowboys. I thought he retired at the right time last year, going out on his terms instead of letting father time force him out. He definitely didn't have anything else to prove on the field, but sometimes hunger gets the best of us all.
That's what Jason Witten is. He's hungry! He's not stupid. He's looked this Dallas Cowboys roster over and sees just how talented it is from top to bottom. He knows this team has a real shot at reaching the promised land this year, adding yet another Super Bowl trophy to their collection. He wanted in, and rightfully so.
Witten may not have a full tank of gas anymore, but he's got enough left to help get this team to their desired destination. Despite my hesitation at first, I'm really excited to have him back in uniform. I'm really looking forward to seeing him back in action now, but more importantly having him on hand to mentor these younger players around him.
Most importantly though, I'm really hoping the 2019 season can be the storybook ending he deserves. He's been such an important ambassador to the NFL throughout his career, both on and off the field. What better way to end such a decorated career than with a little jewelry to put on his finger?
The 11 time Pro Bowler still holds a lot of records in the NFL and with the Dallas Cowboys, despite not playing last season. I'll let you look those up for yourself if you want, but the impact he has had on the game throughout his career is undeniable, and should continue to be so. The Cowboys or Witten wouldn't have reunited if either thought that wasn't the case anymore.
I know many of you may be thinking I'm probably reaching little to suggest this 2019 Dallas Cowboys team has a chance at going all the way this year, but I don't think so. This is a team with Super Bowl aspirations and the roster to do it.
The Cowboys already had a championship caliber defense last season and they're even better now after making a few upgrades. This alone will make them a much more dangerous team this year, but they're not slouches on the offensive side of the ball either.
The offense was good last season after making the Amari Cooper trade, but should be able to take the next step this year. They only lost Cole Beasley, but replaced him with Randall Cobb, who has a chance to be even better if he can stay healthy. Then if you throw in the addition of Jason Witten and the development of a few players, this is looking more and more like one of the more dangerous offenses in the NFL.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the team that can finally get the Dallas Cowboys back to the Super Bowl and help Jason Witten end his Hall of Fame career in a storybook like manner. Hello Hollywood! You've got a blockbuster movie in the making.
Do you think Jason Witten can end his career in a storybook like manner?
Travis Frederick’s Return Named Cowboys Biggest Reason For Excitement
Overall, Cowboys Nation feels to be in a positive mood during this year's offseason. Despite early angst over lack of action at the start of free agency, and concern over the Cowboys' draft strategy, most within the fan base seem to have high, yet realistic, hopes for the 2019 season.
Most seem to believe the NFC East will be a two team race, with the last two champions battling for the crown once again down the stretch of the season. Others can see the potential for a dark-horse candidate in Washington, but still believe the Cowboys roster has the edge.
So while Cowboys fans may not think they need a singular reason to look forward to the Fall of 2019, Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski gave them one this week.
NFL Brent Sobleski @@brentsobleski Twitter Logo NFL Analyst The offseason can be as thrilling for NFL fans as the regular season. Player movement constantly refreshes rosters-whether through free agency, the draft or trades. Significant changes inject excitement into franchises, personnel and fanbases. A one-time league doormat can become the league's "it' team simply through a string of acquisitions.
Brent identified the biggest reason for each team to look forward to 2019, with the return of center Travis Frederick being the Cowboys' submission. There's no question that when healthy, Frederick is one of the best centers in the game, and anchors an offensive line many still consider to be at the top of the league.
"A full year with wide receiver Amari Cooper and re-signing Demarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal are both reasons for the Dallas Cowboys to be excited. However, the return of Travis Frederick to man the middle of the offensive line is far more pertinent."
Frederick missed all of the 2018 season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that I am not nearly qualified enough to discuss. What I do know is that it can be very serious, and it kept Frederick out for the entire year.
The Cowboys offensive line suffered during the early part of 2018, largely due in part to Travis Frederick's absence. Yes, Joe Looney filled in and played as well as anyone could have hoped for, but the disconnect in communication across the offensive line was clear without their usual center. Especially during the first couple months of the season.
If Frederick is fully back and healthy, his presence alone will take the Cowboys offensive line back towards their peak. Combine his comeback with a healthy Zack Martin, and a now bulked up Connor Williams, and the interior of this line has the chance to be special.
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