Gone are the days of Jason Garrett, where rookies had minimal opportunity to earn a starting role right away. Sure, you had the highly drafted offensive linemen and Ezekiel Elliott that seemed to be handed their spots in the starting lineup right away. However, generally rookies under the Cowboys former head coach were only inserted into the starting lineup when an injury occurred that forced them into action.
Remember, Dak Prescott started his career fourth on the depth chart behind Tony Romo, Kellen Moore, and Jameill Showers. Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie were used as versatile pieces across the secondary before finding a permanent position in the starting lineup in year two. Michael Gallup had to overcome the rookie bias that had Deonte Thompson, Terrance Williams, and Allen Hurns getting playing time instead.
A new day has come in Dallas, but what does that mean for the latest crop of Dallas Cowboys? Will Mike McCarthy allow rookies to have a fair shot at earning a spot in the starting lineup, or will the 2020 class suffer the same fate as previous draft classes and sit on the sideline while lesser players got opportunities?
All offseason and in the lead up to the draft, we heard McCarthy say he just wanted good players. He wasn’t as concerned about scheme fit, believing that it was the coaching staff’s job to figure out how to fit the players together.
Now, while that sounds well and good, the Cowboys indeed approached the cornerback position looking for a particular type of player.
But if the Dallas Cowboys got good players in the 2020 NFL Draft, how many of them could theoretically start week one of their rookie seasons?
I think the answer is four—two on offense and two on defense.
CeeDee Lamb, Wide Receiver
As the NFL has begun to lean on 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) as it’s base offensive personnel grouping, three wide receivers could be considered starters. Therefore, it looks like CeeDee Lamb should be a day-one starter for the Dallas Cowboys offense. The Cowboys ran 11-personnel 67% of the time in 2019, and in Mike McCarthy’s final year in Green Bay in 2018, they were in 11-personnel 70% of the time.
CeeDee Lamb is going to get on the field a ton in 2020. He and Amari Cooper will both work out of the slot, and Lamb can play all over the formation. If he’s able to pick up Kellen Moore’s playbook quickly, he could also serve as the primary backup to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the outside.
The Dallas Cowboys will want to find a way to get the ball in Lamb’s hands as he’s dangerous after the catch and in the open field.
Tyler Biadasz, Center
In addition to Lamb on the offensive side of the football, Tyler Biadasz has a chance to earn a starting spot at center. Whenever the Dallas Cowboys can resume practicing, Biadasz will be locked in a position battle with veteran Joe Looney and 2019 third-round pick Connor McGovern. While Looney may have the inside track based on his experience, it’s clear that McCarthy loves the former Rimington Award winner. The Cowboys Head Coach convinced the front office to trade up into the fourth round to select Biadasz. If that’s not a ringing endorsement from the guy atop the coaching hierarchy, I don’t know what is.
Now, Biadasz will have to prove healthy after having arthroscopic surgery to clean up the AC joint in his right shoulder. If he doesn’t face any setbacks in his rehab and can hit the ground running with the team when practices resume, he’ll have a good chance to overtake Looney at the center position.
Trevon Diggs, Cornerback
On defense, the Cowboys will likely see at least one rookie starter in their secondary and could potentially see one on the defensive line.
Second-round selection Trevon Diggs won’t be handed anything, but it won’t take long for him to prove to be a better option on the outside than either Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown, or Daryl Worley. His combination of length, ball skills, and athleticism should allow him to win enough in training camp and the preseason for the coaching staff to give him a shot to start from day one.
In both 2017 and 2018, Mike McCarthy’s final two draft classes the Green Bay Packers were more than willing to play defensive backs early in their rookie seasons. Cornerback Jaire Alexander started 11 of 13 games, and second-round Safety Josh Jackson started 10 of 16 games during their 2018 rookie campaigns.
With a new group of coaches overseeing the secondary, any preconceived notions we have about who will start at cornerback should be thrown out the window. Everyone is coming in with a fresh slate, and opportunities will have to be earned.
Trevon Diggs has the skills to earn those opportunities.
Bradlee Anae, Right Defensive End
The Dallas Cowboys have worked to revamp their defensive line this offseason with additions of Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and Neville Gallimore at defensive tackle. There’s hope that Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith will return from their indefinite suspensions, but until that happens, the Dallas Cowboys have a hole on the right edge of their defensive line.
Enter Bradlee Anae, the Dallas Cowboys 2020 fifth-round pick, who, despite his draft position, is well situated to find his way into the starting lineup. Though his draft stock fell because of his testing at the NFL combine, he’s as refined a pass rusher as you’ll find outside of the first round of the draft. He’s technically proficient with his hands and plays with an edge that can set a tone in both the run and pass game.
Even if Smith or Gregory are reinstated, it’s uncertain what kind of players they’ll be after long layoffs for the both of them. Anae has as much of an opportunity to earn a starting job out of training camp as anyone else who could get snaps at right defensive end in 2020.
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A lot has to happen for the Dallas Cowboys to get on the field in 2020 and for the rookies to have an opportunity to earn a starting spot this season. If the NFL isn’t able to provide a space for a full training camp, then these rookies will be behind the 8-ball getting up to speed for the NFL game.
Of the rookies in this year’s crop, these Dallas Cowboys have a legit shot at making the starting lineup week one of the NFL season.