NFL Draft Grades: Dallas Cowboys – Putting The ‘D’ Back In Dallas
The 2016 season was a season for the Dallas Cowboys where they put the whole league on notice. With Tony Romo on the shelf with yet another season-ending injury before the regular season even started, Dallas media had already written them off. National media, for the most part, did the same. Not only was Tony Romo injured, but so was his supposed backup, Kellen Moore who broke his leg in training camp.
Add to those uncertainties the Dallas Cowboys running game, and the national media continued to doubt the Cowboys. The doubt from outsiders didn’t seem to phase the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys offense registered franchise-best 9 games with 400-plus total net yards, including in eight consecutive games to tie longest single-season streak in NFL history. Dak Prescott tied the record for most wins by a rookie (13) in NFL history. Prescott also became the first rookie drafted in the fourth round to start all 16 regular season games. And the list of accomplishments goes on.
Leading the running game, a fellow rookie of Prescott’s looked to silence more critics. Ezekiel Elliott had some rough times at the beginning of the season, but he too put himself in the Dallas Cowboys record book and chased some NFL records. Elliott’s five games with 130-plus rushing yards tied for most by a rookie in NFL history. Four consecutive games with 130-plus rushing yards is an NFL rookie record.
Elliott also set team rookie records with 12 games with 20-plus carries and five multi-touchdown games. The list of accomplishments for this young man doesn’t end there, either. Oh, and let’s not forget Dez Bryant or Jason Witten. Dez continued to show a few younger receivers on the team, as well as the league, why he is one of the best. Dez surpassed Michael Irvin (65) for second in receiving touchdowns in franchise history with 67 receptions and tied Bob Hayes (15) for most multi-touchdown receiving games in team history.
Jason Witten continued to show why he’s regarded to be one of the best in the game, as he too helped show the rookies on the team how the NFL works. Jason Witten became the club’s leader in games started (213) and consecutive games started (163). He snapped a franchise-record 130-game streak with at least one catch by failing to make a reception at Minnesota. With all that being said, what’s really the problem? In a word, defense. The Dallas Cowboys were consistently in the lower half – if not the bottom of the league as a whole, in many defensive categories. After the draft was over this past weekend, management (and fans) hope that will change.
Round 1, Pick 28: Vidaunte “Taco” Charlton – (DE) Michigan: Charlton has a long, tall, frame and coupled with his athletic skill, could be a benefit to the Cowboys. In college, Charlton showed flashes of his talent and ability. Charlton has a background in basketball as well. With his ability to rush the passer, and speed, with the Cowboys strength in rushing the passer from the right side of the field, Management and fans alike may have something to be excited about. If proof is needed, one can simply look at David Irving. One thing that should be noted here, is that he only has experience starting as a senior in college. Charlton joins a defensive end rotation that includes that includes Benson Mayowa, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and David Irving along with Charles Tapper. Grade: B+.
Round 2, Pick 60: Chidobe Awuzi – (CB) Colorado: Awuzie may not have the type of “ball hawk” skills fans love to see, but, in college, his numbers looked like this: 26 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and 35 pass deflections. As Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne went on to greener pastures, he could fit any of these roles due to the college experience. Position flexibility, physicality, and “tough” mindset, he will definitely be an asset for the Cowboys. Grade: A.
Round 3, Pick 92: Jourdan Lewis – (CB) Michigan: The Cowboys selected Lewis in the draft because they seem to believe Lewis has position flexibility. Dallas has indicated that they want to use him, as well as Awuzie, as an outside cornerback first. While Dallas doesn’t yet know if it is better with these additions and the losses of Carr and Claiborne, but the secondary got younger and faster. In addition, with Lewis, they might have added a “scrappy” player they need. Grade: A.
Round 4, Pick 133: Ryan Switzer – (WR) North Carolina: The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best slot receivers in the NFL in Cole Beasley, who led the team with 75 receptions last year. He’s small, and slowly earning a league-wide reputation for being dangerous. Switzer, at 5-foot-8, 181 pounds, is a similar player. He is North Carolina’s all-time leader in receptions and yards but where he made his mark most was as a punt returner. He returned seven for touchdowns in his career and averaged 10.6 yards per return. The Cowboys lost running back Lance Dunbar to free agency, and it is possible Switzer could take over in a niche role as well as work the slot. The Cowboys have not been able to get enough explosive plays out of special teams. Switzer and Whitehead could now be forced into a competition for return duties. Grade: A.
Round 6, Pick 191: Xavier Woods – (S) Louisiana Tech: The Cowboys lost Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox in free agency and seem to have been content to go with Jeff Heath as the starter opposite Byron Jones. Woods might not contend for a starting spot in 2017, but he possesses skills the secondary has lacked: He can go get the ball. He had 14 interceptions and forced nine fumbles in his college career. In the past two years, the Cowboys’ leader in interceptions has had two for the season. Woods could help turnover woes on defense. Grade: A.
Round 6, No. 216: Marquez White – (CB) Florida State: White was a full-time starter for two seasons at Florida State and finished with four interceptions in his career. The four members of the secondary that Dallas lost in free agency combined for nearly 2,700 snaps last season. The Dallas Cowboys needed help in the back end, and White is the fourth secondary player the Cowboys selected in their first six draft picks.
They came in knowing they needed to add numbers, and they did that. The Cowboys must be testing the theory of never having enough cornerbacks. White plays outside, while Awuzie and Lewis can play in the slot as well. The Cowboys denied they were looking to deal Orlando Scandrick on Friday night, an interesting rumor, but they added more depth than they can possibly deal with at the position. Grade: A+.
Round 7, No. 228: Joey Ivie – (DT) Florida: Of the Cowboys’ first seven selections, six were on the defensive side of the ball. Taco Charlton could be a starter from day one at defensive end or at least a significant part of the rotation. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis could play an early role at cornerback, as could safety Xavier Woods. Ivie is more of a depth piece along the front line at the moment. What Marinelli will like most are his skills and ability.
The Cowboys lost Terrell McClain, last year’s nose tackle, to the Washington Redskins in free agency. Ivie can’t be viewed as a potential starter or major contributor right away, with Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, and Stephen Paea the true defensive tackles ahead of him on the depth chart. Ends Tyrone Crawford, David Irving and Charlton can kick inside. Given his stats, Ivie is viewed more as a nose tackle with run-stopping responsibilities. Grade: A.
Round 7, No. 239: Noah Brown – (WR) Ohio State: If you’re looking only at the Oklahoma game last year, when he scored four touchdowns, Brown could be another Dez Bryant. He had only three touchdowns the rest of the season as the Ohio State passing game struggled. The highlights from the Oklahoma game spell out what he can be a big-time playmaker who can go and get the ball or make the tough catch. There will be consistency issues, but he has the talent that makes him worth a seventh-round draft pick.
He is young to the game in many ways, playing in only 24 games in two seasons with the Buckeyes. He missed the 2015 season because of a leg injury. With Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Brice Butler, the Cowboys’ top four receivers look solid. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer in the fourth round and Brown in the seventh. Will he make a big impact? Grade: A.
Round 7, No. 248: Jordan Carrell – (DT) Colorado: At this point, the Cowboys looked to secure their top-priority free agent by using a draft pick. That was how they ended up taking tight end Rico Gathers with their final pick a year ago. They didn’t think he would make it through the draft and didn’t want to lose him. Carrell was a productive player at Colorado with 51 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 695 snaps in 2016. He will have an uphill battle trying to make the final roster, but he was productive.
This is a Marinelli-type of player with his skill set. He also has a chance to play at the under-tackle spot. With Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford and possibly David Irving ahead of him, the best chance for Carrell to make his mark could be on the practice squad if he can have a productive training camp and preseason. Grade: A.
Overall Cowboys Draft Grade: A. The Cowboys and their fans knew that there were some gaping holes in the defense. Some of the weakest points were on the D-Line, and secondary. With these draft picks, the Dallas Cowboys addressed needs and got younger. The Cowboys young players last year were very surprising in terms of showing skill early. Those lucky enough to learn from David Irving, a player who stepped up early, should ask questions and listen well.