The Dallas Cowboys finished the 2016 regular season with the best record in the NFC in large part due to the impacts of their rookie class. It was led by Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott offensively, but Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown also played a nice role in their success on the defensive side of the ball. If second-round pick Jaylon Smith is able to perform how he did prior to his knee injury then this draft class could be one of the most productive in recent memory. If their 2017 class is half as good as 2016 was the Cowboys will be extremely pleased. Here are the potential first year impacts for Dallas’s 2017 NFL Draft class.
Round 2, Pick 60: Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
I couldn’t believe Awuzie was still on the board at 60th overall, but it just speaks to the overall depth at cornerback this draft possessed. This was the Cowboys’ best pick in the draft both from an evaluation and valuation perspective. With the losses of Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox to free agency, the Cowboys desperately needed to add talent to their secondary. They did that instantly by selecting Awuzie.
Awuzie was one of the more versatile corners in this draft. He can play on the outside, inside, and a little bit of free safety, if needed. I believe the team will have him come in and split time between playing on the outside and from the slot. He could also help cover tight ends from the slot – something that Byron Jones has been doing of late. A trait that aligns well with Awuzie in Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme is his blitzing ability. I could easily see Awuzie being used similarly to how Orlando Scandrick is used while blitzing from the slot. Awuzie had nine career sacks while at Colorado.
There’s a bunch of youth and position flexibility on the Cowboys roster currently, especially in the secondary. Awuzie should come in and compete for playing time right away. I see no reason he can’t win the job with Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll, and Scandrick being his main competition.
Immediate Role Players
Round 1, Pick 28: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
The Michigan defensive end steadily improved in each of four his seasons in Ann Arbor. Last year, during his senior season, Charlton totaled 10 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss en route to being made first-team All-Big 10. The Cowboys really like his size and length for the position. At nearly 6’6”, 277 pounds, Charlton possesses the physical makeup of a future starting defensive end. However, he’s still unrefined as a pass rusher which makes me believe he’s not going to be an instant starter for Dallas in 2017. This is what Dan Hatman told me in a conversation I had with him about Charlton:
“You will have to refine Taco for sure. His burst will work and he certainly is confident in his inside spin. I think he pre-determines moves and needs to be taught how to hold the C gap versus diving inside, but you can clean that up. I think they are certainly buying size and athletic ability with that pick. He was not the best rusher on the board next year. My point is the Year 1 versus Year 3 projections. I think others [have a] better Year 1, but Taco may have better Year 3.”
Jerry and company selected Taco based on projection. Like I stated earlier, Charlton’s pure size and length cannot be taught. The Cowboys are giving defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a piece of clay to mold into his type of pass rusher. Charlton landed in an ideal spot as Marinelli will work him to no end to make him the player his potential warrants. With Demarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Benson Mayowa, and Tyrone Crawford all capable of playing on the edge, it wouldn’t surprise me if Charlton is used in a rotational role for the Cowboys in 2017.
Round 3, Pick 92: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Before he’s able to play football Lewis has pending legal troubles to deal with. However, Jerry Jones is confident that this is a non-issue and Lewis will eventually be exonerated.
Lewis could potentially be a solid nickel corner for the Cowboys in time. A main weakness of Lewis is his size (5’10”, 188 pounds), but he makes up for it with his effort and competitiveness. In Michigan’s bowl game against Florida State, Lewis had a few lapses in judgement / miscommunication with his secondary mates that led to big plays. He will also get beat due to his size, but Lewis has good quickness to play across from the smaller slot receivers. He doesn’t let opposing receivers create much separation, allowing him a free hand to swat away passes. Overall, he had good production at Michigan with six interceptions.
There are options for Dallas to play the nickel position, but Lewis has a good shot to immediately rotate in and out as a role player on this roster as a nickel corner and on special teams.
Round 4, Pick 133: Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina
One word to describe this pick: annoying.
As in: It’s going to be annoying for opposing defenses to cover Cole Beasley and Switzer, who some call a Beasley clone, when they’re both on the field together. The former Tar Heel is quick rather than fast, and also possesses very good mental processing ability to settle into voids in defenses. In my opinion Switzer had the best week of practice among all of the wide receivers at the Senior Bowl.
The Cowboys have a solid group of receivers already, but acquiring Switzer is a good move. He’ll make an immediate impact as a punt returner and could be used in special personnel packages, especially on third downs. With all the success Prescott had with Beasley last year it makes sense that the Cowboys wanted to be sure he has this type of target for the foreseeable future.
Round 6, Pick 191: Xavier Woods, S, Louisiana Tech
Woods was a steal sitting there in the sixth round. That’s likely why the Cowboys traded their 2018 fifth round pick to move up and take Woods here. At 5’11”, 197 pounds, he isn’t the ideal size for a safety, but there’s a lot to like overall. He tested really well at the Combine with a 6.72 three cone drill, tied for second among safeties. Woods has the playmaking ability to intercept passes and knock balls free. In his fourth year corner years at Louisiana Tech he grabbed 14 interceptions and forced six fumbles. Acquiring players in the secondary with highly rated ball skills seems to be the theme of the draft for the Cowboys in 2017. Considering how much Marinelli preaches turnovers for his defense it makes sense that Woods is a Cowboy.
Woods should be a good replacement for J.J. Wilcox as a hard-hitting safety, who will rotate in and out with the starters. Byron Jones and Jeff Heath should come into the season as the starters with Robert Blanton, Kavon Frazier, and Woods as role players.
Round 6, Pick 216: Marquez White, CB, Florida State
White was the third and final cornerback taken by the Cowboys. He’ll add nice depth to a position that is now infused with young potential. The team has good, versatile depth at cornerback now, but not many corners who line up primarily on the outside. That’s where White comes in, as he will likely be used on the outside in both press and off coverage when he’s in the game.
Round 7, Pick 228: Joey Ivie, DT, Florida
There’s a spot to be won behind Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thorton, and Stephen Paea. Ivie could potentially make this roster as good depth coming off the bench. He has a reputation of playing with high effort. In the one game I saw him try to get involved on every run and never gave up on a play until the whistle blew. That is a trait Marinelli and Leon Lett love in their defensive linemen. The Florida product will be a good player to have around camp pushing the level of competition.
Round 7, Pick 239: Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State
I’m not sure there’s a chance Brown can make the 53-man roster with all the wide receivers currently on the team, but he’s a nice developmental project to have on the practice squad. At 6’2”, 222 pounds, he has the size to be a physical NFL receiver. At Ohio State he was the type to box out opposing defensive backs to win contested catches. With Bryce Butler returning on a one-year deal, Brown could potentially replace him in 2018 as depth in the receiver group if he’s able to develop.
Round 7, Pick 246, Jordan Carrell, DT, Colorado
There’s not much information or film on Carrell admittedly, but from his production in his time at Colorado he seems like he fits in the project tier. He started in 25 games for the Buffs and had 6.5 sacks and 98 tackles. I would take this next sentence with a grain of salt. He could compete for a roster spot, but I think he may end up on the practice squad.