The six players the Cowboys selected in the 2010 Draft last April appeared in a combined 37 NFL games last year. Those 37 games rank the Cowboys 27th in the league. The league average is 63 games, with eight teams even getting more than 90 games out of their 2010 draftees. Adding supplemental pick Josh Brent and his 16 games to the mix improves the Cowboys' numbers to just below average, but there's no question that in 2011, the Cowboys must see significantly more production from the 2010 draft class.
In hindsight, the 2010 draft class turned out to be quite a snake-bit bunch of prospects. Dez Bryant suffered a high ankle sprain early in training camp, missed a large part of the preparation for the season, and a fractured fibula ended his season prematurely. Sean Lee missed the rookie mini-camp waiting for his knee brace to arrive and also missed significant parts of training camp with a strained quad. Then he pulled a hamstring in the season opener. Coupled with some shoulder issues, he did not play again until week five, and just as he seemed to be coming on strong, he suffered a concussion in week 14.
The Cowboys' third pick, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, didn’t participate in organized team activities or mini-camps because he was recovering from shoulder surgery. When training camp started, he was slowed by a hamstring injury. AOA played solely on special teams for seven games last season, suffered a high ankle sprain against the Jaguars on Oct. 31 and was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
The Cowboys' two sixth round picks didn't see much NFL playing time, OT Sam Young was active for two games as a rookie but did not see any action on offense. CB Jamar Wall didn't even survive the final roster cuts, but was active for one game each for the Texans and for the Eagles.
Seventh rounder Sean Lissemore made the 53-man roster after struggling with an injury for most of training camp. He was inactive for the first six games and saw limited action in the next two before suffering an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve.
The saving grace of the draft class in 2010 turned out to be two players not drafted in April. Illinois DT Joshua Price-Brent was drafted by the Cowboys in the supplemental draft mid July, and hence missed rookie mini-camp and all OTAs. When training camp started, Brent broke his thumb and played with a cast for most of camp. Yet Brent is the only player from the 2010 draft class to appear in every single game of the 2010 season. Undrafted free agent Chris Gronkowski played in 14 games and notched seven starts, five more than all draftees combined (Bryant had two starts).
With all eyes on the incoming 2011draft class it's easy to overlook last year's draft class and its meager production But if the Cowboys want to be more successful in 2011 than last year, they must not only get the 2011 draft right, the 2010 draft class must also come through in a big way.
It starts with Dez Bryant and Sean Lee who must be expected to come back as starters in 2011. You simply cannot have your first and second rounders playing the role of perennial back-ups. The Cowboys already have Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett doing exactly that, they don't need more.
AOA should at least be expected to challenge for the free safety starter spot, though that might be delayed if the Cowboys bring in a free agent.
Sam Young and Sean Lissemore have bigger question marks hanging over their heads. Right now, it's unclear whether they even fall under the heading of quality reserves. Josh Brent looks set as the back-up NT, but it's unclear what his upside is going to be. One thing is clear though, all three will benefit immensely from working with new strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik.
As for the undrafted free agents, they also have their work cut out for them if they want to follow in the footsteps of other UDFAs who have made the team, like Sam Hurd and Stephen Bowen or even Miles Austin and Tony Romo.
Below is a table that lists the snaps and games played for each rookie on either offense or defense. It excludes special teams plays and does not count games in which a player only appeared on special teams.
|Drafted players, 2010
||Undrafted players, 2010
|Dez Bryant||WR||431||12||Chris Gronkowski||FB||337||14|