The Dallas Cowboys have only six draft picks this year. But add their "redshirt rookies" to this year's draft class, and this year's freshman class could end up having a much bigger impact on overall team performance than the number of 2013 draft picks would suggest.
Fourth-round linebacker Kyle Wilber played all of 16 snaps last season on defense. Fourth-round safety Matt Johnson, fifth-round receiver Danny Coale and seventh-round linebacker Caleb McSurdy didn't play a single snap of NFL football. Add UDFA guard Ronald Leary, whom the Cowboys consider their eighth draft pick from 2012, and the Cowboys have five "redshirt rookies" from last season who could bolster this year's freshman class.
The Cowboys like to think of these players as rookies, albeit with an asterisk. What these players have going for them is that they are slightly ahead on the NFL learning curve versus the incoming rookie class. By now, they are all familiar with the physical and mental demands of the NFL. They are familiar with the playbook. They should be stronger and, if they have sufficiently recovered from their various injuries, should be expected to compete for playing time. Also, even though 2012 was largely a redshirt season for most of these players, 2013 is their second NFL season, the season when many young NFL players make their biggest jump in performance.
The one thing these players do not have going for them is that they do not have the allure of the new that makes the incoming class of rookies so exciting for fans and media alike. But just because they are not this year's shiny new toys doesn't mean they are of no value for the Cowboys, far from it. Think about it this way:
What if, in addition to this year's six draft picks, the Cowboys could additionally get a fourth-round linebacker, a fourth-round safety, a fifth-round wide receiver and a guard with a fourth- to fifth-round grade? Or, going strictly by the projected rounds on the CBSSports big board, they would get OLB Zaviar Gooden, Missouri (4th rd.), FS Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma (4th-5th), WR Josh Boyce, TCU (5th) and OT Xavier Nixon, Florida (5th) in addition to their six other picks? That would be quite a haul, and illustrates the potential impact the redshirt rookies could have on this year's freshman class for the Cowboys.
But, as much as I hate to write this, there may also be a downside to the idea of the redshirt rookie. And the downside is that if ignore everything you've ever heard about comparing apples and oranges and mentally add up this year's six picks with the five or so redshirt rookies, it might lead you to the erroneous conclusion that with so many draft picks at your disposal, trading up may be a good idea.
Don't think for a minute that this hasn't been extensively discussed at Valley Ranch, espcially if the Cowboys only have 16 players with a first-round grade, as Mike Fisher is reporting. Bundling the 18th and 47th pick could conceivably get the Cowboys the 9th pick; bundling the 18th and 80th could be enough for the 14th pick.
So trading up in the first could cost the Cowboys either their second or third rounder if they want to get a player with a first-round grade. But those second- and third-round picks should reasonably project as starters, and the Cowboys need more quality players who can become starters, not less. And ultimately, that's what makes these redshirt rookies so exciting: there's a chance that one or two of them could become starters down the line. And that's already more than can be said about a draft pick that you've traded away.