Every team and every fan dreams of drafting an "instant impact" rookie. A rookie who will immediately step into a starter role and significantly elevate the play of both his unit and the whole team. Well, it's been a while since the Cowboys had such a guy. I think we'd have to go back as far as DeMarcus Ware, who started 16 games and put up eight sacks, three forced fumbles and 47 tackles in his 2005 rookie season.
Of course, the Cowboys have had their share of breakout players recently with Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff and probably Doug Free, but none of them had an instant impact in their rookie year.
It is a widely held belief that NFL players take a quantum leap in performance from their rookie season to their second season. After all, they've been through their first full season, they've been through a full NFL-level offseason strength & conditioning program, they're hopefully a little more mature, and they've had ample time to improve their technique.
The second year can be a break out party for talented NFL rookies. But will that be the case for the Cowboys class of 2010?
Most of the Cowboys 2010 draft class missed a significant part of the 2010 season with injuries.
- First round pick WR Dez Bryant missed large parts of training camp with a high ankle sprain and missed the last four weeks of 2010 with a broken ankle from which he may still be recovering.
- Second rounder LB Sean Lee also missed parts of training camp due to injury and missed six games over the course of the season due to various ailments.
- Fourth rounder DB Akwasi Owusuh-Ansah missed all OTAs and parts of training camp recovering from shoulder surgery, saw limited action as a return specialist and then had his season end early due to a high ankle sprain he suffered in week 8.
- Sixth rounder OT Sam Young was sidelined at the start of the season with a sprained MCL and only saw very limited action in the last two games of the season.
- Seventh rounder DE Sean Lissemore saw limited action in week eight against the Jaguars, recorded his first sack and promptly suffered a high ankle sprain the next week which eventually put him on injured reserve.
- Supplemental draft pick Josh Brent missed all OTAs and mini-camps, then suffered a broken thumb in training camp but soldiered on and is the only player from the 2010 rookie draft class to play all 16 games.
- A number of UDFAs saw playing time in 2010 as well, most of them on special teams, but some even started games (Chris Gronkowski started the most games with 7).
Due to the lockout, all of them missed the full NFL-level offseason strength & conditioning plus coaching program. If we assume that the prerequisites for a break out season for second year players are a full NFL offseason of work and a full NFL regular season of football, then the chances for a breakout season for a player from the 2010 draft class look slim. In fact, based on that premise, Josh Brent looks like the most likely candidate to be a breakout player in 2011.
And an instant impact player from the 2011 draft class doesn't appear to be very likely either, not with the 2011 rookie class completely missing the normal mini-camp and OTA routine. Or do you really think four weeks of training camp are enough to get rookies ready to play in the NFL? Sometimes you need to call a spade a spade.
Obviously, this is not a situation that's unique to the Cowboys, as all NFL teams are equally affected. The big difference however is that the Cowboys don't have the 2009 rookie class to fall back on that most other teams do have. All the Cowboys have left from the 2009 draft class are some late round picks and a couple of UDFAs.
But instead of lamenting the 2009 draft class yet again, perhaps the Cowboys can look at the remains of that draft class as an opportunity: Is this the year that OLB Victor Butler, OLB Brandon Williams, WR Kevin Ogletree or TE John Phillips could have their breakout year?
Which player from 2010 or 2009 do you think could have their break out season in 2011?