When we talk about the contribution of a rookie class, we typically talk about receiving yards, rushing yards or any other volume measure that's used for a specific position. But those kinds of stats are kind of hard to add up across multiple positions.
You often hear about how getting two solid starters out of a draft class can be considered a good draft. Perhaps not a great draft, but at least a solid draft. But those two starters are not necessarily expected to be starters in their first season.
The Cowboys got 43 starts from their 2013 rookie class, the 10th-highest value in the league, which would be the equivalent of about 2.7 starters. And while it remains to be seen who outside of Travis Frederick will become a starter down the line, that's a promising number that isn't owed entirely to the injuries that have ravaged the 2013 Cowboys. Yet even 'games started' is a pretty imprecise metric by which to measure the contribution of a rookie class.
So today we'll look at the 2013 rookie class by asking the most basic question: How much playing time did the 2013 rookie class get during the season? To do that, we'll use the number of snaps played by the rookie class during the season. One important note right up front: The snap numbers I use are taken from Pro Football Focus, and unfortunately, their data only goes back to 2008, which means I don't have snap numbers for the rookie seasons of rookie classes prior to 2008. So 2008 is where we start as we look at how much playing time the previous rookie classes got in their rookie seasons.
Here's an overview of the '08, '09 and '10 rookie classes and the number of snaps per player. The snap numbers in the tables are the offensive or defensive snaps, special teams snaps are not included.
|2008 Rookie Class||2009 Rookie Class||2010 Rookie Class|
|DB||Orlando Scandrick||395||TE||John Phillips||198||WR||Dez Bryant||429|
|TE||Martellus Bennett||389||LB||Victor Butler||112||FB||Chris Gronkowski*||336|
|DB||Mike Jenkins||379||WR||Kevin Ogletree*||44||DL||Josh Price-Brent||256|
|RB||Tashard Choice||267||DB||Michael Hamlin||10||LB||Sean Lee||169
|RB||Felix Jones||66||DB||Bryan McCann||146|
|DB||Tra Battle*||45||DB||Barry Church*||119|
* denotes UDFAs
|Total Rookie snaps||1,542||Total Rookie snaps||364||Total Rookie snaps||1,629|
|Rookies in % of total snaps||6.7%||Rookies in % of total snaps||1.5%||Rookies in % of total snaps||6.9%|
The 2008 draft class was the "richest" draft class in the last six years in that the Cowboys had two first-round picks and a second-rounder. Interesting point here is that fifth-round pick Orlando Scandrick got more snaps than both first rounders (Jones & Jenkins) and the second rounder (Bennett) and somewhat ironically now is the only member of that draft class left on the roster. Overall, the 2008 class combined to play on 6.7% of the total 2008 snaps, a figure that is probably a little disappointing given that the Cowboys had three picks in the first two rounds.
We've been over how bad the 2009 class was so often it stopped being funny a long time ago. Yet here it is highlighted once again: That rookie class combined for a frighteningly low 364 snaps, just 1.5% of the total team snaps.
The 2010 class saw its snap totals cut short by Dez Bryant fracturing his ankle in Week 13. Sean Lee also had a lot less snaps than one could reasonably have expected from a second-rounder, owing in part to his recovery from a torn ACL but in part also to nagging injuries he suffered during camp and during the season that limited his effectiveness. Josh Brent, supplemental draft pick in 2010, as well as a bunch of UDFAs give this rookie class a little boost.
Next up, the '11 and '12 rookie classes:
|2011 Rookie Class||2012 Rookie Class|
|T||Tyron Smith||1,074||CB||Morris Claiborne||909|
|RB||DeMarco Murray||388||DE||Tyrone Crawford||303|
|C||Bill Nagy||283||WR||Cole Beasley||128*|
|C||Kevin Kowalski*||114||TE||James Hanna||109|
|RB||Phllip Tanner*||50||RB||Lance Dunbar||91*|
|LB||Alex Albright*||44||DE||Ben Bass||26*|
|LB||Bruce Carter||41||OLB||Kyle Wilber||16|
|Total Rookie snaps||2,004||Total Rookie snaps||1,582|
|Rookies in % of total snaps||8.5%||Rookies in % of total snaps||6.5%|
The 2011 draft class effectively played without second-round pick Bruce Carter, but Tyron Smith made up for that by playing in all but six offensive snaps in 2011. Both DeMarco Murray's as well as Bill Nagy's seasons were cut short by fractured ankles, but on the strength of OT Tyron Smith, this draft class walks away with the highest total snap count yet, notching a solid 8.5% of all offensive and defensive snaps.
In 2012 the Cowboys gave up their second-round pick to draft Morris Claiborne, and given that missing pick, the snap-count total of 6.5% is actually quite good for a draft class from which three players ended up on IR and a fourth, Kyle Wilber, also hardly saw the field. On to the 2013 rookie class:
|2013 Rookie Class
|Total Rookie snaps||
Rookies in % of total snaps
The Cowboys' decision to move down in the draft pays dividends in that they got 16 starts from Travis Frederick, and an extra eight from Terrance Williams. These two rookies lead a rookie class that played almost twice as many snaps as the next best class of the last six years. Now if only they could get Gavin Escobar more involved in the offense next year ...
From the data accumulated in this little exercise, it looks like adding the equivalent of two starters (which translates to about 9% of all snaps) to the roster is a good target for the first year of a rookie class. The 2010 and 2011 classes came close to that mark without reaching it. The 2013 rookie class beats the previous five classes by a significant margin, adding the equivalent of 3.4 starters to the team based on its cumulative snap count.
For many other franchises, the 2013 Cowboys rookie class would have been a luxury. But for the Cowboys, it is a necessity: The roster holes left by the '08 and '09 classes as well as the shaky status of the 2012 class means the Cowboys need strong rookie classes just to replenish their talent level, never mind improving it.
In this exercise, we looked only at the first year of each rookie class. In the next instalment, we'll look at how each rookie class developed in subsequent years.