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2014 Dallas Cowboys Rookies: How Much Will They Contribute In Their Rookie Year?

With nine draft picks, the Cowboys have an unusually high number of drafted rookies on the roster, but how much can we really expect this draft class to contribute to the Cowboys' 2014 season?

Devin Street (#15) is happy to be once again wearing his college number. Does that bode well for his 2014 season?
Devin Street (#15) is happy to be once again wearing his college number. Does that bode well for his 2014 season?
Rick Yeatts

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 let's start with the most basic question first, how much playing time will the 2014 rookie class get during the season?

Tom Ryle asked a similar question earlier today in a post about why 2014 it could be very interesting to watch:

Could Dallas start three rookies to begin the season? It is suddenly a real possibility. Zack Martin is a given starter, and based on the Travis Frederick experience, that could be a good thing. The Cowboys are building an offensive line that will be the foundation of the offense for perhaps another decade. DeMarcus Lawrence is taking first team snaps at RDE. And now Hitchens is in the mix to start as the Mike linebacker. Given the good reviews Devin Street is getting, this could become a truly significant draft class no matter what happens with the five seventh-round picks.

Let's cook ourselves some calculator soup and look some of the numbers underlying Tom's optimistic suggestion. Assuming all nine rookies make the 53-man roster this year, they'd make up 17% of the players on the roster. How many snaps should the 2014 draft class get? 17% is way too high, they are rookies after all. Is ten percent a realistic target, or is that also too much? What about five percent, would that feel too low or still too high? Before you read on, make a mental note of what you think an appropriate percentage would be.

We're now going to look at the last six draft classes too see how much playing time Cowboys rookies have gotten over the years. Here's an overview of the '08, '09 and '10 draft 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 Draft Class 2009 Draft Class 2010 Draft Class
Position Name Total Snaps
Position Name Total Snaps
Position Name Total Snaps
DB Orlando Scandrick 395 TE John Phillips 198 WR Dez Bryant 429
TE Martellus Bennett 389 LB Victor Butler 112 DT Josh Brent 169
DB Mike Jenkins 379 DB Michael Hamlin 10 LB Sean Lee 169
RB Tashard Choice 267 DT Sean Lissemore 9
RB Felix Jones 66
Total Rookie snaps 1,496 Total Rookie snaps 320 Total Rookie snaps 607
Rookies in % of total snaps 6.5% Rookies in % of total snaps 1.4% Rookies in % of total snaps 3.7%

2008 Draft Class: Overall, this class combined to play on 6.5% 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. 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 now is the only member of that draft class left on the roster. In their rookie seasons, Mike Jenkins got caught in a crowded secondary that featured Anthony Henry, Terence Newman and Pacman Jones (when he wasn't suspended) while Felix Jones suffered a hamstring injury early in the season and later tore a ligament in his foot during rehab that landed him on IR.

2009 Draft Class: I don't want to talk about this.

2010 Draft Class: This draft 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 - then and now. Josh Brent, supplemental draft pick in 2010, gives this draft class a little boost, but the 3.7% first-year snap count is far from impressive. Note that Dez Bryant will be the only member of this draft class to take snaps for the Cowboys this year.

That's three draft classes which should normally provide the backbone of veteran talent on the team in 2014. The Cowboys have been busy trying to fill in the big black hole where veterans from the 2008-20010 draft classes should have been. And without that backbone of talent to carry you through the years, it's really not much of a surprise to see the Cowboys labor through consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Next up, the '11, '12, and '13 draft classes:

2011 Draft Class 2012 Draft Class 2013 Draft Class
Position Name Total Snaps
Position Name Total Snaps
Position Name Total Snaps
T Tyron Smith 1,074 CB Morris Claiborne 909 OC Travis Frederick 1,025
RB DeMarco Murray 388 DE Tyrone Crawford 303 TE Gavin Escobar 207
C Bill Nagy 283 TE James Hanna 109 WR Terrance Williams 700
LB Bruce Carter 41 OLB Kyle Wilber 16 CB B.W. Webb 185
RB Shaun Chapas 8 S J.J. Wilcox 530
WR Dwayne Harris 1 RB Joseph Randle 121
LB DeVonte Holloman 214
Total Rookie snaps 1,795 Total Rookie snaps 1,337 Total Rookie snaps 2,982
Rookies in % of total snaps 7.6% Rookies in % of total snaps 5.5% Rookies in % of total snaps 12.3%

2011 Draft Class: This 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 OT Tyron Smith is the main reason why this draft class saw more combined NFL action than the previous three draft classes.

2012 Draft Class: The Cowboys gave up their second-round pick in 2012 to draft Morris Claiborne, and given that missing pick, the snap-count total of 5.5% 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.

2013 Draft Class: In May last year we had projected the 2013 draft class to deliver 2,405 combined snaps, which would have made it the most successful draft of the last six years for the Cowboys. But the draft class over delivered versus our expectations with almost three thousand snaps, or 12.3% of all Cowboys snaps played, far and away the best percentage of any of the previous classes. Here are a few other standout facts about the 2013 draft class:

- This is the only recent draft class from which every single draft pick saw NFL playing time in his rookie season.
- The 2,982 rookie snaps are more than the 2008-2010 drafts combined, and almost as much as 2011 and 2012 combined.
- Seven draft picks took snaps on offense or defense, more than in any of the previous five drafts
- Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, J.J. Wilcox and possibly DeVonte Holloman could end up as starters this season, which would be more than any of the other five draft classes.

It's still early to say this with any certainty, but the 2013 draft class looks like the homerun the Cowboys so desperately needed as they claw their way back into contention.


Now that you've seen these numbers, how do these compare to the mental note you made earlier, and what snap percentage would you expect from the 2014 rookie class?

One of the interesting aspects about this year's draft class is that almost every 2014 draft pick has an equivalent pick in one of the last six drafts.

First-round offensive lineman? Check.

Second-day defensive lineman? Check.

Fourth-round linebacker? Check.

Late-round DT, late-round safety, late-round CB, late-round LB? Check, check, check, check. So with that in mind, let's take a stab at projecting the 2014 snapcounts for this year's draft class:

2014 Draft Class Snap Count Projection
Position Name Equiv. Player
Projected Snaps
OG Zack Martin Travis Frederick ('13) 1,025
DE DeMarcus Lawrence Tyrone Crawford ('12) 303
LB Anthony Hitchens Victor Butler ('09) 112
WR Devin Street Dwayne Harris ('11) 1
DE Ben Gardner Erik Walden ('08) 1
LB Will Smith DeVonte Holloman ('13) 214
S Ahmad Dixon Every late-round DB 0
DT Ken Bishop Sean Lissemore ('10) 9
CB Terrance Mitchell Every late-round DB 0
Total Rookie snaps 1,665
Rookies in % of total snaps (est.: 23.500)

Obviously, the "equivalent players" are equivalent for the purposes of the snapcount only. This projection also assumes that there won't be any injuries to the nine draft picks. You may want to reduce the total number of projected snaps to adjust for that. The bulk of the snaps here are projected to go to Zack Martin, and he also projects as the only starter in this class - if five years worth of Cowboys drafts are anything to go by. DeMarcus Lawrence was difficult to slot. I gave him Tyrone Crawford's rookie snapcount, because he's the only comparable draft pick available. And unless Lawrence wins a starting spot over either George Selvie or Jeremy Mincey, those 303 snaps are comparable with the action Kyle Wilber saw last year as a backup DE:


Sad news for fans of Ahmad Dixon and Terrance Mitchell: outside of slot corner Orlando Scandrick, the six late-round defensive backs picked in rounds five or later over the last six years (DeAngelo Smith, Michael Hamlin, Stephen Hodge, Mike Mickens, Jamar Wall, and Josh Thomas) have played a combined 10 snaps (Michael Hamlin in '09) for the Cowboys in their rookie seasons. The odds are stacked against Dixon and Mitchell in that regard.

Many fans have high hopes for WR Devin Street, but the historical precedent we're using here is not kind. Previous fifth-round wide receivers (Dwayne Harris, 1 snap in rookie season; Danny Coale, 0 NFL snaps in two years) did not have any impact in their rookie seasons. Seventh-round pick Manuel Johnson ('09) also didn't have a single rookie snap.  If you're high on Street, you'll need to draw a comparison to the two UDFAs who made the roster (Kevin Ogletree: 44 snaps; Cole Beasley: 128 snaps), but that's not a lot of playing time either.

Overall though, the 1,665 snaps projected here would be almost on par with the 2011 draft class, which is not a bad comparison. More importantly though, this draft class has upside: One of the five seventh-round picks could easily beat the odds and become an impact player in his first year. Also, Devin Street may come in a lot higher than the historical precedent suggests, and Anthony Hitchens could see more playing time than anybody anticipated.

With all of that in mind, what's your take? What snap percentage would you expect from the 2014 rookie class?

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