As a rule of thumb, you'd probably expect your first-round pick to have the best rookie season out of your rookie class. After all, there's a reason you picked that guy in the first round.
Except the Cowboys have three of those guys in Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, and La'el Collins. Of the three, only Jones was actually drafted in the first round, but all three were graded at the top of the Cowboys' draft board as David Moore of the Dallas Morning News explains:
The trio cracked the top 20 on the Cowboys board. Club officials say it was Gregory (No. 4), Collins (early teens) and Jones (No. 20).
There's every reason to believe that Byron Jones will have a good season, but will he have the best rookie season? At this point in time we don't even know whether Jones will start, let alone where. Will he beat out the starting corners for a spot, will he be the slot corner, or will he play free safety?
For La'el Collins, we at least have precedent to guide us: Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin all started in their rookie seasons, and there's a reasonable expectation for Collins to do the same. But does that mean he'll have the best rookie season?
Randy Gregory probably won't get as many starts as Collins, and may not get any at all if he's just brought in as a third-down rusher - and that's without factoring in the whole Greg Hardy situation. But even if Gregory doesn't get a lot of starts, if he produces in terms of sacks, QB hits, or QB pressures, he may be prime candidate for the best rookie season. Bruce Irvin for example didn't start a single game in his rookie season, but played 452 snaps and recorded 8 sacks, 12 QB Hits and 20 QB pressures. That's pretty good, no?
On paper, it doesn't look like Chaz Green will get a lot of playing time, given how stacked the offensive line currently is. But that's something we probably said about Anthony Hitchens last year as well, and Hitchens ended up playing 541 snaps on defense, the second-most of any linebacker.
Nobody is expecting Damien Wilson to start, but filling in capably as a backup would already be a win for the Cowboys. Wilson will probably also see extensive playing time on special teams, which could significantly increase his first-year impact. For a fourth-round pick, that's about all that's needed for his rookie season to be considered "good."
Ryan Russell's primary concern should be securing a spot on the 53-man roster, which will prove hard enough at the defensive end position anyway. He's had a good start in Dallas with the rookie minicamp, but getting more than a handful of snaps at defensive end in his rookie season would probably make Russell an overachiever.
For any of the seventh rounders, simply making the 53-man roster to start the season would be a great achievement.
- LB Mark Nzeocha, will have to become Rich Bisaccia's best friend and a difference maker on special teams to make the team and to have any kind of perceivable impact on the 2015 season. But perhaps a highlight play here or there could make his a standout rookie season.
- OT Laurence Gibson should look to get his first NFL snaps in Week 17 against the Redskins, when the Cowboys have locked up the top seed in the NFC and are playing their second teamers. If he shows up any earlier than that, something probably went very wrong.
- TE Geoff Swaim is a bit of a wildcard here. The Cowboys can definitely use a blocking tight end (James Hanna got 337 snaps last year, mostly as a blocking tight end), but it's hard to imagine him getting a lot of snaps as the fourth tight end. But if the Cowboys were to trade away one of their incumbents ...
Or could one of the undrafted free agents like WR George Farmer, RB Synjyn Days, KR/PR Lucky Whitehead or any of the other UDFAs emerge from relative obscurity? Tell us in the poll below which of this year's rookies you think will have the best season in 2015.