The 2017 Cowboys draft class has gotten off to a so-so start into its first NFL season.
Things started off on the wrong foot almost from the beginning with this year's rookies. Jourdan Lewis missed most of training camp with hamstring issues, seventh-round defensive tackles Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell didn't even make the practice squad after final roster cuts, and sixth-rounder Marquez White has been languishing on the practice squad despite obvious personnel issues at CB on the 53-man roster.
And things continued into the season, with injuries and performance issues limiting the playing time of this rookie class. Here's on overview of the offensive and defensive snaps accumulated by the seven rookies on the 53-man roster so far this season:
First-round pick Taco Charlton hasn't lived up to the team's expectations, much less to fan expectations, who appear to expect double-digit sacks from every rookie pass rusher. Charlton's snaps have been decreasing seemingly from week to week, and it's not out of the question that the coaches could bench him if he doesn't start figuring things out soon.
Second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie, hampered by recurring hamstring injuries, has played just 14 snaps over the last four games. The Cowboys were certainly looking for more production from Awuzie, and perhaps they'll start getting it after the bye.
Third-round pick Jourdan Lewis has been a huge positive surprise after missing almost the entire training camp. Lewis has played so well, the team has given him two starts already and jettisoned veteran Nolan Carroll in the process.
Fourth-round pick Ryan Switzer has just 21 snaps on offense, but his primary focus for now is on special teams where he has taken 51 snaps as a returner and currently ranks seventh in the league with a 23.3 kickoff return average.
Sixth-round pick Xavier Woods has seen the second-most snaps of all rookies with 114. Add 81 snaps on special teams, and Woods has been seeing a lot of action for a late-round pick.
Fellow sixth-rounder Noah Brown hasn't seen a lot of action and has been inactive twice, and UDFA QB Cooper Rush probably won't see any action until next preseason.
The seven rookies above combined for 533 snaps on offense and defense, which adds up to 7.1% of all snaps the offense and defense have played in five games.
Compared to recent draft classes, that's not a very impressive number. Here are the snap percentages of the last 11 years, keeping in mind that the data from 2007-2016 is for the full rookie seasons, while the 2017 number is for the first five weeks only.
|Cowboys rookie class snap percentages, 2007-2017|
If we assume that adding the equivalent of two starters (or 9.1% of all snaps) to the roster is a good target for a rookie class, then the Cowboys look to have been fairly successful at restocking their talent cupboard over the previous four drafts, but the 2017 draft looks like it's fallen short of the previous four classes so far (as measured by snap percentages).
But it's early days.
Awuzie left two games early and missed two entirely with his hamstring issues. He should be a big part of the secondary rotation once he gets healthy. Similarly, Xavier Woods will likely see more snaps rather than less as the season progresses. Jourdan Lewis looks to be established as a starter, something Taco Charlton is still far away from.
Charlton may be the most visible face of this rookie class, and a lot of people are disappointed he hasn't met their expectations, but he alone will not make or break this rookie class.
When you ask around what constitutes a successful draft, the answer you're most likely to get is that if you get two starters out of a rookie class, you've done a good job. Veteran NFL GMs like Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome set three starters per draft as the benchmark for a successful draft, but those three guys don't have to be immediate first-year starters, eventual starters in later years count as well.
"If three years down the line, three of the players [Baltimore] picked in that draft were solid starters who we weren’t looking to replace, we viewed that as a successful draft," said NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah. "You figure, on average, you’ve got seven picks — that’s not even batting .500, but that’s pretty good. If you can go year after year doing that, you can sustain excellence as a football team."
In the NFL, the draft is where depth is built. When you fail to draft sufficient depth, you must address this via free agency. When you draft successfully, you create a surplus of talent that will in turn further generate additional draft picks. Used well, those draft picks generate even more talent and even more depth, and before you know it you're on a virtuous cycle.
The early numbers may not show it yet, but it looks like the Cowboys selected at least three immediate contributors in their rookie class in Jourdan Lewis (two starts), Chidobe Awuzie (one), and Xavier Woods. Those three players alone should be enough to put the Cowboys over the 9.1% threshold by the end of the season. And when Charlton starts living up to expectations, that'll just be gravy on top - just as potentially expanded roles on offense would be for Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown.