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Dallas Cowboys rookie report: Grading the rookies after five games

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It’s been five games. How do the Cowboys rookies look so far?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Week six in the NFL has come and gone. The Kansas City Chiefs finally dropped their first game of the season, the Atlanta Falcons blew a 17-0 lead to the Miami Dolphins at home, and the New England Patriots got a lucky break that helped them knock off the Jets on the road. Oh, and Aaron Rodgers may be out for the season.

There was a lot of action while the Dallas Cowboys were off. But now, the Cowboys must regroup after a 2-3 start if they want any hope of making the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons. If the Cowboys are able to bounce back in the second half of the season, some rookies will likely be a big factor. Can Taco Charlton finally make an impact? Will Chidobe Awuzie be able to stay healthy? How will the Cowboys utilize Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods in the secondary?

After five games, we kind of know what to expect from most of this rookie class this season. Let’s hand out some grades.

*Note: We will only grade the main contributors to this class. That excludes Cooper Rush, who is the team’s QB3 and has not dressed out for any game this season, and Noah Brown, who has been on the active roster but has not played enough to warrant any kind of grade.

Taco Chartlon

Taco Charlton was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round to give Dallas’ defense a boost off of the edge. The coaching staff decided to go against the scouts when they chose Charlton, believing that the Michigan product fit the mold of Rod Marinelli’s defensive ends.

Taco did show a little bit of promise during the preseason against backups, but he has not had any kind of impact at all through five games this season. In fact, his biggest highlight of the season was probably when he broke out some taco-themed cleats against the Giants in week one. Other than that, though, it has been a struggle for the first round selection.

Taco Charlton has played 109 snaps this season. He has only recorded three total tackles and has yet to record any quarterback pressures on the year. When his spin move isn’t working, he is largely ineffective at getting anything going. To make things more troubling, Charlton is beginning to see less and less playing time for the Cowboys — only seeing eight total snaps against the Packers in week five. Our own OCC wonders if Charlton could be benched.

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.

Who knows, maybe Taco is able to get things going and have a productive second half of the season. For now, though, things haven’t been so pretty for the 28th selection of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Grade: F (first-round pick + lack of production)

Chidobe Awuzie

Chidobe Awuzie was one of my favorite prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft. His ability to play all over the defense makes him a highly intriguing player for the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, Chido has been unable to stay on the field this season. The second-round selection injured his hamstring in August, and he re-aggravated it in the first quarter of Dallas’ week two match up with the Broncos.

In the limited action Awuzie has seen, he has played pretty well. The Colorado product was a big bright spot against the Giants in week one.

It has been unfortunate that the Cowboys can’t get 33 on the field. After playing 38 snaps in game one, Awuzie has only played a total of 14 snaps since — five before leaving the game with an injury against the Broncos, missed weeks three and four due to injury, and nine versus the Packers before again leaving with an injury. On talent alone, Awuzie has played well. Durability is an issue, though.

Grade: C (looks to be talented, but unable to stay healthy)

Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan Lewis fell in the 2017 draft due to his size (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) and off-the-field concerns. The Cowboys are very fortunate that such a talent fell to them at the end of day two. Lewis has been one of the Cowboys’ best players on the defensive side of the ball this season. His ability to tackle in the open-field, defend on the outside, and compete on every snap has quickly made him a fan-favorite. The former Michigan defensive back did give up the final touchdown of week five’s loss, but that is going to happen occasionally in this league, especially an Aaron Rodgers pass with the game on the line. Besides, Lewis played pretty well for the most part in that game.

Lewis has been a big-time player for the Cowboys this season. 27 picked off his first pass in week two (his first career game), showcased his impressive open-field tackling ability on Monday Night Football in week three, and even tackled Todd Gurley in space in week four. He played solid coverage against the Packers’ receiving corps, too.

In fact, Brandon George named Lewis as one of the five things that has gone right for the Cowboys this season.

Forget about Lewis giving up the game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds Sunday against Aaron Rodgers. That was a perfect back-shoulder throw that not many cornerbacks would have stopped.

Instead, focus on his ball skills and how consistent he's been covering receivers the last few weeks. The Cowboys have something to work with, it appears, for years to come.

I am very excited for what is next for Jourdan Lewis.

Grade: A (the gem of this class through five games; CB1?)

Ryan Switzer

Ryan Switzer is one of the most electrifying kick returners in the history of college football. Each week, Switzer burned opponents in the return game by giving his North Carolina Tarheels excellent field possession or even by reaching the end zone himself. Switzer’s seven career punt returns for touchdowns is the most in ACC history and the second most in NCAA history. Needless to say, the Cowboys were intrigued by what Switz could potentially bring them.

While Switzer has not been as electrifying as he was in college thus far, he has still been a — for the most part — solid return man for the Cowboys.

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.

Unfortunately, Switzer’s one big mistake has overshadowed any kind of good that he has done. The rookie punt returner, known for his optimistic playing style, opted against fair-catching a punt in traffic and instead wanted to make something out of nothing — an element that has made him so good to this point; however, Switzer did not fully have possession of the ball, and he turned the ball back over to the Los Angeles Rams — who were trailing 17-6 in the second quarter. The mistake proved costly as the Rams wounded up scoring and taking momentum of the game.

Switzer says he would learn from the mistake and teammates such as Jason Witten had his back. Here’s hoping that Switz is able to be a big factor for the Cowboys moving forward, both in the return game and as a receiver.

Grade: C (talented, but game-changing fumble hurts)

Xavier Woods

In the Cowboys’ efforts to revamp and re-tool the secondary, Dallas added safety Xavier Woods in the sixth-round to second-round pick Awuzie, third-round selection Lewis, and fellow sixth-rounder Marquez White. Woods was thought to be a major steal, and our own RJ Ochoa even suggested that the former Louisiana Tech defensive back could be the Cowboys’ latest gem:

The hype around Xavier Woods was insanely high from jump street, and that’s pretty rare for someone drafted in the sixth round. It may have taken two preseason games (what an exorbitant amount of time), but it’s starting to be somewhat justified.

Woods has garnered a lot of hype from Cowboys Nation. He was a favorite heading into the draft and many were thrilled when the Cowboys added him in April. The coaching staff seems to be high on the safety too:

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.

Woods has impressed with the snaps that he has gotten thus far (although, Woods is a safety):

Our own Dave Halprin made the case to start Woods over Jeff Heath moving forward. He suggested that such a move would improve the team following the bye week.

Give more time to Xavier Woods at the expense of Jeff Heath: This one is something everyone is calling for. Jason Garrett and the Cowboys coaching staff have been sticking with Heath, but they need to stop. They gave Jourdan Lewis a shot and that turned out well. Let’s see if it would work for Woods. Or they could also throw some snaps Chidobe Awuzie’s way if he can stay healthy. Either one is fine, as long as Heath sees less time on defense and more time on special teams.

I agree. I think Woods has the talent and the potential to be a playmaker in this secondary alongside Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, Lewis, and Awuzie. It will be interesting to see how the staff utilizes Woods this weekend and beyond.

Grade: B (lots of potential and looks to get more playing time after the bye)


What do you think, BTB? What grade does each rookie deserve?