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The Epochal Dallas Cowboys’ 2016 Draft Class - Phase II

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Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown weren’t the only players the Cowboys drafted last year. Four more look to make their mark this season.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We all know how transformational the Dallas Cowboys’ draft class was last year. The Tony Romo-DeMarco Murray tandem that led Dallas in 2014 gave way to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, who are establishing their own epoch. These top four guys were only the first phase of the 2016 draft.

Dak Prescott. Widely considered to have had the best rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history. Won the offensive rookie of the year award. Finished third in the NFL in quarterback rating and QBR, behind only Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, who faced off in the Super Bowl. Given his cheap rookie contract, he’s arguably the most valuable player asset in the NFL.

Ezekiel Elliott. Led the NFL in rushing by 318 yards, despite being held out the last game and a half of the season. Ended up third all-time for a rookie, and could have caught Eric Dickerson’s record if given enough carries. Finished second to Dak Prescott for offensive rookie of the year and fourth in MVP voting, the only non-quarterback in the top five. Scored 15 touchdowns. Set numerous Cowboys records too.

Maliek Collins. Despite missing most of OTAs, training camp, and the preseason with a broken foot suffered in OTAs, he ended up leading all Cowboys’ defensive linemen with 659 snaps, 62 more than runner-up Tyrone Crawford. He finished second on the team with five sacks.

Anthony Brown. A sixth-round pick expected to get only spot duty behind veterans Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, and Mo Claiborne, Brown ended up playing the second most snaps of any Dallas cornerback, with 717. He was given a 75.7 grade by Pro Football Focus, ranking him 48th among cornerbacks, but seventh among rookie cornerbacks. He had one interception and forced a fumble, and defensed eight passes.

That alone would have been an incredible haul for any team in any year, with a new franchise quarterback drafted at the end of the fourth round, an NFL leading running back, a solid three-technique defensive tackle, and starting-quality cornerback drafted in the sixth round. As our own OCC showed, it graded by far the highest of any draft class last year.

But there were five other players drafted in 2016, four of whom are still on the team, who essentially redshirted last year. They comprise a Phase II infusion of talent from the 2016 draft.

Jaylon Smith

Here is Dave Halprin’s initial write up on BTB after Smith was drafted.

Smith was a top five type talent that fell down the board after a gruesome knee injury put his career in jeopardy. He is likely going to be unable to play in 2016, a gamble given the Cowboys needs on defense this season. If Smith recovers from his knee injury, the Cowboys got a steal, people compare him to guys like Luke Kuechly. He's a fast linebacker that can go sideline to sideline and he doesn't need to come off the field, he's a three-down guy.

Jason Garrett expects him to be ready when the official offseason begins.

“He’s worked very hard in his rehab,” Garrett said Wednesday from the NFL Scouting Combine. “He and (associate athletic trainer/director of rehabilitation) Britt Brown and (strength and conditioning coordinator) Mike Woicik, they spent a lot of time together. He’s worked hard to come back from that, there’s no question. He’s made a lot of progress; his workouts seem to be getting better and better and better.

He certainly looks good in videos.

This is without the nerve having fully regenerated and firing yet, meaning there is still a great deal of upside potential. If he was fully healthy, he’d be a top-five pick this year too.

Charles Tapper

Danny Phantom gave this post-draft analysis of Tapper.

The Cowboys love defensive linemen that are effective in the pass rush and the running game. Just like Maliek Collins, Tapper can do both well. The end from Oklahoma had seven sacks last year and 10 tackles for losses. He's got great speed as he ran a 4.56, 40-yard dash at the combine. He's got great initial burst which is what Rod Marinelli loves in his edge rushers.

Jim Scott made a comparison of Tapper’s physical traits to the top pass rushers from the last six years, and found that Tapper ranked best of them all. Click on the link to see the chart.

I went through the last six years of the draft and pulled the most productive pass rusher from each class (simply by number of sacks thus far) plus Robert Quinn, because having to be in the same class as J. J. Watt was unfair and he was number two overall in the time I was studying. So Watt, Quinn, Jason Pierre-Paul, Chandler Jones, Ezekiel Ansah, Aaron Lynch, and Preston Smith make the list. The results are interesting to say the least. Here is a sortable chart of their physical traits.

Along these lines, Danny Phantom penned a post noting Tapper was the king of the SPARQ scores among defensive linemen, grading out at the 85.4% range compared to all NFL players.

The Cowboys love defensive linemen that are effective in the pass rush and the running game. Just like Maliek Collins, Tapper can do both well. The end from Oklahoma had seven sacks last year and 10 tackles for losses. He's got great speed as he ran a 4.56, 40-yard dash at the combine. He's got great initial burst which is what Rod Marinelli loves in his edge rushers.

Since then, we learned that Tapper had an undiagnosed back problem called a “pars defect” that forced him to miss last season. But in January, he tweeted that he has been cleared to play this season.

If he’s anywhere near as good as his linemate Maliek Collins, the Cowboys may have struck more gold.

Kavon Frazier

Here’s a nice breakdown of his college tape done after his draft selection last year.

I definitely think Frazier will need some work before becoming a starter. However, NFL.com's Lance Zierlein drew the comparison to Barry Church and that's very easy to see. Both are tackling machines, yet both have some deficiencies at times in regards to missing tackles and overrunning plays. One thing I love about Frazier is his play speed. He plays at a 1000 miles per hour, leading to huge hits and providing a presence in the middle of the field.

Like many Cowboys, he tested well in his SPARQ score.

Blogging The Boys also got an interview with him last year after the draft.

With Barry Church (a former undrafted free agent) and J.J. Wilcox signed away as free agents, Frazier will have an opportunity this year. How much can he make of it?

Rico Gathers

Just yesterday, we were talking about the potential of Rico Gathers. The discussion is re-clipped here.

Rico Gathers was a seventh-round pick in 2016, but didn’t make the roster. He was cut and then brought back to the practice squad. Bryan Broaddus thinks he could be a breakout player in 2017.

I wouldn't be one bit surprised if Rico Gathers was the player on this roster that makes the biggest jump contribution wise from last season to next season. One of the best things to happen to Gathers was that he had the opportunity to work with Tony Romo. Folks that I had the chance to visit with after the season told me Gathers wore the defense out during these practices. This was in large part due to Romo's insistence of throwing him the ball no matter how covered he was. Each week Gathers improved even to the point where in the final couple of weeks of the season he was getting snaps with the first offense.

But that’s just a guess. Only the coaches have a sense of where Gathers is at this moment. Jason Garrett weighed in just a couple weeks ago.

"He has lot of athletic ability," Garrett said on Wednesday from the NFL Combine, via The Dallas Morning News. "There a lot of things to like about him. He made a lot of progress. A lot of it has to do with the kind of athlete he is and the potential he has physically, and maybe as much as that is his willingness to do it.

"He did a lot of stuff on his own, with Mike Pope, with Steve Loney to try to get better. Before practice, after practice, he took as many reps as anybody did on our team in practice throughout the year. And you saw him make a lot of strides.

"I think he really loves football. He works very hard at it. You see the steps he's made."

Garrett stopped just short of saying Gathers is ready for his debut next season, though.

"He still has a long way to go," said the 2016 NFL Head Coach of the Year. "We all understand that. But we are certainly optimistic about his ability and the approach he is taking."

This sounds promising.

There is only one that got away - Darius Jackson - because the Cowboys tried to sneak him onto the practice squad late in the year after Darren McFadden returned. He would have fit perfectly into the third running back/special teams role this season and saved the Cowboys from having to draft his replacement. Ironically, he also had the highest SPARQ score of any Cowboys draft pick last year, ranking in the 98.8 percentile. I guess you can’t have everything!