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Dak Prescott And Ezekiel Elliott Had The Best Rookie Seasons In Cowboys’ History

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What does that tell us about the likely impact of this year’s rookie class?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Rookie Minicamp Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been writing a series of articles using Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric.

Approximate Value (AV) method is an attempt to put a single number on the seasonal value of a player at any position from any year (since 1950).

It’s not a perfect stat, as its creator acknowledges.

"AV is not meant to be a be-all end-all metric. Football stat lines just do not come close to capturing all the contributions of a player the way they do in baseball and basketball. If one player is a 16 and another is a 14, we can't be very confident that the 16AV player actually had a better season than the 14AV player. But I am pretty confident that the collection of all players with 16AV played better, as an entire group, than the collection of all players with 14AV."

Nonetheless, it’s a stat that can be used to compare players across different positions and over different years.

In this article, we’re going to use it to point out how tremendous the rookie seasons of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were, and as a way to see whether Dallas can expect anything remotely comparable out of this year’s rookie class.

These are the top 50 rookie seasons, ranked by AV, in Dallas Cowboys’ history. By coincidence, it just happens that exactly 50 Cowboys rookies have scored 6 AV or better.

Rk Player Year Age Draft G GS Yrs PB AP1 AV
1 Tony Dorsett* 1977 23 1--2 14 4 1 0 0 16
2 Ezekiel Elliott 2016 21 1--4 15 15 1 1 1 16
3 Dak Prescott 2016 23 4-135 16 16 1 1 0 16
4 Mel Renfro* 1964 23 2--17 14 14 1 1 0 15
5 Zack Martin 2014 24 1--16 16 16 1 1 1 14
6 Herschel Walker 1986 24 5-114 16 9 1 0 0 12
7 Bob Hayes* 1965 23 7--88 13 13 1 1 0 11
8 Calvin Hill 1969 22 1--24 13 13 1 1 1 11
9 Everson Walls 1981 22 16 12 1 1 0 10
10 Roy Williams 2002 22 1--8 16 16 1 0 0 10
11 Dexter Coakley 1997 25 3--65 16 16 1 0 0 9
12 Tyron Smith 2011 21 1--9 16 16 1 0 0 9
13 Duane Thomas 1970 23 1--23 14 8 1 0 0 9
14 Michael Downs 1981 22 15 15 1 0 0 8
15 Greg Ellis 1998 23 1--8 16 16 1 0 0 8
16 Travis Frederick 2013 22 1--31 16 16 1 0 0 8
17 Robert Jones 1992 23 1--24 15 13 1 0 0 8
18 Terence Newman 2003 25 1--5 16 16 1 0 0 8
19 Don Perkins 1961 23 9-106 14 14 1 1 0 8
20 Emmitt Smith* 1990 21 1--17 16 15 1 1 0 8
21 DeMarcus Ware 2005 23 1--11 16 16 1 0 0 8
22 Willie Blade 2003 24 3--93 15 14 1 0 0 7
23 Dez Bryant 2010 22 1--24 12 2 1 0 0 7
24 Larry Cole 1968 22 16-428 14 10 1 0 0 7
25 Maliek Collins 2016 21 3--67 16 14 1 0 0 7
26 Al Johnson 2004 25 2--38 16 15 1 0 0 7
27 DeMarco Murray 2011 23 3--71 13 7 1 0 0 7
28 Rob Petitti 2005 23 6-209 16 16 1 0 0 7
29 Darrin Smith 1993 23 2--54 16 13 1 0 0 7
30 Terrance Williams 2013 24 3--74 16 8 1 0 0 7
31 Flozell Adams 1998 23 2--38 16 12 1 0 0 6
32 George Andrie 1962 22 6--82 14 14 1 0 0 6
33 Larry Brown 1991 22 12-320 16 13 1 0 0 6
34 Morris Claiborne 2012 22 1--6 15 15 1 0 0 6
35 Billy Joe DuPree 1973 23 1--20 14 14 1 0 0 6
36 Ron Francis 1987 23 2--39 11 11 1 0 0 6
37 Kelvin Garmon 2001 25 7-243 16 16 1 0 0 6
38 Anthony Hitchens 2014 22 4-119 16 11 1 0 0 6
39 Julius Jones 2004 23 2--43 8 7 1 0 0 6
40 Burton Lawless 1975 22 2--44 14 10 1 0 0 6
41 Bob Lilly* 1961 22 1--13 14 14 1 0 0 6
42 Obert Logan 1965 24 14 9 1 0 0 6
43 John Meyers 1962 22 3--31 14 14 1 0 0 6
44 Ralph Neely 1965 22 2--28 14 14 1 0 0 6
45 Drew Pearson 1973 22 14 6 1 0 0 6
46 Guy Reese 1962 23 15--200 14 14 1 0 0 6
47 Derek Ross 2002 22 3--75 14 9 1 0 0 6
48 Mike Sherrard 1986 23 1--18 16 4 1 0 0 6
49 Marcus Spears 2005 22 1--20 16 10 1 0 0 6
50 Willie Townes 1966 23 2--22 13 8 1 0 0 6

(Rank, player, rookie year, age, draft position by round and total number, games played, games started, pro bowl, all-pro, AV).

As you can see, Dak and Zeke, along with Tony Dorsett, are the only Cowboys rookies in history to score 16 AV. Only 11 rookies in history have scored higher.

Of course, we could go into much greater depth about Dak’s and Zeke’s rookie seasons. Dak arguably had the best rookie season of any quarterback in history. And Zeke was third all-time in rushing yards for a rookie, and was within striking distance of breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie mark had the Cowboys not rested him the last game and a half.

But the point of this article is to see where the new Cowboys rookies might end up.

Several other current Cowboys are on this top-50 list, including:

  • Zack Martin - 14 AV (5th)
  • Tyron Smith - 11 AV (12th)
  • Travis Frederick - 8 AV (16th)
  • Dez Bryant - 7 AV (23rd)
  • Maliek Collins - 7 AV (25th)
  • Anthony Hitchens - 6 AV (38th)

Meanwhile, players like La’el Collins, Anthony Brown, Dan Bailey, and Byron Jones scored 4 AV as rookies, which put them among the top-100 Cowboys of all time.

Will any of the Cowboys’ current rookies be able to crack this list? Let’s consider each one.

Taco Charlton

Charlton might have the best chance, as there is no clear right defensive end ahead of him. Demarcus Lawrence could be played at RDE, but his best year was on the left side when Greg Hardy played the RDE. Benson Mayowa led the Cowboys in sacks from the RDE position last year, but it was only six sacks, and he was benched for three games. Damontre Moore and Charles Tapper are also candidates to play RDE. Accordingly, Charlton is unlikely to get enough snaps to score 6 AV or higher this season. He’ll need to get stronger and improve on his technique before he can become a true force on the Dallas line.

Chidobe Awuzie

Awuzie is a great athlete, but he’s also unlikely to crack this top-50 group. Again, it comes down to snaps. Where’s his best position? In the slot, on the outside, or even at safety? In each position, he faces stiff competition from returning veterans, and even his fellow draftees Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods. and Marquez White.

Jourdan Lewis

Considered undersized at 5’10”, Lewis is projected by most to be a slot cornerback. But this is also the best position of veteran Orlando Scandrick, and possibly fellow rookie Chidobe Awuzie. My personal view is that Lewis should be considered for an outside CB position, as he may quickly become the best coverage CB on the Dallas roster. At Michigan, he allowed a ridiculously low percentage of completions against, something Dallas’ secondary has been struggling with for years. He’s also skillful at snagging interceptions. If he can beat out the competition and seize a starting role, Lewis may end up with the highest AV of any Cowboys rookie.

Ryan Switzer

Switzer is another fine pick for the Cowboys, but he’s also unlikely to approach 6 AV or more. The reason is the same as for the players above - playing time. He’s sitting behind Cole Beasley, one of the best slot wide receivers in the NFL last year. And the Cowboys are unlikely to run enough dual-slot formations to give Switzer the receptions he would need. Winning punt return duties would be a plus, but won’t give him enough AV points.

Xavier Woods

Woods is the last Cowboys draft pick who might get significant time as a rookie, as one of the safety positions is not yet locked down by Jeff Heath. This gives Woods an outside chance of making enough of an impact this season.

Seventh Rounders - Joey Ivie, Noah Brown, Jordan Carrell

These guys will be lucky just to make the 2017 Cowboys roster, let alone play enough to have high-AV seasons.

Here’s what the Cowboys lost to free agency among defensive backs and linemen this offseason.

Brandon Carr - 6 AV

Barry Church - 5 AV

Mo Claiborne - 3 AV

J.J. Wilcox - 2 AV

Terrell McClain - 7 AV

Jack Crawford - 6 AV

That’s three players with 6 or more AV, and another with 5 AV. It will be hard enough to match these numbers, let alone improve on them this year.

Even if the new rookies don’t crack the 6 AV threshold, it won’t mean the draft won’t be a success. Rookies often struggle. It’s how these players develop that will become the true test of the 2017 Cowboys draft class.