Jay Exum of the Tar Heel Blog, our sister site devoted to covering the University of North Carolina sports for SB Nation, was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about Ryan Switzer.
Question: One thing that stood out to me when I looked at Ryan Switzer was that he started making an impact on the game early on during his time in North Carolina. Can you tell me more about what made him a special player right out of the gate?
Exum: You’re going to be struck by how small he is. Well, you have Cole Beasley, so maybe not. Switzer began returning punts almost immediately, and after feeling his way through the first few games, began to show he had something special there. He had 5 punt returns for touchdowns his freshman season, and pretty soon opponents started kicking away from him. He didn’t end up setting the NCAA record for punts returned for touchdowns, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. If you ask him, he should have it (he is acutely aware of the touchdowns called back on questionable penalties).
Question: One thing that has impressed Cowboys fans is that Switzer is an exciting player. His initial opportunities to prove that will come on kick and punt returns. Can you elaborate on what his return skills meant to the Tar Heels?
Exum: It’s much bigger than the last 4 games of the season. By his senior year, teams had scouted Switzer so thoroughly that he barely got a chance to return the ball at all. He had a total of 16 punt returns his senior year, and by far his lowest return average. The reason was that teams simply wouldn’t kick to him. It was annoying. If you look at his senior return stats, including those last 4 games, you aren’t going to be impressed. But it’s not because he’s not a great return guy. It’s because he is.
Question: Ryan is a sure handed receiver, rarely dropping balls from Mitch Trubisky. The one concern popping up in various scouting reports is that although he hauls in everything near him, his catch radius is not that big. What will he need from Dak Prescott to be successful in the NFL?
Exum: 5’8” guys don’t tend to have big catch radii (yes, I just used the word radii in a sports exchange). The interesting thing about Dallas and Dak Prescott is that they have Cole Beasley already. It will be interesting to see how that dynamic works. They’re pretty similarly built guys, although I suspect Switzer is faster than Beasley. Prescott’s experience with Beasley will help as Switzer works into the slot in Dallas, and there shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment required. The interesting thing will be to see whether Switzer sticks to punt returns early on or challenges Beasley for snaps at the slot out of the gate.
Question: Dallas is deep at wide receiver, Switzer will have to work to earn snaps. What factors in his game are going to stand out and earn those opportunities for him?
Exum: Speed and grit. Switzer is pretty fearless, and he’s a hard worker. If the difference between making it and failing is whether he’s willing to work, bet on him making it. I suspect he’ll quickly become a fan favorite in Dallas for this reason.
Question: What is he going to have to put the most work in on to gain playing time in the Cowboys offense?
Exum: You’ll have to keep in mind that he hasn’t been a receiver for very long. He was a running back in high school and learned the WR position in college, although he learned it from what in my view is one of the best wide receiver coaches in football, Gunter Brewer (he also coached Dez Bryant, by the way). He made the most of his opportunities there and became a very reliable target over time, although after Mack Hollins, the Tar Heels’ deep threat, was hurt in 2016, he found it tougher to find space underneath. Switzer is not going to be the #1 receiver on an NFL team. That’s not who he is. But he is the guy who will work his tail off to be a threat on every snap. For that reason, Dallas’ depth at the wide receiver position works to his benefit. As double coverage and ace corners become consumed with Dallas’ outside receivers, Switzer should create difficult matchups for safeties and linebackers underneath. But he still has some work to do to become fully adjusted to playing wide receiver at an elite level.
Thanks to Jay Exum for providing his insights about what Ryan Switzer is going to bring to the field in Dallas. It will be exciting to watch the first time be goes back to return a punt for the Cowboys. It kind of makes you wonder if we are in for the same thrills that Dwayne Harris once brought our way.