In this weeks installment of The Big D-bate we take a look at some names that have been buzzing heavily around the water cooler. It’s natural to be excited about certain players, but when it comes to certain Dallas Cowboys the excitement is starting to boil a bit too hotly. For some of them it will be the first time they take the field, whether it’s a rookie, a player returning from an injury, or a guy just trying to graduate from the practice squad. For others it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to take over from a veteran who has departed. How well these players do remains to be seen, but us fans have expressed our enthusiasm for what’s coming. Is all this hype warranted? Today, we examine...
There has been so much excitement over the eventual debut of last year’s second round draft pick, Jaylon Smith. Is the excitement warranted or should fans slow their roll with this one?
RJ: From the moment Michael Irvin read Jaylon Smith’s name during the 2016 NFL Draft he’s had an unfair amount of pressure put on him. Considering who he was, that’s who people are expecting in spite of the career-altering injury he faced during his last game as a member of the Fighting Irish. As time has gone on and as his 2016 rookie classmates have carved out their own legend, the bar has seemingly been raised even more. The only outcome that’s being considered is that Jaylon will be a significant contributor. I’m not trying to encourage pessimism, simply realism and caution. We would be wise to pump the brakes a bit because in the world of mathematical probabilities the notion of him being an immediate superstar is a low one.
Phantom: My foot is stuck on the accelerator for this guy. Does that make my forecast a little reckless? Maybe. But as Ricky Bobby says, “I like to go fast.” And so does Jaylon. With a player like Smith, the question isn’t “if” he’s going to be a star in this league, but “when?” As that nerve continues to grow, so will his explosiveness as he’ll have to rely on his brace less and less. Smith is an amazingly skilled player and he will be able to compete at a high level. It’s certainly going to take time for him to reach his highest level of potential, but why not sit back and enjoy the journey? I wouldn’t push all my chips in the pot that he’ll be a star right away, but it’s coming.
It’s odd that a fourth-round pick who nobody saw coming has generated so much buzz so early. Even more odd is that he’s a guy who likely to be the fifth or six receiving option for Dak Prescott. Why are so many fans jacked about Ryan Switzer?
RJ: “He’s Cole Beasley 2.0” is a cry from the biggest Switzer heads around Cowboys Nation. It makes sense because of Switzer’s game, but it’s also a simplicity that doesn’t require a lot of imagination. As a result, both of the comparison and Beasley’s awesome sauce, the pressure on Switzer is to be a reincarnated version of Cole Beasley. Switzer is the easiest to fall in love with because of his dynamic return game skills and abilities in the slot, and as a result it’s hard not to take the bait.
Phantom: There are a lot of mouths to feed on the Cowboys offense. If you are going to base your level of satisfaction on volume stats, then he’s not anyone to make a fuss about. But it’s those big plays at key moments that will make him very appreciated in Dallas. Lucky Whitehead is not making the team so Switzer will grab his 150 or so snaps, plus whatever else he earns as he showcases how difficult of a cover he is. He’s such a good fit for this offense and will benefit greatly by how much attention the other weapons will receive.
People seem to have comfortably penciled La’el Collins in as the team’s new starting right tackle and have no qualms about it. Sure Doug Free wasn’t the best RT in the league, but is it a little presumptuous to expect Collins to jump right in and expect results?
RJ: The presumption since Dallas hit the 2015 La’el lotto was that he was just the next domino to fall after Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. While the pedigree is there and La’el has shown bits of a fantastic offensive lineman, the reality is that this is a massive position switch. John Owning wrote a fantastic piece on just how big of a deal this is, considering it’s a complete mirroring of the mechanics La’el has trained with for two years now. While the odds are ever in La’el’s favor (not Katniss’) it’s likely that there will be a few bumps in the road along the way.
Phantom: Collins is a talented offensive lineman. Not only will he make fans not miss Free, but he adds another level of dominance to the group. There will be some “new guy” moments, but if you can handle all the penalties from 68, then it won’t be that bothersome. There will also be some pancake moments too and that will be fun to watch. Nothing out of camp so far has even hinted that the team is not happy with what they’ve seen from Collins at the tackle position. In fact, all the other tackles are now solely focused on trying to earn a roster spot by switching to guard. That’s a good sign.
Are fans jumping the gun thinking Jeff Heath can be a strong starting safety for this defense?
RJ: If loving Jeff Heath is wrong then I have no desire to be right. I’m unsure exactly when Heath became a rallying cry for Cowboys fans on social media, but I’m grateful for the fact that he did because it’s a lot of fun. All kidding aside, we saw Heath progress a lot as a safety near the tail end of 2016. He almost single-handedly changed the playoff loss to the Packers, and if there’s a safety I’m confident in it’s absolutely him.
Phantom: It all depends on your expectations. If you’re thinking he’s going to step in and suddenly become a great defensive piece, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. However, if you’re holding your breath, just hoping for the best, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised. I understand the excitement. He’s really improved his coverage skills and you can’t deny how he has a knack for making the big plays. When I re-watched games from last year, it’s fun zoning in on his whereabouts and seeing how he attacks. The guy flat out balls. He throws his body around without any fear of consequence. You’d think he’d get hurt more, but he doesn’t. He’s a very reliable player. I’m a big Barry Church fan and was sad to see him go, but for a price tag of $6.5 million per year, the Cowboys made the right choice. Fans are going to be very gratified by the play from the safeties this season and Heath will be a part of that.
The hype for Rico Gathers is pretty strong this season. After a year on the practice squad, are you a believer that he makes the jump into a quality tight end for the Cowboys?
RJ: Some people say that seeing is believing and those are probably the people skeptical about Rico Gathers and his potential with the Dallas Cowboys. Truthfully, that’s all Rico is - potential. It’s fun to be excited about it, but there definitely needs to be a point of caution considering he’s arguably next in line at tight end should Jason Witten not be available (which won’t happen because Witten is forever).
Phantom: I’m intrigued about the potential and applaud the draft pick, but until he gets accustomed to what his responsibilities are, I am tempering my expectations. I already have him not making the roster as one of my bold predictions so that tells you where I stand. The Cowboys offense is too good to be tolerating blown assignments or senseless penalties. With a player like Rico who still needs experience, he’s a liability out there on the field. It’s not his time.
Do you agree with these assessments? Which players do you think are over hyped?