In May, the Cowboys had a the bucket of new players added to their roster through free agency and the draft. Based on all those choices, it was a fun exercise to try to guess what type of impact each of these players would have on the 2017 season. Sure, it was a little premature, but what else are we going to do while we wait for football to start? Well, with less than a month left before the season begins, I thought it would be a good idea to check in on those players and see what type of progress each one of them has made. With several practices and two preseason games, some things have revealed themselves, yet there still things that remain unknown.
Let’s take a look at the updated rankings. Remember this pertains to the impact of the upcoming season and not a projection of what type of NFL career they’d have. (previous ranking in parenthesis)
Not making the cut
Jahad Thomas, RB undrafted free agent from Temple (previously an honorable mention): After being slowed by a hamstring injury, the Cowboys waived Thomas.
Damontre Moore, DE - free agent from the Seattle Seahawks (previously didn’t make the list): The Cowboys took a flyer on the troubled edge rusher, but he’s kept his nose clean so far in Dallas. He will be serving a two-game suspension to start the season, but that was for an incident prior to signing with the Cowboys. He has had a good camp and played well in both the team’s preseason games.
Charles Tapper, DE - fourth round draft pick in 2016 from Oklahoma (previously 8th): After missing the 2016 season with a back injury, the athletic pass rusher is healthy and ready to play. He’s done okay in camp and should continue to see some action in the first part of the season. The Cowboys are deep along the edge and once everyone returns, it’s going to be hard for Tapper to see action.
Noah Brown, WR - seventh-round pick in 2017 from Ohio State (previously 9th): If you just looked at his performance alone, you think he is doing what it takes to make the team. Unfortunately, roster spots will be scarce and it is hard imagining the team hanging on to six receivers.
10. Jourdan Lewis, CB - third-round draft pick in 2017 from Michigan (6th)
Lewis was able to get his legal issues behind him, but a hamstring injury has limited him in camp. He’s a talented cornerback, but he’s missing out on key development and this could delay his ability to really make an impact on this defense.
9. Nolan Carroll, CB - free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles (previously didn’t make the list)
It’s hard for fans to embrace the former Eagles corner, but they’re slowly coming around. Whether people want to accept it or not, he’s one of the team’s starting cornerbacks. And some will look at that as a sign of despair for the position group, but that’s not the case. Carroll will hold down the spot because he’s more reliable at the position than people realize. He’s physical, can close quickly, and has decent speed to hang with many of the receivers within the division.
8. Xavier Woods, SS - sixth-round pick in 2017 from Louisiana Tech (previously an honorable mention)
Fans rejoiced when the Cowboys moved back in the draft to select Woods. His college production was tantalizing. He had 14 interceptions over his last three college seasons. While his ball-hawking skills are outstanding, he’s a physical player as well. Those skills were on display on Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams. Woods was attacking the ball carrier, jarring the ball from the receiver, and tackling players left and right.
He’s two inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter that Barry Church, but for a guy his size, he sure does have a lot of pop.
The top players in the NFC East this past week pic.twitter.com/jimAFkqHHB— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 15, 2017
7. Jonathan Cooper, G - free agent, re-signed (5th)
When it comes to impact this season, Cooper won’t likely finish at this spot. If he ends up landing the starting left guard job, he should finish even higher. And if he doesn’t, he’ll finish much lower. Right now, Chaz Green is playing the best of all the offensive lineman that are still fighting for a starting job, but Cooper is next in line. He’s doing okay and Green has a tough time staying healthy. Don’t be surprised if Cooper ends up being the guy between Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith.
6. Ryan Switzer, WR/PR - fourth-round draft pick in 2017 from North Carolina (previously ranked 4th)
A hamstring injury has limited the Cowboys brand new slot receiver and he is slowly working his way back onto the field. While his stock won’t be rising while he’s rehabbing, it still shouldn’t affect his overall value to the team this year. Of course, health will be a key, but if he’s a full go, expect the team to find ways to work him into the offense.
Not only that, but Switzer should add a little spark to special teams as well. He’s got a good vote of confidence from his teammate.
Dez Bryant: I think Ryan Switzer will return 4 or 5 kicks/punts for TDs this season. "He will be a Pro Bowl returner in his rookie year."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 10, 2017
5. Stephen Paea, DT - free agent from the Cleveland Browns (7th)
The Cowboys signed Paea on a super cheap, one-year deal to help give them depth on the interior line. With his skill set, he could be more than just a reserve guy for Rod Marinelli and company. Paea is having a great camp and has been exploding off the line, giving the All Pro blockers fits. That’s a great sign.
The 1-tech may be a forgotten piece to the Cowboys pass rush, but when you combine him with Maliek Collins and whoever ends up manning the edge, you can’t help being a little excited about their potential.
4. Rico Gathers, TE - seventh-round pick in 2016 from Baylor (10th)
What can you say about the Cowboys development project? Spending his college career playing basketball, the 6’6” power forward decided to give football a go. He spent all of last year on the team’s practice squad, but is ready to break out in some real live NFL action this season.
While he’s still battling to get down the fundamental stuff, he’s showing up big in games, already catching two touchdown passes. Sure, the touchdowns are great, but you have to really admire this kid’s athletic ability. Every time I watch him run with the ball, I keep hearing that Chumbawanba Tubthumping song. “I get knocked down, but I get up again...”
Rico still won’t see a lot of snaps, but he will make the most of what he does get. He’s going to make a nice red zone target for Prescott in 2017.
3. Taco Charlton, DE - first-round draft pick in 2017 from Michigan (3rd)
Being the team’s top draft pick this year might set people’s expectations to where he should be number one on this list, however, it’s not a knock on him that he’s not. Taco is still a raw pass rusher. This was a known when he was drafted. It’s going to take time for him to really come into his own and be a force on the field. And that shouldn’t make fans any less appreciative of this pick. The front office has shown the ability to be patient for what is ultimately going to be best for the team.
With each new day, Charlton continues to get better. His impact may not be stellar in 2017, but he should start turning heads towards the second half of the season.
2. Chidobe Awuzie, CB - second round draft pick in 2017 from Colorado (2nd)
The most exciting rookie to watch this season will be the steal the Cowboys got in the second round of the draft. Awuzie is going to get plenty of opportunities to showcase his ability and he is a type of player that makes a splash. It’s not clear how the team will use him as he’ll get some time at corner as well as safety, but you can bet he’ll be in the middle of the action.
The coaches are comfortable with the veterans they have at the cornerback position, so Awuzie won’t just be thrown to the wolves. They will find a way to utilize him to where he can make plays.
1. Jaylon Smith, LB - second round draft pick in 2016 from Notre Dame (1st)
All eyes have been on the Smith this training camp as inquiring minds want to know how he’s progressing from the knee injury he suffered in January of last year. Everything we’ve heard so far has been positive, but fans are still skeptical because he hasn’t seen any live football action yet. Well, that’s all about to change as he is expected to make his NFL debut on Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts.
Anthony Hitchens has been having an outstanding camp as well so it’s going to take some stellar play to jump him in the starting rotation, but as luck would have it - that’s exactly what Smith is capable of.
Jaylon Smith working with first team at middle linebacker— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 15, 2017
With each new test, Smith has proven he’s up for the challenge. Playing in a real football game tackling real opponents is the next test. Saturday will be real telling, but if this kid delivers...look out.