Sunday night was the first opportunity for the Dallas Cowboys rookies to see the field in a real live NFL game where the final score means something. The game was sort of ugly, but the Cowboys got the W. Playing against one of the better defenses in all of football, the offense struggled to gain momentum early, but Dak was able to find his groove as the game went on and Ezekiel Elliott eclipsed 100 yards on the ground against a strong front seven. The game, though, was dominated by the Cowboys’ defense. All night long, Eli Manning was forced to get the ball out quickly and risk throwing an errant pass or else be sacked by DeMarcus Lawrence.
How did the first-year players perform in the season opener? Three rookies did not see the field: undrafted free agent Cooper Rush, seventh-round wide receiver Noah Brown, and third-round defensive back Jourdan Lewis. Rush (QB3) and Brown (WR6) were on the inactive list due to the number of spots at the position. Lewis has been dealing with injuries during the preseason. With the news that cornerback Orlando Scandrick fractured his hand on Sunday night, Lewis may hear his number called as soon as game two. Let’s get to the rookies who dressed out for America’s Team in week one.
Both Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper made their regular season debuts on Sunday, but we will stick to the true rookies for this report.
Taco Charlton was selected in the first round of this past April’s NFL Draft. Aside from his unique name, Taco is expected to become a major contributor at defensive end for the Cowboys. The Michigan product was one of the better ends in all of college football a season ago. If he can live up to the potential that the staff sees in him, Charlton will be on his way to a big career in the Big D.
Taco made big news on Twitter before his first official game even began. Check out his kicks from the season opener — featuring a fighting taco!
And the award for sickest shoe game tonight goes to... pic.twitter.com/4cRQlyNSDt— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) September 11, 2017
However, Taco did not show up in the box score. He didn’t record a single tackle against the Giants on Sunday night during his 26 snaps. Although Taco was occasionally involved in getting pressure on Manning, the Cowboys need more out of their first-round selection moving forward. Luckily for the Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawrence and Maliek Collins took over the line of scrimmage in week one. Taco played well during the preseason, so it’s not a reach to expect some growth out of the Michigan product this year.
Here are Bryan Broaddus’ thoughts on the 28th overall selection of the 2017 NFL Draft’s debut in his scouting notebook:
I have to say that I was a little disappointed in the way that Taco Charlton played. He had made great strides through training camp practices and the games, but against the Giants I thought he took a step back. Where he had been showing promise as a pass rusher was with his technique and bend – of which he had neither in this game. I felt like he rushed too tall and without any real game plan off the edge. He made it too easy for these Giants offensive tackles to handle him one-on-one. He’s a strong player, but when he rushes down the middle of these tackles, he is doing them a big favor. Where Charlton was able to make a little traction was when he played inside at tackle near the end of the game, paired to the same side with Charles Tapper. Keep an eye out for him doing more of this in the future if it can get him going.
As the season progresses, Charlton’s development should too.
The rookie defensive back out of Colorado was one of my favorite prospects in this past draft. The do-it-all athlete played all over the field during his collegiate days — seeing snaps at cornerback, safety, and linebacker for the Buffaloes. He was even used to rush the passer off of the edge.
Awuzie is a key part in the Cowboys’ efforts to rebuild the secondary. The 6-foot DB has the ability to play in the slot at Orlando Scandrick’s role, or step outside and play one of the perimeter cornerback positions.
On Sunday evening, the rookie was tasked with covering Giants receivers Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall. His snaps and role only increased when Scandrick left the game in the first half due to injury. Awuzie played well against Marshall throughout the contest. Per Pro Football Focus, Chido gave up the second least amount of yards per cover snap in week one of all first-year defensive backs:
These rookie CBs didn't allow many yards in their coverage pic.twitter.com/PIWmUgUNxK— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 11, 2017
Here is Awuzie covering first-round selection Evan Engram:
33 as the dime backer covering engram... smooth pic.twitter.com/Sg2YhCgT7Q— ✭FootballSzn Lando✭ (@McCoolBTB) September 12, 2017
It was a solid performance in the rook’s debut. He didn’t seem overwhelmed, and Awuzie stepped up when Scandrick went down. His ceiling is sky high in Marinelli’s defense.
Late in the game, though, Awuzie appeared to have tweaked his ankle. David Helman provided an update on the rookie on Monday.
Chido Awuzie said he tweaked his ankle a bit on his tackle of Brandon Marshall at the end of the game. He thinks he'll be fine.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) September 11, 2017
The corner finished his first official NFL game with four total tackles, including two solo. Awuzie will be a huge factor in the Cowboys’ efforts to contain Broncos wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders this upcoming Sunday.
Unlike Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods did not see much action on Sunday night. The rookie safety out of Louisiana Tech made the active roster on opening night, but he was not utilized in the defensive backfield. The sixth-round selection got on to the field on special teams, where he saw 13 snaps against the Giants. While he did not record any tackles, the coaching staff obviously likes what he can bring to special teams to keep him on the 46-man active roster. He was activated whereas Darren McFadden, for example, was on the inactive list. Obviously, the match ups and a player’s health (like Jourdan Lewis) are factors that go into that decision making, but I am hoping to see more snaps for Woods as the season moves along. Can he be the Cowboys’ next diamond in the rough?
Ryan Switzer comes into the NFL after an illustrious career at North Carolina where he rewrote the record books for his ability to find the end zone and make big plays in the return game. For a team that wanted to get better in that department, Switzer seemed to be a logical choice in the fourth round last April.
While he did not break off a huge return like our own RJ Ochoa had hoped for, Switzer still appears to be a solid choice to handle return duties. He returned two kickoffs on Sunday night for a total of 42 yards. The longest of the day was a 25-yarder.
Switzer also made sure to look in the football and complete the catch on punts. While some inexperienced players may be craving to make the big play, Switzer had the intelligence to make sure to not turnover the ball and give up possession on a careless mistake. As he gains more and more reps, Ryan Switzer’s confidence should only grow this season.
The Cowboys have not yet used utilized Switzer’s hands through the air. After a prolific career in college, the slot wideout seems like the perfect candidate to play alongside Cole Beasley, and perhaps, take over the position in the future. I am intrigued to see how Switz eventually fits into the offense over the course of the season.
Which rookie excites you the most, BTBers?