How did each rookie perform in 2017? Did he out-perform his draft value, or did he struggle? This series will take a look at how each first-year player performed for the Dallas Cowboys in their first professional season.
When our own Dave Halprin asked me who I would like the Cowboys to select ahead of last year’s 2017 NFL Draft back when I first joined BTB, I told him Chidobe Awuzie. At the time, the Colorado Buffaloes star defensive back was being mocked in the first-round of several mock drafts due to his versatility that allows him to play all over the defensive side of the ball. So when Dallas went with Taco Charlton with the 28th selection, I assumed Awuzie was all but gone.
I’m happy that turned out to not be the case.
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Chido — from fans, media, and the coaching staff — as soon as he arrived in Dallas. Some of it had to with the legendary introduction and troll job by Drew Pearson preceding his selection, in which the former Cowboys receiver did his best to anger the Philadelphia crowd.
The excitement also came from the fact that the 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back had played in the secondary, at linebacker, and rushed off of the edge at times during his collegiate career in Boulder. The hope was that he would quickly learn Rod Marinelli’s scheme and become an impact player for the Cowboys.
Unfortunately, it took us a while before we truly saw what the rookie was capable of. The second-round selection battled with nagging hamstring injuries throughout training camp, and it really plagued him for the majority of the first half of the season. Fortunately, though, Cowboys fans were able to get a small glimpse of what he was capable of in week one against the Giants. In that game, Awuzie was among the best at his position in his rookie class.
These rookie CBs didn't allow many yards in their coverage pic.twitter.com/PIWmUgUNxK— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 11, 2017
The injury bug hit Awuzie again, and he was forced to exit early in the Broncos game the following week. He came back a few weeks later and played limited snaps against the Packers, but he wasn’t healthy enough to make any kind of impact. That was the story for the majority of Awuzie’s early season.
In fact, durability was the reason why we gave Chido a “C” grade when we graded the rookies during the bye week. He showed lots of potential, but he just couldn’t stay on the field.
It has been unfortunate that the Cowboys can’t get 33 on the field. After playing 38 snaps in game one, Awuzie has only played a total of 14 snaps since — five before leaving the game with an injury against the Broncos, missed weeks three and four due to injury, and nine versus the Packers before again leaving with an injury. On talent alone, Awuzie has played well. Durability is an issue, though.
Grade: C (looks to be talented, but unable to stay healthy)
However, Awuzie was healthy enough to make his first career start on Thursday Night Football against divisional rival Redskins back in week 13. We were reminded why there was so much hype surrounding number 33, as he made his prescience felt all night long in the 38-17 victory.
I’ve already seen him play the ball more times today than I’ve seen Scandrick all year, and maybe longer pic.twitter.com/V4IDmPpAuq— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) December 1, 2017
Awuzie was contesting jump balls and making plays on the ball, an aspect of football that we haven’t seen much from Cowboys defensive backs recently. It was a breath of fresh air and only increased the excitement surrounding the 60th pick in the draft.
Chido was only getting started. He continued his impressive play over the next few weeks, making impressive plays on the ball against the Giants and the Raiders. In the second consecutive blowout victory over a divisional rival, Awuzie helped seal the W with this deflection that resulted in a Sean Lee interception:
Chidobe Awuzie makes a play on the ball, setting up Sean Lee for the INT and ending the game. pic.twitter.com/lDpQ6nqCXf— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) December 10, 2017
Here are some clips from the Sunday Night game against Oakland. Again, he showed why so many fans are hopeful for what the future will bring in the secondary.
Look at Chidobe Awuzie helping out in run support. pic.twitter.com/jVcfso2K1Y— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) December 18, 2017
And then in the final game, Chido finally recorded the first interception of his young career against Nick Foles and the Eagles. It was the icing on top of a very impressive season from the day-two selection.
Chidobe Awuzie had a very solid season once he could stay on the field. He showed that he could develop into a foundation player for the defense. He has the ability to make plays on the ball, is willing to play the run and make tackles in space, and he even showed his toughness when he didn’t back down from Marshawn Lynch during their encounter back in week 15.
Many are excited about the future of the Cowboys secondary and Awuzie is a big reason why.