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2018 Dallas Cowboys rookie class falling short of previous rookie classes... so far

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A look at how each draft pick has contributed and how the 2018 rookie class measures up overall.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

[Ed. Note: A previous version of this article contained some incorrect data that has since been corrected, but has necessitated a partial rewrite. Apologies.]

The 2018 Cowboys draft class has gotten off to a so-so start into its first NFL season, as things started off on the wrong foot almost from the beginning with this year’s rookies.

  • First-round pick Leighton Vander Esch suffered a groin strain that kept him out of action for three preseason games.
  • WR Cedrick Wilson suffered a shoulder injury in the first padded practice of training camp and was placed on injured reserve, which means he will not play a snap for the Cowboys until at least 2019.
  • RB Bo Scarbrough didn’t make it through final roster cuts, and has been languishing on the practice squad.

Driven partly by injuries and partly by other considerations, this year’s rookie class has only started in a somewhat disappointing five games so far. But a look at the snap counts gives us a more positive view of this draft class than the number of starts does. Here’s on overview of the offensive and defensive snaps accumulated by the 2018 draft class so far this season:

Wk1 Wk2 Wk3 Wk4 Total
Leighton Vander Esh 17 28 33 50 128
Connor Williams 64 53 59 69 245
Michael Gallup 29 25 25 40 119
Dorance Armstrong 19 17 19 14 69
Dalton Schultz 2 inactive inactive inactive 2
Mike White inactive inactive inactive inactive 0
Chris Covington inactive 0 inactive 0 0
Cedric Wlson IR IR IR IR 0
Bo Scarbrough PS PS PS PS 0
Total 131 123 136 173 563
In % of total snaps 9.1% 9.2% 9.7% 12.8% 10.2%

The 2018 draft class has combined for 563 snaps on offense and defense, which adds up to 10.2% of all snaps the offense and defense have played in four games.

Compared to recent draft classes, that’s not a bad number. Here are the snap percentages of the last 11 years, keeping in mind that the data from 2007-2017 is for the full rookie seasons, while the 2018 number is for the first four weeks only.

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Rookie snaps in % of total 3.8% 6.7% 1.5% 6.9% 8.5% 6.5% 15.3% 9.5% 10.0% 13.5% 10.6% 10.2%

If we assume that adding the equivalent of two starters (or 9.1% of all snaps) to the roster is a good target for a rookie class, then the Cowboys look to have been fairly successful at restocking their talent cupboard over the previous five drafts, and the 2018 draft looks to have surpassed that benchmark (as measured by snap percentages), even if it comes in at the lower end of the percentages established by the recent draft classes ... so far.

But it’s early days.

When you ask around what constitutes a successful draft, the answer you’re most likely to get is that if you get two starters out of a rookie class, you’ve done a good job. Veteran NFL General Managers like Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome set three starters as the benchmark for a successful draft, but those three guys don’t have to be first-year starters, eventual starters in later years count as well.

Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Baltimore Ravens who now works for NFL Network, explained Newsome’s thinking.

”If three years down the line, three of the players [Baltimore] picked in that draft were solid starters who we weren’t looking to replace, we viewed that as a successful draft,” said NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah. “You figure, on average, you’ve got seven picks — that’s not even batting .500, but that’s pretty good. If you can go year after year doing that, you can sustain excellence as a football team.”

Do the Cowboys have three future starters in the 2018 draft class?

  • Connor Williams (4 starts) is already a starter.
  • Leighton Vander Esch (1 start) looks like a future starter, especially after his standout performance against the Lions (PFF included him in their team of the week). After missing most of preseason, the Cowboys have been slowly ramping up his snap counts, and he’ll likely not be a full starter as long as Sean Lee is around (and healthy), but his future looks bright.
  • Michael Gallup hasn’t had a start yet, but given the housecleaning likely to happen at WR after the season, he looks like a lock to be a future starter.

Those three players may be enough to keep this draft class above the 9.1% threshold by the end of the season. But it sure would be nice if the rest of the draft class steps up and moves this class more in the direction of the 2013 or 2016 draft classes - even if that may not happen before next year.