The Cowboys made big headlines by trading for Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper in hopes of boosting the offensive side of the ball following yet another road loss in which it took some time for the offense to get things going. There’s a lot of hope that the former top-5 pick will give this offense what it needs to take advantage of a very winnable NFC East.
Elsewhere, the defense once again did enough to win the game. Kris Richard’s and Rod Marinelli’s unit has played as one of the better defenses across the National Football League through seven games — and one of the more impressive players on the unit is in his first year.
Let’s take a look into how the rookies performed in the divisional battle with Washington.
Leighton Vander Esch
LVE has been the best rookie on this team, filling in nicely when Sean Lee went down with a hamstring injury against the Seahawks. The former Boise State Broncos linebacker has been among the team’s leaders at getting tackles in each of his games, posting 54 total stops thus far in his career — and only 13 of which were assisted.
Vander Esch had a quiet game, for his standards, against Washington on Sunday, only making four stops in the divisional loss, which shows how far along he has come in just a few short weeks. Just take a look at how Pro Football Focus grades the rookie:
Leighton Vander Esch has been trending up the past four weeks.— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) October 25, 2018
Vander Esch leads all LBs in run stop percentage at 14.3% from weeks 4-7. #CowboysNation
Read: https://t.co/hnblqO8kAe pic.twitter.com/upEWRFEb1e
Whatever your thoughts are on PFF, there is no denying that Vander Esch has been a big time player on a big time unit so far in his young career. That has to be exciting for Cowboys fans.
The hope was that Connor Williams would be a plug-and-play rookie guard along the Cowboys talented offensive line; however, things haven’t gone perfect with the second-round pick. For as many positive plays that Williams shows, he is still clearly adjusting to the professional level. Some of that is to be expected, as he is a rookie, and some of that may be contributed to the fact that the line hasn’t played up to its standards without Travis Frederick at center.
Williams had the challenge of going up against a front-seven of Washington that is loaded with talent, featuring the likes of Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen. As expected, the rookie struggled against two of the best interior defensive linemen within the division.
To add to things, before the infamous fumble-touchdown, Dak Prescott threw a beautiful dime to Cole Beasley for a huge first down on third-and-long to keep the drive alive. Unfortunately, Williams negated the big gain with a holding call.
Williams will need to rebound in a big way his next time out. Fortunately, he has a bye week to prepare himself for the Titans.
When the Cowboys opted to shift its wide receivers room in favor of going with a “receivers-by-committee” approach, many were curious which wideout would be able to step up for Dak Prescott. Once the Cowboys spent their third-round pick on Gallup, fans were hopeful that the Colorado State Rams product would be the one to grow into a WR1 sooner than later.
Gallup showed a little bit of what he could do during training camp and the preseason, such as when the rookie burned the San Francisco 49ers with a 30-yard touchdown from Dak Prescott in August. Unfortunately, it’s taken some time for the rookie to make an impact with the Cowboys — although that can be said with the majority of wide receivers in their first season out of college.
Over the last few weeks, though, Gallup has shown steady signs of progress with both his route-running and playmaking ability. Against the Lions, he hauled in a 37-yard catch on a perfectly placed throw by Dak Prescott. Two weeks later, Gallup made a 27-yard grab against the Jaguars and nearly made an impressive touchdown reception.
Washington was Gallup’s best game of the season. Gallup played more snaps than any other wide receiver on the Cowboys with 54, and he displayed some impressive route-running in the process. The big one, of course, was the double-move that got the Cowboys on the scoreboard:
The rookie sold the double-move perfectly, leaving cornerback Greg Storman in the dust. This was obviously a huge play at the time, and it shows Gallup’s confidence level rising as his snaps rise on the professional level. Here is another example:
Gallup is growing as a route-runner, burning by his defender here: pic.twitter.com/o0UvK7RJsn— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) October 25, 2018
The addition of Amari Cooper was obviously a huge move, but don’t forget about Michael Gallup. How does the trio of Cooper-Beasley-Gallup sound?
Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, Cole Beasley pic.twitter.com/FuGcCS3WWA— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 24, 2018
Perhaps the least talked about rookie who has been getting playing time is fourth-round defensive end Dorance Armstrong. The rookie is obscured by a deep defensive line, but the former Kansas Jayhawks star has played very nicely in his limited snaps.
Armstrong did not make a tackle in the loss, but his development behind DeMarcus Lawrence is something to watch. He has a promising future and it’s just a matter time before he begins making splash plays of his own.
The Cowboys needed to draft a tight end last April, and they did just that in the fourth-round by selecting Dalton Schultz out of Stanford.
Schultz has had an up-and-down beginning to his NFL career, struggling to get on the field for the Cowboys; however Dallas made the decision to make him active for the recent NFC East clash. There, Schultz made a 12-yard grab, his first career catch for the Cowboys.
With Geoff Swaim down with an injury, Schultz has an opportunity to get on the field more and more in the upcoming weeks.