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.
The Dallas Cowboys were committed to building the defensive side of the ball in last year’s NFL Draft, as America’s Team spent its first three draft picks on defensive end Taco Charlton and defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. After a successful 2016 campaign that saw quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott emerge as two of the biggest stars in the NFL, Jerry Jones and company wanted to give the duo a defense to complement them.
However in the fourth round, the Cowboys went with one of the more electrifying players in the 2017 draft class: Ryan Switzer from the North Carolina Tar Heels. The electric kick returner, punt returner, and slot receiver was a threat to score from everywhere he touched the ball in colege. Switzer set numerous NCAA and school records as a punt returner for the Tar Heels, returning five punts for scores during the 2013 season — the most in a single season in NCAA FBS history.
So when the Cowboys selected the big time playmaker with the 133rd pick of the 2017 draft, there was a lot of excitement from Cowboys Nation. Cole Beasley was coming off a career season in which he was the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year’s favorite target, and Switz resembled number 11. Many Cowboys fans were thrilled to see what the two of them could do on the field together with Dak Prescott behind center and Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.
Despite the heavy levels of excitement and optimism to see Switz involved in the offense, it took a while for us to see the rookie utilized in the slot; instead, the Cowboys decided to allow Switzer focus on return duties first and foremost.
Even so, Switzer did little to nothing for the first few weeks of his professional career. The lone bright spot early on was when the Cowboys lined Switzer up as a running back, but he only gained three yards. Cowboys fans were waiting and waiting to see what Switzer can do with the ball in his hand.
Unfortunately, the first big moment of Switzer’s career did not go the way the good guys wanted.
In a battle against the eventual NFC West champs Los Angeles Rams, Switzer mishandled a punt in the second quarter back in week four. At the time, the home team was rolling and were looking to extend the 17-6 lead before half time after the defense forced Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and company to punt back to Prescott and Elliott. However, Switzer attempted to make a big play before fully gaining possession of the ball. As a result, he fumbled and the Rams went down and scored a touchdown. The momentum had completely flipped, and the Rams went on to outscore Dallas 29-13 after the game-changing turnover.
We gave Switz a ‘C’ grade going into the week five six bye.
Switzer’s one big mistake has overshadowed any kind of good that he has done. The rookie punt returner, known for his optimistic playing style, opted against fair-catching a punt in traffic and instead wanted to make something out of nothing — an element that has made him so good to this point; however, Switzer did not fully have possession of the ball, and he turned the ball back over to the Los Angeles Rams — who were trailing 17-6 in the second quarter. The mistake proved costly as the Rams wounded up scoring and taking momentum of the game.
Grade: C (talented, but game-changing fumble hurts)
The rookie again struggled just two games later, as the Cowboys visited D.C. to take on the Redskins for the first time in the 2017 season. The Cowboys came out on top by double-digits in the divisional battle, but Switzer did have some head scratching decisions in the game:
Ryan Switzer fails to catch punt. pic.twitter.com/psgvk6PA5Z— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 30, 2017
Switzer did show signs of improvement over the course of the season, though. He began to show why fans were excited about his skills as a return man against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football. In an otherwise brutal game, Switz played very well and broke off some impressive returns against Dallas’ nemesis.
Ryan Switzer's opening kickoff return pic.twitter.com/jHW4JcDKna— DemBoyzNation (@DemBoyzNation) November 20, 2017
But the rookie out of UNC’s biggest and brightest moment of his debut season on the NFL level was his punt return for six in a win that completed Dallas’ season sweep over Washington. Dak had just injured his hand, and the Cowboys were looking to extend their lead before halftime. Switzer did just that, and he completed his first professional touchdown with a nice flip into the end zone.
All-in-all, Ryan Switzer had a productive first season in the NFL for a fourth-round selection. He had some low-lows, but also had a few highs as well. He still has things to learn and work on as he continues to transition to the NFL game, but there are not very many rookies that don’t.
We saw a little bit of what Switzer can do from the slot in the season finale against the Eagles. Dak and Switz connected four times for an average of eight yards. It wasn’t eye-popping numbers, but it gave us a glimpse of what perhaps Switzer can do next season with a bigger role. Will he emerge as Beasley’s replacement next season?
More Ryan Switzer in the passing game please. pic.twitter.com/9oyBbett8i— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 1, 2018
What did you think of Ryan Switzer’s rookie season, BTB?