The 2016 draft for the Dallas Cowboys could go down as one of the better draft hauls in this team’s history. With cornerstone players like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott leading the way, this team landed a couple big stars. And with players like Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins flashing strong play, one can’t help wondering how good they can be if they can get themselves completely healthy. While those players are key contributors, the 2016 draft is the gift that keeps on giving. With the recent news of Darius Jackson being re-signed, it’s possible the team could retain all nine of the players they drafted that season. That’s pretty amazing.
It’s one thing to retain the picks, but it’s another thing all together if they’re getting good use out of them. Let’s examine each of these nine players and see what they’ve done for the team over the last couple seasons.
1st round (4th overall) - Ezekiel Elliott, RB Ohio State
There is not much debate here. Zeke’s a stud. He’s played in 25 of the possible 32 games, although none of those absences have been due to injury. He was suspended for six games last season and was a healthy scratch in 2016 in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Elliott is arguably the best player on the team. His presence in the backfield changes the dynamic of how teams defend against the Cowboys. There is not much doubt about what he can bring this team. The only real question is - how long is it going to take before he breaks DeMarco Murray’s single-season rushing record?
2nd round (34th overall) - Jaylon Smith, LB Notre Dame
This pick came with a lot of criticism as Smith suffered a serious knee injury in his last college game to where many feared he wouldn’t ever play football again. Jaylon red-shirted his rookie season, but made his debut last season. Smith would play in all 16 games, playing in just over half the defensive snaps on the season. He was forced into more action than the team would have liked due to injuries to both Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens, but demonstrated he could make plays once his reps were reduced.
With Leighton Vander Esch joining the team this year, the Cowboys should have the leeway to keep Smith fresh. His full potential is still unknown, but if he gets anywhere close to how he was playing with the Fighting Irish, the Cowboys will have themselves another good linebacker.
3rd round (67th overall) - Maliek Collins, DT Nebraska
Collins started strong out of the gate, recording five sacks his rookie season. While he’s been catching some bad breaks in terms of injuries in each of the last two seasons, the timing of these injuries have been fortuitous, occurring in training camp. It may seem like he’s teetering on the verge of being labeled “injury prone,” but his dependability cannot be overstated. He’s played in all 32 games of his career.
Collins shifted to the 1-tech DT position last year out of need. With no legit 1-tech added to the roster, it appears he could be in for more work at that position this season. Wherever they play him, Collins is a good presence in the middle and is certainly proving himself as a good draft pick.
4th round (101st overall) - Charles Tapper, DE Oklahoma
It’s easy to get excited about what could be when it comes to the athletic young defensive end from Oklahoma. But that excitement has been tempered as Tapper has not been able to stay on the field in each of the last two seasons. He’s only played in two games total and a pars defect in his back has his career in jeopardy.
Tapper will get another chance to prove himself this season. Currently, he’s being held out of practice with a concussion, but hopefully it won’t be anything that lingers. While staying healthy has been an obstacle, he’s got other things standing in his way as the team has bolstered their defensive end group quite a bit over the last couple years. Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Kony Ealy are players that have been added since Tapper was drafted and they will challenge him for that last defensive end spot on the roster.
4th round (135th overall) - Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
Dak was drafted to develop under the mentorship of Tony Romo, but an unfortunate preseason injury to Romo forced him into action sooner that expected. Prescott would take the reigns and never let go, taking the starting quarterback job from Romo.
After a historic rookie season, Dak came back down to earth last year. All eyes will be on Prescott as fans hold their breath wondering if the team has their quarterback of the future. With a new assortment of weapons and a revamped offensive line, it should be interesting to watch this unfold. The coaches are very impressed with their young leader and if he’s as good as advertised, it should mean good things for the Cowboys going forward.
6th round (189th overall) - Anthony Brown, CB Purdue
Just like Collins and Prescott, Anthony Brown had an outstanding rookie season. In fact, those three players are the only guys from the draft class that has played in every single game of their career. But unlike Collins and Prescott, Brown has spent some time coming off the bench. He has started 10 games in each of his first two seasons.
After a promising rookie season, the team felt good about letting him fend for himself on the outside. That didn’t work out so well as Brown struggled last year. Once rookies Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie were both healthy enough to stay on the field, Brown got relegated to a bench role. He responded well, playing a lot better in limited reps. While Brown may not be the player we thought he could be after his rookie season, he’s also not as bad as he was last year. Expect him to perform somewhere in the middle and offer the team a nice depth player at the cornerback position.
6th round (212th overall) - Kavon Frazier, S Central Michigan
After playing in nine games his rookie season, which included a total of 36 defensive snaps, Frazier got more chances last year. He would play in 15 games, bumping his defensive snaps to 222, but even more than that - he became an integral piece of the special teams unit. Frazier played in 61% of the teams special teams snaps and started turning heads with some impressive plays.
While Frazier is now one of the teams best special teams players, he is looking to make more of a name for himself on defense. He’s the best run-stopping strong safety the team has and has shown he can make plays.
If you keep Kavon Frazier near the LOS, he can be an effective player. pic.twitter.com/D2yrwgFc76— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) December 1, 2017
6th round (216th overall) - Darius Jackson, RB Eastern Michigan
Darius is back! Well, at least for now. As our own Connor Livesay indicated, the Cowboys have re-signed their former sixth-round draft pick.
The Cowboys lost Jackson after waiving him to make room for Darren McFadden on the active roster in 2016. The Cowboys’ front office had hoped to re-sign Jackson back to the practice squad, but multiple teams put in a waiver claim for the former sixth-round running back. The Cleveland Browns ended up being awarded Jackson.
Jackson has been in the NFL for two years now and has yet to record a carry in a regular season game. He suffered a knee injury that held him out of the 2017 season, but will look to get back to full strength and compete for a job at the bottom of the running back depth chart.
Jackson is the first player listed so far that hasn’t played a single NFL regular season snap. He’ll have his work cut out for him to make the team as Dallas has Zeke, Rod Smith, and rookie Bo Scarbrough trying to make the squad. Tavon Austin is also listed as a running back, adding one more player to the position group. It’s difficult seeing him make the roster, but anything could happen between now and final cuts.
6th round (217th overall) - Rico Gathers, TE Baylor
Never has there been a more enigmatic player than Rico. On one hand, he’s a basketball player for crying out loud. On the other hand, he’s already demonstrated some remarkable play-making ability in last year’s preseason games. And yet on another hand, his limited football experience makes him really raw when it comes to the basic fundamentals and handling his blocking assignments. Wait...how many hands was that?
As excited as it is to think of the possibilities, one of the most important factors is how well he comes along in developing into a player that can be trusted on the football. Head coach Jason Garrett recently stated, “He could practice five times a day and that wouldn’t be enough work.” To be fair, Garrett was saying that in regards to all of his young, inexperienced players. But it does speak to how much work is still needed for Rico. The question is - can he do enough to make the team. Like Darius, Rico has yet to play a regular season snap in the NFL. And like Darius, he could end up being a roster cut come September.
How many of the nine picks from 2016 do you think make the team this year?