It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys are men among boys when it comes to the draft process. With the genius talent evaluation of Will McClay and company constantly bringing in a new crop of quality contributors, this team is poised to compete for years to come.
Pro Football Focus just compiled their Top 25 list of best performing rookies through three weeks of preseason games, and not only did four Cowboys players make their list, but they were all ranked in the top 15. None of them were Tony Pollard, which, as my colleague Tom Ryle reminds us, could be attributed to a lack of snaps. Make no mistake about it, Pollard has been outstanding thus far.
But no, Pollard didn’t make the cut. Instead, all the Cowboys players who made the list were selected outside the top 150 players in the draft. How’s that for Day 3 drafting? All four also happen to play defense, which shouldn’t be all that surprising since this group has looked phenomenal in the preseason.
Not only did the Cowboys get four players on this list, but they have the rookie that holds down the top spot. Let’s see what PFF came up with.
The Dallas Cowboys already have the top linebacker tandem in the league in Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but they may be starting to form the deepest with undrafted free agent Nate Hall being a part of it. Hall has shown great coverage play this season, earning an 83.0 coverage grade and allowing just two catches on five targets. Additionally, Hall has come away with two coverage stops, one forced incompletion and one dropped interception.
Nate Hall has been an after thought as his fellow undrafted linebacker peers are the ones grabbing the spotlight. Both Luke Gifford and Justin Phillips have hauled down interceptions, which have both of them in the conversation for making the team. Gifford is trying to make the 53-man roster despite his high ankle sprain.
Hall has been very solid. He’s breaking up passes and has delivered some nice hits. His chances of making the team appear slim, but he could find himself on the practice squad with such a good preseason showing.
Along with Hall, the Cowboys found another promising defensive player in the undrafted pool in Ricky Walker. As a sole 3-technique interior defender, Walker has put together five pressures and an 81.9 pass-rush grade for the Cowboys in the preseason. Jerry Jones may have thought second-round pick Trysten Hill was the future at the interior defender position for the Cowboys, but it may well be Ricky Walker.
Ricky Walker impressed right out of the gate in the preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers with a some relentless pursuit. He’s cooled off since as we haven’t heard much about him lately, but PFF scores him well rushing the quarterback. With a defensive line group so deep, Walker looks like another possible practice squad guy.
Joe Jackson has made his name against the run this preseason, with defensive stops and two tackles for loss or no gain. Further, Jackson has consistently beaten his opposing run-blocker. Overall, Jackson has collected nine defensive stops on 81 total snaps.
Joe Jackson is also stuck in a really deep position group as players like Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder have looked really good in camp this year. Even Taco Charlton has suddenly found new life with an outstanding preseason performance on Saturday against the Houston Texans.
But Jackson has shown up again and again over these first three games. From pressuring the quarterback to knocking down balls, Jackson’s been doing a little bit of everything. He’s been showing up a lot in the running game too, which is a good way to get in good favor with this coaching staff.
Unlike these first two defenders, Jackson has a legit shot to make this roster.
With two of his three overall game grades surpassing 90.0, Donovan Wilson has gotten the attention of everyone at PFF, and he should be getting everyone else’s attention too. Of his three targets in coverage, Wilson has intercepted two of them.
Xavier Woods entered camp as the team’s former sixth-round draft pick who people viewed as a rising star, but they might be leaving camp with another sixth-round guy on that list. Rookie Donovan Wilson has played extremely well and he’s all be solidified his spot on this roster. The only question now is - when does he steal a starter’s spot?
Check out this video montage of some of the big plays these guys have made.