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Cowboys training camp 2020: Recalibrating rookie expectations

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Now we know just how limited training camp will be, we can adjust what we think about contributions this year.

LSU v Alabama
Starting may be farther away for some.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Back when the NFL Draft was the one ray of normalcy in the upended sports world, Dallas Cowboys fans were absolutely giddy about the team’s rookie class. While most years see wildly optimistic expectations from draftees, especially after the first 100 picks or so, this group actually seemed to justify them. All of the seven picks were seen as having some role for the team this year. However, that was before we found out just how limited their preparation for their debut season would be. With no offseason work or OTAs, no preseason game, and only 14 padded practices before the real games begin, it is time to revisit those hopes - and dial them back.

Here is a look at the draftees, plus some UDFAs that are really getting the short end of this particular stick.

Round 1, pick 17 - WR CeeDee Lamb

He is the only one of this group for whom things are about the same. As soon as he was drafted, his name was inscribed in ink as WR3 to go with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Barring glaring problems in camp, that is still true. He is just too good to not get on the field as one of the starters in 11 personnel, the main one for Dallas and most of the NFL. Bolstering this is that wide receiver is one position where the ability to win one-on-one matchups is really the meat and potatoes. With the Cowboys likely taking a much simpler approach to scheme and plays, he is still going to be part of the offense from game one.

Round 2, pick 19 - CB Trevon Diggs

With the departure of Byron Jones, Diggs was supposed to be in the running for one of the starting jobs, especially in the new base defense, the nickel. He has had some nice one-on-one experience against his own brother, Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs.

Despite that, he is facing a lot more game-time skill and speed than any college program sees. This not only will likely lead to Dallas going with the experience of Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis in the early part of the season, it gives veterans Daryl Worley and Maurice Canady a leg up on him. It is not just smart to bring him along more slowly than the team could if he had the normal prep work for his first season, it is probably a necessity.

Round 3, pick 18 - DT Neville Gallimore

He was not likely to break into the starting lineup early with the addition of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe in free agency. The biggest impact on him is that he now is not going to have as easy a time moving ahead of the much criticized Trysten Hill. He still has a shot to do so. It just would have been much more likely with preseason games and more practice time.

Round 4, pick 17 - CB Reggie Robinson II

If you thought Robinson was most valuable as a special teams piece while also providing depth at corner, then things really haven’t changed much. But if you had an eye on him as a dark horse to get some significant snaps in the secondary, then that is another thing that is now very unlikely. If nothing else, the limited time in camp will mean that Robinson will probably focus more on those ST assignments as his best way to make a contribution. He could have a bright future, just a bit farther down the road than we would have liked.

Round 4 pick 40 - C Tyler Biadasz

He was still a bit of a long shot, but with the retirement of Travis Frederick, there was some hope that he was not just the future but the present of the center position. Now, the team will certainly go with experience here, which means Joe Looney can be penciled in. Connor McGovern and Adam Redmond will both also be roadblocks to Biadasz, who also is coming back from some injury issues in his senior year at Wisconsin. He still is the hoped-for future. Just expect him to need a full year of learning to really have any shot at winning the starting role.

Round 5 pick 34 - DE Bradlee Anae

When you get down to fifth-round compensatory picks, you should always temper your expectations. But Anae was a force in college, and seen as a real steal. His challenge is fighting for snaps in the pass rusher rotation, which is now harder. Tyrone Crawford and Aldon Smith are the players the team hopes will take the bulk of them opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, with Smith likely getting more and more as he plays into shape after his long suspension. And Dorance Armstrong now has new life. Anae will basically be in a three-way fight with Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson for the last two DE slots on the roster, where Mike McCarthy has voiced a desire to carry six. One of that trio is probably going to wind up on the practice squad, and unfortunately Anae may be the most likely.

Round 7 pick 17 - QB Ben DiNucci

No disrespect to The Nooch, but with the new rules on elevating players from the practice squad for a game, he was probably going to be a practice squad stash all along. The expansion of the squad to 16 for this season just makes that more certain, although there is always an outside chance the team will carry three QBs on the game day roster. That depends on how McCarthy views things.

UDFAs

These are always long shots and pet cats that usually don’t pan out. This was seen as a strong group for the Cowboys this year, although that may be more our bias than anything. However, there are a few names that would have been likely to generate some real buzz, especially in preseason. Now they will probably be pinning their hopes on those PS jobs.

RB Sewo Olonilua

He is listed on the pre-camp team roster at the mothership as a fullback, but he played halfback in college. That made him an intriguing possibility, given McCarthy’s past use of fullbacks. Not only was Olonilua thought to be a real challenger to be the starter over Jamize Olawale, he might have been a dual-purpose piece that also provided depth at running back. It will be harder to try that experiment now with all the limitations, which is a shame.

LB Francis Bernard

He’s a player that many thought should have been drafted by someone. He has the makings of a real teams ace as well as a quality backup. That special teams value could have led to a spot on the game day roster in a normal season, but it may not be in the offing now.

EDGE Ron’Dell Carter

This would have been a prime pet cat candidate in the preseason. A small school prospect, he was DiNucci’s teammate at James Madison. He might have been contending with Jelks, Jackson, and Anae for a roster spot if given a chance. Now, he should be a priority to sign to the PS.

WR Kendrick Rogers

An annual tradition in Cowboys camp is a UDFA wide receiver exciting the fans (if not necessarily the coaches) with some good-looking catches against other down-roster players in the preseason. Rogers was the prime candidate this year among the UDFA signees. Although inconsistent his senior year at Texas A&M, he still got the highest red-zone grade from PFF among all SEC receivers. Big and strong, he could have shone. Now he is just another player who can only wish he had more opportunities.