Previously we broke down both teams offense and defense for this week’s upcoming game between the Dallas Cowboys and L.A. Chargers. Now we dive back into the position battleground, this time looking at how each team’s rookie class stacks up against each other.
NT Mazi Smith (First Round)
Mazi Smith played his worst game for Dallas last week. It was bad all round for the defense against the San Francisco 49ers, so it’s not like Smith was the reason for last week’s failures, it just added to it. Smith was getting bullied around at the line, losing leverage and getting bodied to create running lanes for Christian McCaffrey. He played 22 snaps last week, not many of them were successful plays. This week the defense needs Smith in the middle to help clog runs against Joshua Kelley, and his role will be even more significant if Austin Ekeler suits up, which based on the Chargers practice report so far, says he will.
TE Luke Schoonmaker (Second Round)
It was another tough and quiet day for the Michigan tight end. He got one target, which was high over his head. With Peyton Hendershot moving to injured reserve, that means more of Schoonmaker for the time being. But in his defense, he is playing one of the most demanding positions when it comes to learning curve and development. It’s rare any tight end flashes in their first year. Even future Hall of Famer, Jason Witten had only one touchdown and 347 yards in his first year. The draft selection demands results now, but development can take time. Everyone needs to see how he looks as the season progresses before calling him a bust.
RB Deuce Vaughn (Sixth Round)
When the game was close to over, the coaches pulled the starters in last week’s game. That meant Deuce got a little playing time in last week’s loss. He rushed three times for seven yards, but we can’t be disappointed by the display since the offensive line had rotated to backups. We will get to see some extra Vaughn for this game though (maybe). With KaVontae Turpin’s status up in the air, Vaughn is the next guy in line to take on the punt and kick return duties. He was the team’s returner for Kansas State during his rookie year. He averaged 21 yards per return in college, and last week on his sole punt return against the 49ers, he went for 10 yards.
K Brandon Aubrey (UDFA)
Ironically, of all the rookies for the Cowboys, Aubrey was the one most fans worried about the most. But he’s performing easily the best and way beyond expectation. He’s now 14-of-14 on field goal attempts, making him the most accurate kicker in the league currently. Watching his kickoffs the last few weeks has shown he has a deep boot to put distance on the ball.
FB Hunter Luepke (UDFA)
Luepke recorded zero catches or rushes last week, he was used exclusively as an extra blocker on run plays. There’s not much to complain about what he did last week, he was an effective blocker on his assignments. Let’s see what this week brings.
WR Quentin Johnson (First Round)
Johnson was one of the premium receivers in this year’s draft and was the second receiver taken in the first round. The TCU star hasn’t started off the way some expected. He’s made six receptions in his first four games this year for a total of 44 yards along with three first downs. In receiving yards he ranks sixth among Chargers receivers. But his production in TCU helped the team reach a National Championship, and his 1,069 receiving yards is second-most in TCU history in a single season.
He’s got great size and elite arm length. Combined with elite ball tracking and an ability to outmuscle defensive backs in the air, makes Johnson a huge contested catch threat. So why hasn’t it worked? For one he’s a body catcher and not one to make spectacular catches, which is something you would expect for a jump-ball specialist. The other the problem is drops, he had a lot in college which was due to his catching skills and also allowing defenders to get into his frame him to knock the ball. He’s also not quick off the mark or shifty in his route stems as he tries to set something up. That leads to defenders able to stick close to him in coverage.
DE Tuli Tuipulotu (Second Round)
It’s no wonder Tuli has had a great start to his NFL career for the Chargers. He was USC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2021 after he led the team in sacks, with 5.5 sacks. But in 2022, he really made a name for himself when he led the nation in sacks (13:5) and ranking second in tackles for loss (22). He was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and was in the running for a few other conference awards.
What makes him so great is his mix of strength and athleticism with an unrelenting motor. He does fall short when it comes to length, but all that can be ignored due to his quick feet and fast get-off. His problems and areas of development is his inability to shed blocks. He struggles everytime when linemen get a hand on him, and all the momentum he gathers fizzles out in an instant.
WR Derius Davis (Fourth Round)
Davis hasn’t done too much in terms of receiving for the Chargers, but he is the team’s lead punt returner. He’s made four receptions for 24 yards for the offense so far, but it’s his punt returning he’s excelled in m. He’s made eight punt returns so far this season, and has totalled 84 return yards. His best return came in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans when he broke a 24-yard return.
DT Scott Matlock (Sixth Round)
The sixth-round defensive tackle from Boise State has played 68 snaps on defense so far this year. The interior of the Chargers defensive line is a weakness for this team and it was something the coaches tried to address this offseason. Matlock is certainly in need of developing, and playing both defense and special teams for the Chargers will do that for him. He needs to work on his athleticism, most notably his lateral speed. Being the aggressor isn’t his strong suit either.
Which team has the better set of rookies?
This poll is closed