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2023 Cowboys rookie report: Evaluating this rookie class at the bye week

Which Cowboys rookie has surprised you the most this season?

New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

With the Cowboys preparing to return from their bye week, this is a good time to take stock of the rookie class so far. The transition from college to the NFL can be a difficult one, as we saw with Jalen Tolbert a year ago, and it’s common for rookies to start off slow before building steam later on in the year. To describe the Cowboys’ rookie class as slow through the first six weeks might be an understatement.

Yes, the Cowboys’ rookies haven’t come close to impressing thus far, but keep in mind that very few of them were expected to have big roles this year. The Cowboys had very few starting jobs up for grabs heading into the draft, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that many of these guys aren’t seeing the field. It’s rare for a team coming off consecutive 12-win seasons to feature a ton of rookies in prominent roles. So let’s break each rookie down by what they’ve done and what we can expect from them going forward.

iDL Mazi Smith

Mazi Smith broke a very long streak of the Cowboys not drafting a defensive tackle in the first round, and that alone elevated expectations for the run stuffer. But it was never realistic to think Smith would come in and be a star defender right off the bat.

He was brought in to give the Cowboys another reliable run defender on the interior along with Johnathan Hankins. The idea was to get Smith’s feet wet as a rookie while learning from a veteran like Hankins, which is exactly what’s transpired thus far. Hankins is playing on 41.1% of all defensive snaps, second on the team for interior defenders, while Smith is playing on 25.7% of defensive snaps.

In training camp and the preseason, we saw some looks with both Smith and Hankins on the field at the same time, which seemed exciting. That has yet to become a thing, largely due to the emergence of Osa Odighizuwa as a star. Odighizuwa has played so well that it’s impossible to take him off the field, unless he needs a breather, which has cut down on the already limited role for Smith.

Furthermore, Smith’s role isn’t one that lends itself to stat sheet stuffing. He’s tallied just four tackles on the year, but two of them were charted as a run stop with an average depth of tackle of just one yard. Smith has also had countless plays each week where he fills the A gap and forces a run outside, which is exactly what he’s supposed to do. Smith isn’t playing enough snaps to pop off the screen, but it’s hard to justify taking Odighizuwa or Hankins off the field to get him more work right now.

TE Luke Schoonmaker

Luke Schoonmaker arguably had the most to prove of this rookie class, but he has yet to really do anything. A lot of that has to do with his injury that caused him to miss the start of training camp, putting him behind the eight ball. That ultimately led to Schoonmaker starting the year as TE3, but he’s recently moved up the depth chart with Peyton Hendershot’s injury.

Most of Schoonmaker’s work has come in the run-blocking game, and he’s looked really good there. He’s been oddly underutilized in the passing game, though. He has caught just one of his five targets, though it did go for a touchdown. Two of his four incompletions were drops, but the only way to get better is to get more targets.

Of all of these draft picks, Schoonmaker has the most realistic shot to actually contribute, but he’s just not being relied on yet. Perhaps the bye week will help him get more up to speed in this offense.

LB DeMarvion Overshown

It seemed like DeMarvion Overshown was going to emerge as the one rookie to really make a huge impact on this team, as he was angling towards a rotational role next to Leighton Vander Esch. Of course, tragedy struck when he tore his ACL in the preseason. The hope is that Overshown will be ready to compete next year after he recovers fully.

EDGE Viliami Fehoko

Viliami Fehoko was an interesting draft pick, as he played a position at which the Cowboys were already very deep. They seemingly put him on the Chauncey Golston track to being an inside-outside hybrid type of player, but there’s also not many snaps to go around there either. It hasn’t been a surprise to see Fehoko inactive for every game this year so far, as the defensive line is the deepest position on this whole team.

OL Asim Richards

When Asim Richards was drafted, it made immediate sense as a move to bolster depth along the offensive line. Richards offered a prototypical frame and the versatility to play multiple positions, which he quickly displayed in the preseason.

He’s played just 21 snaps on offense, all coming at the end of blowouts to get him some in-game experience, in addition to playing some on special teams. But Richards was never expected to see a significant role this year, as his selection was all about the future.

CB Eric Scott Jr.

After the Cowboys traded for Stephon Gilmore, it seemed unlikely that the Cowboys would target a cornerback in the draft. That’s why it was a surprise when they traded up to get Eric Scott Jr., a tall corner with a knack for making interceptions. He sounds like a typical Dan Quinn guy, but it wasn’t exactly clear if Scott would see the field at all. So far, he hasn’t. Scott has been inactive every week of the season, though he did have several flashy moments in training camp that suggest he has a bright future.

RB Deuce Vaughn

Deuce Vaughn has easily been the biggest disappointment of this rookie class thus far. The small, yet explosive, running back set the NFL ablaze in the preseason and seemed destined for a big role as a rookie. In the first two weeks of the season, Vaughn was showing flashes in a limited role: nine carries for 24 yards and three catches for 16 yards.

Vaughn curiously didn’t see the field on offense against the Cardinals, but resumed his usual role against the Patriots and 49ers. However, he struggled mightily in both games, which led to him being inactive against the Chargers. It’s been a steady downward trend for Vaughn, and it will be interesting to see if he remains inactive out of the bye or if he gets another shot to prove himself.

WR Jalen Brooks

Jalen Brooks narrowly beat out veteran Simi Fehoko for the final receiver spot on the roster, but it’s been no surprise to see him inactive most weeks so far. He has 20 offensive snaps between two games, most of them run plays. Nobody should’ve expected to see much more than this from Brooks given the makeup of this receiver room, though Brooks did have a huge block on the Brandin Cooks jet sweep against the Chargers.

G T.J. Bass

T.J. Bass went from undrafted rookie with a good shot to make the practice squad to being the top interior backup for this offensive line. He’s played on 38.6% of all offensive snaps, alternating between left and right guard. Bass played the entire second half of the Jets game at left guard before starting at right guard in Week 3.

It’s been a heavy workload for the rookie, and Bass hasn’t exactly looked great in extended action. In the two games where he saw the most work, Bass surrendered four pressures in total, though he didn’t give up a sack or hit. Still, Bass has offered valuable depth along the interior, even if he’s not starting caliber right now.

FB Hunter Luepke

Hunter Luepke not only made the roster but has actually been seeing the field in a greater capacity than just special teams. Luepke has played on 14.2% of offensive snaps, more than KaVontae Turpin, and spent most of his time in a traditional fullback role. However, he’s also lined up as a tight end and as a running back.

Luepke has even gotten his hands on the ball. Against the Cardinals, his first career carry went for nine yards and a first down; he also had one reception for 12 yards. A week later, against the Patriots, Luepke had two carries for four yards and a touchdown. In total, Luepke has four touches going for two first downs and a touchdown. That’s a pretty good return on investment for the undrafted rookie.

K Brandon Aubrey

Brandon Aubrey has contributed the most of any rookie in this class, hands down. Part of that is due to his role, but Aubrey has been money ever since stepping on the field. He missed his first extra point, but has been perfect since then. He’s also yet to miss a field goal this year, a remarkable feat in its own right:

Among kickers with at least 12 field goal attempts this year, only three of them are still perfect; Aubrey being one of them is a major endorsement of the rookie’s great start. He’s also been dynamite on kickoffs, sending all but one of them for a touchback so far.

LB Tyrus Wheat

Tyrus Wheat just made his NFL debut after being signed from the practice squad due to injuries at an already-thin linebacker position. He mostly played on special teams, which is exactly what was expected of him. It’s too early to really say anything about Wheat, but the expectations were also more or less nonexistent for him, given the circumstances of how he reached the game day roster.

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