New additions may provide answers on offense and defense, yet their boosting the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams is a certainty.
The Dallas Cowboys‘ special teams players are unsung warriors who’s impact on the game far exceeds the rare moments of praise.
Aside from elite draft picks and high priority free agents, NFL teams strongly factor in special teams worth when deciding to add new players.
The Cowboys haven’t been abysmal on special teams. Though there’s certainly been a recent dip in production beyond the kicker and punter.
Safety Jeff Heath is currently one of the top valued ST standouts for good reason. He recorded the most ST snaps (78.4%) in 2016.
This Spring the Cowboys added three new players with similar football traits that will translate well to the dirty work of special teams.
MORE POP ON THE STOP UNITS
Rookies Chidobe Awuzie (6’1, 202) and Xavier Woods (5’11, 205) are well built defensive backs with speed, physicality, and solid tackling skills.
Both piled up over 265 tackles in college and will add more quickness and thump to the ST units.
Veteran safety Robert Blanton (6’1, 201) also has the necessary build and brings along a solid ST reputation.
Blanton recorded nine special teams tackles last year to lead Buffalo’s ST units. All nine were credited as solo tackles.
He produced two more than Heath, who tied for the Cowboys lead with seven ST tackles (four solo, three assisted).
The addition of several fleet footed, hard striking, sound tacklers should correct the recent decline in the Cowboys’ return defense.
Special teams ace Dwayne Harris (2011-2014) left for New York after 2014. Since his departure opposing starting field position has increased significantly.
2011 – 25.9 yard line
2012 – 26.8
2013 – 27.1
2014 – 26.9
Life after Harris:
2015 – 28.6
2016 – 28.6
It’s worth noting the kickoff spot was moved to the 35 yard line in 2011, the same year Harris joined the Cowboys. The touchback spot added 5 yards only in 2016.
ADDING JUICE TO THE RETURN GAME
Speaking of post-Harris decline, these effects were also felt in the return game.
During Harris’ last two years in Dallas he averaged 12.8 and 9.2 yards per punt return, while also providing a touchdown.
Since Lucky Whitehead took his place in 2015 the numbers have fallen drastically to 5.8 and 7.8 yards per punt return.
Many were shocked when the Cowboys passed on Woods at safety in the 4th round to draft electric returner Ryan Switzer.
Looking at Whitehead’s feeble production fully justifies the selection of 2013’s top college punt returner (20.9 avg, 5 TD’s).
As for kickoff returns, Whitehead started his career with a whopping 28.3 average in 2015. However his numbers fell to mediocrity (23.2 ypr) last season.
Switzer had very limited kickoff return experience in college. Yet there’s strong belief in Dallas he can land the job and excel there as well.