Dallas Cowboys Jaylon Smith or Rico Gathers: Bigger impact in 2017?

Aug 1, 2016; Irvine, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 1, 2016; Irvine, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

We try to determine which Dallas Cowboys 2016 rookie will have a bigger impact on the team this season: Linebacker Jaylon Smith or tight end Rico Gathers.

The Dallas Cowboys 2016 draft class is the gift that keeps on giving. Last season, this rookie bunch produced four starters. They included running back Ezekiel Elliott, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, quarterback Dak Prescott and cornerback Anthony Brown.

Injuries delayed the debuts of both second round selection Jaylon Smith, a linebacker out of Notre Dame, and Oklahoma defensive end Charles Tapper, a fourth round pick. Sixth round safety Kavon Frazier is continuing to develop, hoping to have a bigger role in 2017. Finally, former Baylor basketball star and fellow sixth rounder Rico Gathers spent last season on the practice squad, trying to make the difficult transition to become a NFL tight end.

This offseason, no two players have been more speculated about than Smith and Gathers. And both are the polar opposites of one another. Smith has an awesome football pedigree but a devastating knee injury threatens his career. While Gathers lacks that football knowledge but has the all the physical tools to be dominate.

So how can you try and determine which player, Smith or Gathers, will have a bigger impact on the Cowboys in 2017?

First, I think it should be said that fans need to temper their expectations for both players this season. With Smith, the fact he hasn’t played football in over a year, plus his unknown injury status are two major red flags. Even if Jaylon is able to play close to the level he did at Notre Dame, he’s still essentially rookie.

But Smith is also a second round pick. The Cowboys will give him every opportunity to win the starting role this season. It’s just a matter of can his knee hold up, how well can he play in drop foot brace and how quickly he adapts to the speed of the NFL both mentally and physically.

As for Gathers, it’s a total lack of knowledge and experience that holds him back. Not having played organized football since middle school, last season under legendary coach Mike Pope, Rico essentially spent the year in tight end boot camp.

Unlike Smith at linebacker, Gathers has an established player at the top of the depth chart at his position in future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten. So there is only so high Rico can go this season. And with James Hanna and Geoff Swaim on the roster as well, Gathers has plenty of competition whom possess much more experience.

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So which player should have a bigger impact this season for the Dallas Cowboys? I think the answer is clearly Jaylon Smith. Although Rico Gathers does not have the injury concerns that Smith does, his competition at the tight end position is steep. Jaylon, on the other hand, could potentially be the Cowboys starting middle linebacker come September.