With the Dallas Cowboys postseason hopes potentially ending with just one more loss, can the 2017 rookie class answer the call and carry the load?
The Dallas Cowboys have played themselves into a very difficult situation with four games still remaining this season. They essentially have to win-out in order to feel comfortable about playing in January. And in typical Cowboys fashion, their December stretch of games to finish the season are the farthest thing from gimme games.
Even with the Cowboys having a stable of veterans on both sides of the ball, one cannot look at this team and see the impact the rookie class must make in order for this team to be successful, especially on defense.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith came into this season with extremely high hopes after sitting out his entire rookie season rehabbing from a devastating knee injury during his final season at Notre Dame. Smith was thrown into action a little sooner than expected with fellow linebacker Anthony Hitchens suffering an injury early on.
Smith struggled pretty mightily early in the season as he clearly was lacking the explosiveness and ability to change direction that made him so dominant at Notre Dame. However, Smith looked the best he has all year against the Washington Redskins and the Cowboys are hoping his arrow is pointed upward as he could be a staple in a thin and injury prone linebacker core.
The Cowboys rookie class is greatly represented in their secondary with as many as three rookies potentially starting going forward. In the week leading up to the matchup against the Redskins. Dallas made some personnel moves in their secondary in demoting second year cornerback Anthony Brown and promoting rookie Chidobe Awuzie to the starting lineup.
That move appears to be paying immediate dividends as Awuzie had a very impressive game in the most extensive game action he’s seen all year. Awuzie finished the night with three pass break ups and showed great physicality in the running game.
There is another pair of rookies in the secondary that are generating a lot of excitement among Cowboys brass. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis and safety Xavier Woods, like Awuzie, are youngsters that will play a huge role for the Cowboys not only this season but in the future.
While Lewis has struggled a little recently and saw his lowest snap count against the Redskins, the Cowboys certainly have plans for him going forward, mainly being there primary slot corner. Woods has been all over the Cowboys secondary this year playing both safety and slot corner showing very solid coverage skills and versatility that this Cowboys coaching staff covets.
The Cowboys defensive line has played a lot better than I think most would have anticipated coming into this season, mainly due to defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and tackle David Irving. But recently another Cowboys rookie has been getting in on the action; first round pick Taco Charlton.
Charlton was the subject of a lot of criticism in the early part of the season, and rightfully so as he was struggling to generate any pressure and getting beat pretty routinely. With that being said, Charlton played by far his best game of the season against the Redskins on Thursday and is beginning to look more comfortable each week as he becomes more of a staple in the Cowboys defensive line rotation.
The Cowboys invested a lot in their defense during the draft this season with a good amount of veterans departing via free agency. The learning curve usually granted to rookies has been greatly accelerated as the Cowboys window for error is paper thin.
This rookie class will have to contribute and perform at a high level immediately and will have a very big say in just how far the 2017 Dallas Cowboys can go. A failure to show up and perform by their rookie class down the stretch could be a crippling blow to an already struggling Cowboys team.