With their season on the line, the Dallas Cowboys front office and coaching staff look smart for making this move, sparking their last two victories.
Prior to Week 13, the Dallas Cowboys 2017 draft class looked like a potential bust. Especially compared to their already legendary haul of rookies from the season before. Names like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith are certainly hard to live up to.
Just a couple weeks ago, the Cowboys current crop of rookies had been all but invisible. And that was due to all different types of reasons.
Obviously, the top of everyone’s naughty list this Christmas season (and the easiest target) has been first round selection Taco Charlton. The defensive end out of Michigan was taken by Dallas 28th overall despite the fact the team had a second round grade on him.
But the Cowboys saw the 6-foot-5, 270 pound defender as a better scheme fit than Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt, the only other pass rusher worthy of a first round selection at the time.
Through his first 11 games, Charlton recorded only nine total tackles and 1.0 sack. The first round is never were you want to draft a developmental player. But Dallas surely have themselves one in Taco.
Second round selection Chidobe Awuzie was a complete mystery only a couple weeks ago. That was due to a hamstring injury he’s been struggling with since training camp.
Ever since his debut in Week Two, cornerback Jourdan Lewis has been the best player to come out of this underperforming class. But after some early defensive rookie of the year talk, the Cowboys third round selection out of Michigan has cooled down a bit. That is due in part to a lack of experience catching up to him, having missed nearly all of training camp and the entire preseason due to his own hamstring issues.
But the fact is, opposing offenses have been avoiding Lewis and his side of the field as well. A testament to the positive tape the rookie has put up so far this season.
Fourth round selection, wide receiver Ryan Switzer, had moderate success as a special teams returner prior to Week 13. Certainly nothing like what he did at North Carolina, as one of the best returners in college football history, posting seven punt returns for touchdowns.
Finally, sixth round safety Xavier Woods and seventh round wide receiver Noah Brown have had their highlights. Woods, in particular, has earned the coaching staff’s trust early having played nearly 46% of the team’s defensive snaps. Brown has primarily been used as a blocker in the run game.
But in the last two weeks, these rookies have come alive. Against the Washington Redskins in Week 13, Charlton recorded his second sack of the season. Switzer returned a punt 83-yards for a score, the Cowboys first in four years. And against the New York Giants on Sunday, Jourdan Lewis racked up six total tackles and three pass defends.
Despite those successes, it was the decision by the Cowboys to replace struggling second-year cornerback Anthony Brown with Awuzie prior to the Redskins’ game two weeks ago that could end up being their smartest move of the entire year.
"“Have to be impressed with the way that Chidobe Awuzie has played these last two weeks,” wrote football analyst Bryan Broaddus on the team’s official website. “For a guy that I thought they were going to just groom as a future safety, he’s held up very well at cornerback as the starter over Anthony Brown … Awuzie is making the front office and coaching staff appear very smart for making that change.”"
Awuzie has been everything you’d want from a second round selection in the past two games. His official stat line? Starting the last two games, Awuzie has amassed six total tackles and a whopping five pass defends. Against the Giants, “Chido” tipped an Eli Manning pass up into the air for linebacker Sean Lee to intercept it and basically seal the win.
The play of Chidobe Awuzie has been a revaluation. And the fact the Dallas Cowboys are starting two rookies at cornerback and still winning ball games is almost unheard of. All of the sudden, this rookie class is coming alive. And it’s just in time, as the Cowboys are now in playoff mode with only three games to go.