Now that the Cowboys 2017 season is in the rearview mirror, it is time to start the evaluation process – beginning with the rookies.
Taco Charlton (1st round – Pick 28)
The defensive end out of Michigan did not receive the approval from fans that recent Dallas first-round picks have. The selection of the position was an area of need, but the name announced brought grief to the fanbase. The 6’6″ 275 pound athlete faced a difficult beginning to his rookie campaign with the Cowboys, but vastly improved during the last third of the season.
Though his stats do not scream of those that you want in a first round pick, Charlton did his damage in the last five weeks of the season. Two of Charlton’s three sacks would occur in that span, as well as six of his seven quarterback hits. Averaging only 23 snaps a game for the first 12 weeks of the season, a factor in his underwhelming performances came with a lack of playing time. During weeks 12-17, Charlton saw an increase in his time on the field, from 23 snaps per game to 29. It may just be six snaps, but that can always be an extra third or redzone down. Also consider, it came in a time that was most important for Dallas. With a chance to make the playoffs, the Cowboys needed to pull off a five-game winning steak with some added help, and Charlton was called upon. In two of those games, Charlton would play over 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, something he only did once in the previous 12 weeks.
One thing Charlton has to work on is better utilizing his length. As the season went on, he began to curb his less than stellar spin move, and focus more on using said length.
Ok this is not Jason Peters of the Eagles that Charlton had to go against, but it’s how he was able to do it. Aside from what John Owning of FanRagSports stated, it was the length, rip, and his feet kept moving that won him this battle. Strength and creating distance leans into his own favor, and not giving his leverage immediately away into the offensive lineman.
Chidobe Awuzie (2nd round – Pick 28)
By far, Dallas’ best cover defensive back on the season. The northern California native that led a lethal secondary unit at the University of Colorado, did not slow down in his initial time as a Cowboy. Appearing in ten games, and starting in the last five weeks, Chidobe Awuzie bounced back and forth on the field and with the medical staff. A lingering hamstring injury did not allow fans to see what he was truly capable of doing until week 12.
Now, the competition may not have been the best to brag against, but a player can only be held accountable for who was lined up across from them. From the second Giants game to the end of the season, teams would only average 164 passing yards per game, and Awuzie set the tone.
He has excellent footwork that helps keep his body squared and controlled on routes to not get beat. Also, Awuzie does something that hasn’t been common with Dallas defensive backs, he makes plays on the ball. A fast corner with great ball skills, it allows him to match up against various receiver body types.
Jourdan Lewis (3rd Round – Pick 28)
The other Michigan Wolverine that was selected by the Cowboys, Lewis also faced doubt from the start. Being only 5’10″, Lewis fell into the criticism of below average measurables. Assumed to be someone who will struggle to press and run with bigger receivers in the pros, he proved doubters wrong in every way.
Finishing the season with 10 pass deflections and an interception, Lewis did not hold himself to the opinion that he could only make it in the league as a nickel corner. Starting in seven games for the Cowboys, he manned the boundary corner spot in all of them. A technician of his craft that can tackle really well and locks his eyes on the ball. Take the play below for example.
Going against Michael Crabtree, who is one of the best red zone threats in the league and has three inches on Lewis, he did exactly what people said he would not be able to do. Bump coverage on Crabtree, he then keeps his hips open to where Crabtree is, and immediately turns and looks for the ball knowing he has a feel on the receiver behind him.
The struggle that came with Lewis, is that he often found himself trailing behind receivers at the top of their route on drag routes. Hard enough to cover within itself, teams knew how to take advantage of his 4.55 speed. It was not often though, and improvement came, but this part of his game is what failed him at times. As for that “height issue down the field”, that seems to be a non-issue.
Make sure to check out our grades on the second half of the Cowboys’ 2017 draft class in part two of this series.