Dallas Cowboys 2017 Rookie Report: Meet the class
The 2017 Dallas Cowboys rookie class is set in stone. In this first edition of Rookie Report, we take an in-depth look at each player Dallas drafted.
The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2017 NFL Draft with several glaring needs. Almost the entire starting secondary had departed. They were forced out of the playoffs after not being able to touch Aaron Rodgers. Many fans were clamoring for an “all-defense” draft.
So, when draft day rolled around, the Cowboys didn’t dissapoint. They selected nine players in total, with seven being defensive prospects. Here at NFL Spin Zone, we’ve already graded the picks. However, we aren’t here to give the Cowboys more grades. In all honesty, you can’t really grade a draft class for about three years. But we do it early, because it’s fun.
Anyways, it’s time to start breaking down this rookie class. Last year’s haul was a draft for the ages, so many fans are wondering if the Cowboys were able to repeat their success. The only way to know, really, is to simply turn on the tape.
That’s exactly what I’ve done. Nine players, nine full scouting reports. (Disclaimer: I am not a professional scout, nor do I claim to be. Opinions are my own and I reserve the right to be wrong.)
Before we get into it, some housekeeping items. I’ve listed players heights in scouting notation. They will look like this: 6034. The first number (6) is feet. The next two (03) are inches. The last number is eighths of an inch. So a player at 6034 is 6-3.5 (six feet, three and four-eighths inches). Finally, grades are on a scale of 4.0 to 9.0. More information on the grading system I used can be found here.
Let’s get to it.
Taco Charlton, DE – Michigan
The Dallas Cowboys chose to address their pass rush with their first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. They reached into the talented pool of defenders from Michigan to do so, grabbing themselves Taco Charlton.
Background: Vidauntae “Taco” Charlton hails from Pickerington, OH where he played football and basketball at Pickerington Central High School. Other PCHS alumnus in the NFL include Roger Lewis, wide receiver of the New York Giants, and Brian Peters, linebacker of the Houston Texans. Charlton excelled on the gridiron his senior year, racking up 19 sacks. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, and received offers from several Big Ten schools, ultimately committing to Michigan.
Games Studied: 2015: Northwestern; 2016: Rutgers, Penn State, Wisconsin, Florida State, Ohio State
Positions: Left defensive end, right defensive end, three-technique
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Weight (lbs): 277
Arms (in): 34 1/4
Pros: Built like a prototypical defensive end. Has the size and length to excel at rushing the passer as well as hold up in the run-game. He can be a three-down defender. Disciplined when defending the read-option – shuffles down the line until he reads, good gap integrity. Bends well. His spin move is effective at times.
Puts himself in good position. There were many plays where I thought he would have been able to get home had he been able to use a swim or rip move. High motor. Doesn’t give up pursuit.
Cons: Lacking a variety of pass rushing moves in his arsenal. Rarely makes a play if the offensive lineman thwarts his first move. Sometimes he is a half-step too slow when reacting to where the ball is in the run game. Inconsistent. Needs to lower his pad level, too often does he allow an offensive lineman to get into his pads. Similarly, could benefit from dipping his shoulder more when bending around the edge.
Ends up on the ground too often when defending the run. Also needs to improve his hand usage. He has the length to keep tackles off his frame, but doesn’t possess an effective club/counter to keep tackles from getting their hands on his body. Gets upfield a little too fast on running plays, which takes him out of the play. Though his best rush-move is the spin, he needs to work on timing it better.
Projection: Taco Charlton really excites me because I think he is barely scratching the surface of his pro-potential. All his issues are technique-related and easily corrected with proper coaching. I think he’ll see action mostly at left-end early on in his career, with the potential to move to right end down the road once he has developed more pass-rush moves and fixed his pad-level issues.
Grade: 6.6 (Round 3)
Chidobe Awuzie, CB – Colorado
With their second selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys started adding fresh legs to their depleted secondary. First up on the list, Colorado’s own Chidobe Awuzie.
Background: Chidobe Awuzie is a native of San Jose, CA where he attended Oak Grove High School. Oak Grove has produced several NFL players, most serving reserve roles, including former Dallas Cowboys safety Eric Frampton. During his time in high school, Awuzie played both cornerback and wide receiver. He was a three-star recruit upon graduating and turned down offers from Utah and Washington St. to play football at Colorado.
Games Studied: 2015: Colorado State; 2016: Colorado State, UCLA, USC, Washington, Stanford
Positions: Slot corner, field corner, boundary corner
40-yard (sec.): 4.43
Vertical (in.): 34.5
Pros: The first thing that jumped out to me on tape was Awuzie’s willingness to tackle. He’s not afraid to get physical, going for a big hit on more than one occasion. Tackling form showed improvement from 2015 to 2016. He also showed good upper body strength. I thought he excelled when playing off zone coverage. He has average to good closing speed and is very disciplined in his zone. Moves based off the eyes of the quarterback.
In man coverage, I thought he did a good job of using the sideline as an extra defender. Displayed adequate ability to identify and respond to different routes. Maintained good inside leverage on most snaps.
Cons: The biggest knock I have on Awuzie is his tackling technique. He isn’t aggressive enough for my liking. As willing as he as, I’d like to see him drive through the ball carrier more, and do a better job of getting low. When he did wrap-up, he usually draped himself over the offensive player’s upper body, resulting in being dragged for a few yards before wrestling him down. Was too much of a catch-tackler at times.
In coverage, I thought Awuzie could have done a better job of maintaining a trailing position. There were several snaps where he would get ahead of his receiver, leaving him very susceptible to comeback routes.
Awuzie also didn’t play much press coverage in the games I studied. When he did, I thought he could have done a much better job of using his hands at the line. There were too many plays where he would allow the receiver to have a free release into their route, which defeated the purpose of Awuzie playing close.
On top of that, there is room for improvement in his hips. He was a bit late to turn them at times, which led to him giving up a step or two here and there. Lastly, he appeared to telegraph his blitzes a bit much, though this may have more to do with his defensive coordinator.
Projection: I would love to play this kid at safety, in part thanks to his zone coverage ability. However, I don’t think his tackling skills are where they need to be to take on that role in the Dallas Cowboys scheme. I see him as a boundary corner, as this allows him to play to his strengths: off zone and funneling receivers to the sideline and holding his inside leverage.
Grade: 6.9 (Round 2-3)
Jourdan Lewis, CB – Michigan
The Dallas Cowboys continued overhauling their secondary in the third, by grabbing who many considered to be the best slot corner in the draft.
Background: Jourdan Lewis was a native of Detroit, MI, where he attended Cass Technical High School playing cornerback, wide receiver, and kick returner. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and received offers from Michigan and Toledo. At Michigan, Lewis was a 2.5-year starter at cornerback (made 7 starts his sophomore year). Lewis was also named a two-time All-American, and won the 2016 Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award.
Character: On March 16, Lewis was charged with domestic violence to which he entered a plea of not guilty. Police reports show conflicting accounts of the even between Lewis and his then girlfriend.
Games Studied: 2015: Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State; 2016: Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Florida State, Ohio State
Positions: Field corner, boundary corner, slot corner
40-yard: 4.50 (average of Combine and Pro Day)
Pros: Though Lewis measures only 5-10, he plays a lot bigger than his. Doesn’t give up a lot of separation, in part thanks to his use of his off arm to feel the receiver’s route. Very fluid with his hips. Lewis demonstrated good instincts, ball skills, and an ability to make a play at the point of the catch. Tough player, willing to tackle, at his best when he can wrap up.
Cons: Gets bullied at the top of routes by larger receivers, though this was more of a problem in 2015. When playing press coverage, he could stand to be more proactive with his hands — he tends to let the receiver engage him first, which ends up yielding a half-step. Has trouble fighting through blocks to make a tackle. Doesn’t always get his head around in time, which limits his ability to make use of his excellent ball skills. Very grabby downfield, needs to be corrected as he will be penalized for this more in the NFL.
Projection: I thought Lewis played best as a field corner, though as a pro I think he projects best as a slot corner in nickel packages. His backpedal and hips allow him to stay with receivers on sharp cuts, and his instincts help him when space gets tight. Proper coaching should fix his hand technique issues.
Grade: 7.0 (Round 2)
Ryan Switzer, WR – North Carolina
The Dallas Cowboys finally addressed their offense in the fourth round. With arguable one of the best slot receivers in the NFL in Cole Beasley, Dallas chose to strengthen its strength, grabbing Ryan Switzer from North Carolina.
Background: Ryan Switzer grew up in Charleston, WV and attended George Washington High School. During his time there, he played football, basketball and ran track. He was honored with numerous awards for his performance on the gridiron, including winning the Kennedy Award twice.
Medical: Switzer has a concussion history. So far in his career, he has suffered two: on August 25, 2012 (in high school) and on November 29, 2014 (in college). He also took many excessively hard hits to the head while returning punts in college.
Games Studied: 2015: Clemson, Duke; 2016: Pittsburgh, Florida State, NC State
Positions: Return specialist, slot wide receiver, field wide receiver
Pros: Special with the ball in his hands. Outstanding vision, quickness, and agility. Changes direction smoothly, sharply and without losing speed. Able to get skinny to squeeze through tackles. Catches the ball with his hands and brings it in to his body. Natural feel for getting open and making himself a good target for his quarterback. Very tough football player.
Cons: Fields a lot of punts that should be fair caught, though this improved from 2015 to 2016. Lacks breakaway speed. Rounds the cut at the top of his out route. Concerned about his durability — between the concussions and size. Taken off the field three times during his final game against NC State in 2016.
Projection: Ryan Switzer projects best as a slot receiver and kick returner. He is a bit of a gadget player, and should be able to contribute on jet sweeps and screen passes. As a receiver, he will be limited solely to the slot — he lacks size and speed to play outside. Should contribute immediately in sub packages.
Grade: 6.2 (Round 4)
Xavier Woods, S – Louisiana Tech
After addressing their needs at edge rusher and corner, the Dallas Cowboys saw an opportunity at safety too good to pass up on. So, they traded their fifth-round pick in 2018 to jump back into the sixth round and grab Xavier Woods.
Background: Xavier Woods grew up in West Monroe, LA where he attended West Monroe High School. Notable players from WMHS include Andrew Whitworth, offensive tackle of the LA Rams, and Barkevious Mingo, linebacker of the Indianapolis Colts. Woods received eight offers to play college football, including several from big name schools. Stanford, Houston and Indiana were all interested before Woods ultimately signed with Louisiana Tech.
Games Studied: 2015: Arkansas State, Mississippi State; 2016: Arkansas, Western Kentucky
Positions: Safety, Nickelback
Pros: Good tackler in space when he gets to the ball carrier. Not afraid to dish out punishment. Disciplined in zone coverage, does a good job of reacting to the quarterback’s eyes. Displayed good instincts, saw plays as they developed. Deceptive range. Excellent hands and ball skills.
Cons: Biggest one was consistency. There were times where he took some questionable angles to the ball carrier which didn’t make sense considering his other good tackles in space. Got stuck on blocks when playing closer to the line. Doesn’t have the speed to keep up with faster receivers when covering them out of the slot.
Projection: Xavier Woods projects best as a high safety. He was at his best when he had time to read the quarterback and react to the play. Much better tackler when he could build up steam and avoid blocks. Can help on special teams and cover from the slot if necessary. He would make a good box safety once he fixes his angles issue and gets off blocks better.
Grade: 6.0 (Round 4-5)
Marquez White, CB – Florida State
When the Dallas Cowboys said, they wanted to draft defense this year, they weren’t kidding. With their second of two sixth-round picks after trading up earlier in the draft, they selected Marquez White from Florida State.
Background: Marquez White grew up in Dothan, Alabama and went to school at Dothan Western High School. White was a four-star recruit coming out of school, and received offers from Alabama, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Auburn, and six other schools before committing to Florida State. He started two years at FSU, playing a reserve role his first two seasons. In 2013 and 2014 he also played basketball (reserve guard), but quit to focus on football his junior season.
Games Studied: 2016: Ole Miss, Clemson, NC State
Positions: Field corner, boundary corner
40-yard: 4.62 (average of Combine and Pro Day)
Pros: White is a smart football player. Diagnosed several plays before or as they were developing (indicating good game prep and tape study). Long corner. Plays faster than his 40-time in short areas. Can flip his hips and run. Decent in man coverage.
Cons: Doesn’t have straight line speed to keep up with fast receivers on the outside in man. When playing press, he allows receivers a free release, opting not to jam. Doesn’t funnel receivers to the sideline when playing on the boundary. Could get his head around more. Needs to use a free arm to feel out routes, he leaves himself very susceptible to comebacks. Awful tackler. Opts to hit the ball carrier with his shoulder and doesn’t wrap up.
Projection: Developmental outside corner. He has the size, length, and football IQ necessary, but needs major technique work. Needs to improve his tackling ability, as well as jam technique and ball skills before he sees major reps.
Grade: 5.8 (Round 6-7)
Joey Ivie, DT – Florida
The Dallas Cowboys went back to the trenches with their first of three seventh round selections. Welcome to Dallas, Joey Ivie.
Background: Joey Ivie was born and raised in Dade City, FL where he attended Pasco High School. Ivie graduated as a three-star recruit, receiving offers from several big-name schools (including Tennessee, Florida State, Miami and Wester Virginia) before committing to Florida.
Games Studied: 2016: Alabama, LSU
Positions: One-technique, three-technique
Bench Press (225 pounds): 23
Pros: Ivie is a high motor player. He plays whistle to whistle, and doesn’t slow down. Always running towards the ball. Reads and reacts well at the line of scrimmage, effectively moving to the correct gap. Demonstrated a good swim move when pass rushing.
Cons: Plays with a high pad level. This causes him to lose the leverage battle. I questioned his playing strength at time. Hand use needs to improve. There were too many snaps where he was unable to keep the center of guard away from his pads, allowing himself to get stonewalled at the line.
Projection: Developmental three-technique defensive tackle. Not sure he has the strength required to play the one-technique position, but demonstrated a good nose for the ball and functional pass rush ability. Could be a serviceable backup once minor technique issues are corrected.
Grade: 5.7 (Round 7)
Noah Brown, WR – Ohio State
With their second pick in the seventh round, the Dallas Cowboys drafted their second offensive player of the draft. Noah Brown and fourth round pick Ryan Switzer make up the entirety of the offense drafted by Dallas in 2017.
Background: Noah Brown grew up in Flanders, NJ and attended Pope John XXIII High School. PJXXIIIHS does not have any notable football alumni. Brown was a four-star recruit and received 22 offers from several SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 schools before committing to Ohio State.
Games Studied: 2016: Oklahoma, Michigan
Positions: Boundary receiver, slot receiver
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Pros: Brown is a very tough and physical football player. He will attack the ball in the air instead of letting it come to his body. Has a good feel for getting open against zone coverage. Ran some very precise routes on occasion. Very willing and technically sound blocker.
Cons: Inconsistent as a route runner. While he showed flashes, some of his routes were unpolished at best. Doesn’t high point the ball as well as he needs to if he is to be an NFL X-receiver. Could do a better job of boxing out defenders with his big body instead of reaching through them.
Projection: Noah Brown has all the traits to be a very successful boundary receiver in the NFL. He will need time to refine his route running and timing, but should be a valuable contributor down the road.
Grade: 6.1 (Round 4-5)
Jordan Carrell, DT – Colorado
The Dallas Cowboys used their final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to give Rod Marinelli another toy to play with. With the selection of Jordan Carrell, they filled out the depth chart on their defensive line.
Background: Jordan Carrell went to school in Elk Grove, California at Roseville High School. He played both center and defensive end, as well as three years of baseball. Upon graduating, Carrell played football at American River College for two years before transferring to Colorado.
Games Studied: 2016: Michigan
Positions: One technique, three technique, nose tackle
Bench Press (225 pounds): 20
Pros: Plays with good leverage and strength. Good awareness. Appears to be very athletic for such a large player. Good short area quickness. Can get after the ball carrier or quarterback.
Cons: Hand usage isn’t where it needs to be. Offensive linemen are able to get hands on him which lets them redirect him from his gap assignment. Came off the field a considerable amount.
Projection: I think Carrell projects best as a one-technique tackle at the next level. His athleticism will allow him to be a very good run defender, and his size is perfect. He plays with enough leverage to keep offensive linemen in the running lanes. Will need to do some strength work and also needs considerable technique coaching.
Grade: 5.6 (Round 7 – PFA)