Dallas Cowboys Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State – Round 1
This was a tough choice for me because I loved the Cowboys’ draft, especially in the first two days. There were a lot of options for boom pick and solid starter. I went with Elliott because in my opinion he was one of the safest players in the draft. From a skill-set perspective, I would be shocked if Elliott doesn’t turn into a solid starter.

Elliott is extremely well-rounded runner. What sets up all of his success is his first-step quickness and his burst to hit the hole. Elliott doesn’t have Chris Johnson speed, but he has a fast first-step and gets to the second level of defenses in a hurry. He has excellent feet, cutting ability, vision, balance, and pad level to weave through defenders.

Elliott has an ideal build for the NFL. With his power, balance, and pad level, he is tough to tackle and picks up yards after contact. Elliott runs low to the ground and has good ball security. He is good in short-yardage situartions and near the goal line has a nose for the end zone. With his elusiveness, Elliott also can create for himself, so he bails out his blockers if they don’t have everything perfect. In the passing game, Elliott is an asset and has three-down ability. He is a good receiver and also is an impressive blocker.

On top of what Elliott brings to the table, Dallas has an excellent offensive line that is built to pave the way for a talented runner. There are only two issues that I could see where Elliott wouldn’t pan out. The first is the normal injury hazards with any running back. The second is Elliott has some off-the-field issues. His teammates weren’t that favorable toward him in pre-draft meetings according to team sources. Elliott also was a hard partier at Ohio State, and teams strongly suspected that Elliott was into party drugs like ecstasy and molly. If the celebrity status goes to his head and his partying turns into a distraction, I could see that holding him back in his NFL career. Thus, Elliot is my selection for solid starter and not a boom pick.

Most Likely To Bust

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State – Round 4
Since I loved the Cowboys’ picks on the first two days of the draft, I don’t see bust potential with them. I think Elliott will be a tough NFL running back, Jaylon Smith could be a star linebacker, and I think Maliek Collins could be an effective three-technique for Rod Marinelli. The pick that I could see not working out for Dallas is Prescott in the fourth round. Prescott needs development in the NFL, and I’m not sure he will be able to round into form fast enough.

There were times at Mississippi State when Prescott showed good accuracy and field vision from the pocket. He made stick throws to the sideline and had good ball placement. However, Prescott was inconsistent with his accuracy and inconsistent with his field vision. He needs to get better at working through his progressions and delivering the ball accurately. Prescott has the skills to be a pocket passer, but he needs to develop those traits and find comfort in working out of the pocket. He also will need some time learning to operate from under center.

Prescott has great intangibles that teams across the league loved. He also impressed them with his football I.Q., so one can be sure that Prescott is going to do everything possible to be a good pro.

However, I think Prescott could see the field before he is ready given how injury-prone Tony Romo is. Prescott needs time to develop, and many young quarterbacks had their careers ruined because they were forced to play before they were ready. Prescott has some ability, but I think he also has the most bust potential of the Cowboys’ early round picks.

Potential Boom Pick

Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame – Round 2
If Smith gets back to his pre-injury form, he will be a huge boom pick for the Cowboys. Dallas got a player who was a top-five talent in the second round, and Smith could end up being a massive steal for the Cowboys. After suffering a devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, Smith lost out on being a first-round pick. However, the Cowboys are going to take their time with him, and I think he could provide a huge impact for Dallas’ defense come 2017 and beyond.

For the NFL, Smith does everything well, and there isn’t a weakness in his game. In run defense, he has sideline-to-sideline speed to track down ball-carriers. Smith has tremendous instincts, too. He is very good at reading his keys and exploding through the scrum to take down ball-carriers. Smith is strong to defend against downhill runs coming straight at him and has functional strength to get off blocks. He has the potential to be one of the top tacklers in the NFL as he is very good at finishing the tackle and is fabulous at getting in position to make the stop.

Smith is an extremely rare prospect in terms of pass coverage. As a professional, he could be a tremendous linebacker weapon to neutralize receiving threat tight ends and help against receivers in the middle of the field. Smith is fast enough to run with tight ends down the seam and not allow separation. His athleticism and ball skills could make him a great asset to take away receiving tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce or Tyler Eifert. Smith is so quick and natural in coverage that he can help cover slot receivers. For running backs out of the backfield, Smith also is very good at blanketing them. In zone coverage, Smith is skilled to pick up receivers coming into his area and keeping them from getting open. He also is a dangerous blitzer when given the opportunity to rush the passer. Smith explodes around the corner, and his pass-rushing skills are an underrated aspect of his game.

For Dallas, Smith would be a perfect fit as a Mike (middle) linebacker in a 4-3 defense and also could play Will (weakside). The Cowboys have a great situation for Smith as they can take their time with him. With Rolando McClain and Sean Lee, they don’t have to rush Smith back. After sitting out 2016, Smith could be eased into action behind Lee in 2017 and then eventually be an upgrade over the veteran. If he can avoid re-injury, I think Smith is going to be a boom pick for Dallas.

Future Depth Player

Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma – Round 4
I wouldn’t be shocked if Tapper became a starter, but I think he should at least be a solid backup and rotational defensive end. The reason why I think Tapper may not ever be a starter is because at 6-foot-2, 271 pounds, he lacks the height and length to be a base end in the NFL. Tapper was an underrated player for Oklahoma last year with quality run defense and seven sacks. He is a gritty defender who is solid, but unspectacular. In the NFL, I see him being a quality depth player and contributor.

Walt’s 2016 NFL Draft Grades:

4. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State D Grade
For the past several years, the Cowboys have drafted very well. They had gotten away from the Jerry Jones-style of selecting players. Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s been rumored that Jones wanted Elliott, while everyone else was in favor of Jalen Ramsey. I don’t know why, but the Cowboys are stupid again.

If you draft a running back No. 4 in this day and age, you better make sure that he’s the next Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders. Elliott is not that. He’s not even as good as Todd Gurley. You can find very good running backs anywhere. Hell, the Cowboys found DeMarco Murray after the first round. This would be a Millen grade if I didn’t like Elliott as a prospect, but selecting him in the top five is borderline insane.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

34. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame B Grade
Wow. WOW. I can’t believe this. Some teams had Jaylon Smith as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect because they believed there was a good chance that he would never be able to play in the NFL. There were some rumblings that he’d go at the end of the third round, but this is unreal. Maybe the Dallas doctors know something the rest of the league doesn’t, but this pick could obviously really pan out. Smith could be a perennial Pro Bowler if he ever gets back to 100 percent. I’m giving the Cowboys a solid grade, but I can’t go into the A range because of the enormous risk. I’d like this a lot better if Dallas took him in the third round.

67. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska B- Grade
The Cowboys probably could’ve obtained Maliek Collins a bit later, but he’s not a bad pick here at all. Collins will probably be a decent fit into the rotation, which needed help entering this weekend. He’s also coming off a down year, so perhaps Dallas is doing a good thing here by buying low. I just think they could’ve bought lower.

101. Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma B Grade
The Cowboys were apparently getting a ton of flak for not addressing the pass rush in the first two days of the draft. It’s no surprise that they picked Charles Tapper; he was projected to be chosen atop Round 4, and he has the athleticism that Dallas covets.

135. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State A Grade
I mocked Dak Prescott to the Cowboys in the third round, so while I’m not surprised that they drafted him, I thought they’d take him a bit earlier. Then again, perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that Prescott dropped in the wake of his DUI. Prescott, originally tabbed as a second-round prospect, certainly paid the price, but he definitely has enough promise to eventually take over as the starter once Tony Romo moves on.

189. Anthony Brown, CB, Purdue C- Grade
I’m not sure why the Cowboys spent a draft pick on Anthony Brown. The Purdue prospect was downright awful at school, constantly getting torched. He was just an average athlete, so it’s not like he has a ton of upside. Dallas could’ve taken someone better.

212. Kavon Frazier, S, Central Michigan A- Grade
The Cowboys have made some sketchy picks in this draft, but this is a very good one. Kavon Frazier tested as one of the top safeties at the Combine. He also played well at Central Michigan. Frazier, who could’ve been chosen a round or two earlier than this, figures to stick on the roster as a viable backup at the very least.

216. Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan B+ Grade
Darius Jackson tested as the most athletic running back in this year’s draft class. The Cowboys love their SPARQ players, so it’s hardly a surprise that they picked him. Jackson doesn’t have an extensive track record of production at Eastern Michigan, but he has at least proven that he can be a third-down back. He’s blocked by Ezekiel Elliott in that regard, but he should fill in well if Elliott gets hurt.

217. Rico Geathers, TE, Baylor A- Grade
And another athlete for the Cowboys. Rico Geathers played basketball at Baylor, but like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, he wants to be a tight end in the NFL. It’s definitely worth taking a shot on Geathers, as he has the potential to develop into a potent weapon.

2016 NFL Draft Team Grade: C . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

Dallas Cowboys Season Preview

Fantasy Football Rankings - May 23

2025 NFL Mock Draft - May 21

NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

NFL Picks - Feb. 12