Dallas Cowboys rookie growing pains will pay rookie dividends soon

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s not often a returning 13-win team comes back the next season and puts multiple rookies in multiple prominent roles, but that is what the Dallas Cowboys are doing in 2022 with starting LT Tyler Smith, TEs Jake Ferguson and Payton Hendershot, and DE Sam Williams.

Bad teams are the ones who usually start the rookies. Not playoff teams. But a mix of offseason cuts, untimely injuries (really, is there such a thing as a “timely” injury?), and standout performances have pushed a few of the Dallas Cowboys greenhorns into the limelight early this season.

Tyler Smith and Jake Ferguson have big roles early for the Dallas Cowboys and that will pay off in a big way down the stretch.

Tyler Smith was always supposed to start on the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. That’s what first round picks do and since the Cowboys were chasing their need specifically with this pick (they were determined to pick O-line), he was a shoe-in for Week One.

But a late training camp injury to starting left tackle Tyron Smith flipped the script. Instead of starting at LG, the only position he practiced in camp, Smith would be moved to LT.

As we’ve discussed ad nauseum, LT was always the plan for Smith, it just wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly. Rookie OTs are notorious for their struggles – especially ones taken outside of the top-10.

Growing pains are inevitable and it’s better to get them over with early, rather than delay it

Smith came to the NFL abnormally raw, so to expecting him to buck the trend would have been a little foolish. Even so, needs dictated he start the process early and the Dallas Cowboys would have deal with the consequences along the way.

How did the rookie do?

Pretty well. As we expected, Smith has been a standout run blocker but has struggled with pass protection. Early in the season he ranked as PFF’s second best rookie OT but since then he’s fallen back to earth and now sits at fifth in his class.

Smith allowed four pressures against the Eagles showing how far he still has to go before he can be seen as a true franchise-caliber LT. But such is the nature of the position. Growing pains are inevitable and it’s better to get them over with early, rather than delay it. Come December, this is all going to pay off.

At tight end, Jake Ferguson has also stood out as a key starter. Dalton Schultz injured his knee and the timeline for return is undetermined. Luckily for the Dallas Cowboys they have an abnormally polished fourth round pick waiting in the wings.

Ferguson has been an asset from Day One in Dallas. His blocking is already on par with the veteran Schultz, and his hands are far better than advertised. The fact that TE is one of the slowest developing positions in the pros tells us how far ahead of the curve Ferguson is right now.

Ferguson isn’t just holding it down, but he’s making plays on the regular. Him and undrafted rookie Payton Hendershot have shown what life will be like without Schultz next year, and not only is not scary, but it’s exciting. There’s no doubt Stephen Jones will be happy to avoid top-of-the-market prices that Schultz will demand next spring.

Ferguson isn’t without mistakes and has a lot of room to grow, but like Tyler Smith at tackle, the growing pains are inevitable and his developmental arch is well ahead of what was expected when he arrived in camp.

Both players look like they will be cornerstone pieces in no time.

the growing pains they are going through early will pay off late and the Dallas Cowboys will be better off for it in the end

Even Sam Williams, the unpolished pass rusher the Cowboys drafted in the second round, is getting in on the action. Dan Quinn’s pet project has a slew of talent ahead of him on the depth chart so he won’t be starting anytime soon, but he’s getting regular snaps and he’s making plays and that says a lot about his talent level early in this process.

The only rookie who’s disappointed from this class is third round pick, Jalen Tolbert, at WR. The Dallas Cowboys needed him to come in and be an asset early but he’s struggled with confidence and hasn’t been able to do much of anything.

While disappointing, there’s still plenty of time for him to break through. And the standout contributions from Noah Brown this season are minimizing the damage.

Related Story. How DaRon Bland bought his teammates time. light

The Dallas Cowboys rookies are struggling. Let’s not pretend they are veteran standard quite yet. But the growing pains they are going through early will pay off late and the Dallas Cowboys will be better off for it in the end.