In typical seasons, it’s the Dallas Cowboys first draft pick who leads his class in snaps. Higher draft status often means better player. A bigger rookie role is not a crazy expectation for fans to have.
But 2023 is not your typical Dallas Cowboys situation. Not only did the Cowboys stray far outside their usual box by drafting an interior defensive lineman with their first pick, but that first round pick doesn’t have an immediate starting role readily available.
Given the history of first round DTs selected over the past few seasons, expectations should be tempered for Mazi Smith. He’s raw in his development and with Johnathan Hankins on staff, Dallas has the luxury of easing their rookie first rounder into the action.
The rookie who stands to garner the most opportunities in 2023 is the Dallas Cowboys 2023 second round selection, TE Luke Schoonmaker.
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Luke Schoonmaker for a reason: to replace Dalton Schultz. Schultz, their previous TE1, was a big part of the Dallas offense over the past three seasons. After 2022 rookies Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot impressed in their rookie campaigns, Schultz appeared to be somewhat replaceable.
It didn’t hurt Schultz had fallen out of favor with Cowboys Nation for his lackluster effort in blocking and less-than-electric dynamism downfield. But Schultz was steady and a reliable option for Dak Prescott in a variety of ways. He wasn’t just a safety blanket – he was more.
Jake Ferguson is still a gamble for the Dallas Cowboys
For as confident as Cowboys Nation felt with Ferg taking over, the Cowboys clearly thought otherwise. They wouldn’t have forced a second-round pick at TE if they weren’t concerned.
TE isn’t a premium position in the NFL. Great players can be found later and only desperation or the hunt for a rare breed drives teams to spend early picks on the position. Based on the top draft analysts, it’s safe to say the reason for Schoonmaker isn’t the latter. He’s not exactly the most explosive TE prospect, after all.
The Cowboys were just scared to roll into the 2023 season banking on Ferguson.
That’s not to say optimism doesn’t surround Ferguson. Jake Ferguson is still expected to be the TE1 right out of training camp. His 19 receptions for 174 yards just illustrate his inexperience and the gamble the Dallas Cowboys would be taking by putting all their eggs in Ferguson’s basket. But Schultz leaves behind 817 snaps in 2022 and all of those can’t go to the Ferg and Hendy duo.
It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Schoonmaker, an extremely old rookie who’s a well-developed blocker, lead the TE group in snaps. Mazi Smith can’t do that. Dan Quinn quietly employs a strange 3-3-5 defense that doesn’t require heavy use of 1-dimentional run-stoppers. Smith is expected to add pass-rushing to his arsenal but that’s going to take time. For now, he’s going to ease in as a run-stuffer.
The rest of the class (LB DeMarvion Overshown, DL Viliami Fehoko, OL Asim Richards, CB Eric Scott, RB Deuce Vaughn and WR Jalen Brooks) face similar barriers to entry.
Unless there are injuries, Overshown will be groomed slowly. Fehoko looks like an immediate contributor, but he’s capped as a rotational piece and his role is clearly behind Chauncey Golston. Richards has a bright future but needs a full year in the weight room.
Eric Scott has been flashing this offseason and doesn’t appear to be the bust many thought he’d be when the Dallas Cowboys traded up for him in the draft. Vaughn is capped in his role and will likely never be more than a change-of-pace player in the NFL. And Brooks faces an extremely crowded field at WR and is likely destined for the practice squad.
As we can see, Schoomanker almost wins the pre-training camp designation by default. None of this should be surprising considering Dallas is coming off back-to-back 12-win seasons and has maintained a ridiculously healthy salary cap in the process (which is also an indictment to the front office).
The roster is solid. No one is in position to walk into a job and opportunities will have to earned. But given the circumstances it’s Schoonmaker who stands to make the biggest (snap-based) impact in 2023.
Long-term? That’s an entirely different story.
- Published on 07/02/2023 at 12:55 PM
- Last updated at 07/02/2023 at 12:59 PM