I’ve said it before and I’ll say it time and time again: Contrary to popular belief, the Cowboys have competitively rebuilt over the last couple years and seem to be in position to continue to be competitive over the next decade.
In 2012, the Cowboys brought in a draft class that was supposed to be building blocks for the future. With the exception of Morris Claiborne, the rest of the picks were raw players with high upside.
I’ve graded the drafted rookies with a real-time grade. That grade indicates how they’ve performed to this point in the season.
I’ve also added an “upside grade”, which takes into consideration current play, college and preseason performance and measurable attributes. This grade indicates what I believe the ceiling grade for that player will be as a long-term option for the Cowboys.
Upside Grade: A+
The Dallas Cowboys shocked the world when they packaged their 14th overall pick and their second rounder to move up to draft blue-chip cornerback Morris Claiborne.
Since arriving in Dallas, Claiborne has had some up and down days. As of late, though, he’s been outstanding.
It seems like Claiborne is always locking down his receivers. Though he only has one pass defended, it’s not because he isn’t playing well. The reason he isn’t garnering spectacular stats is because he isn’t targeted all that much.
In Week 1, Claiborne helped Brandon Carr keep two of the NFL’s most prolific wide receivers to a combined 96 yards.
In Week 2 he was able to lock down Golden Tate to 38 yards. In all, the Seattle Seahawks were only able to amass 151 total passing yards.
In Week 3, Claiborne kept a very talented Mike Williams to just two receptions and 33 yards. Mike Williams was targeted six times.
Claiborne is expected to still go through a growing process, but he is improving at a very steady rate. By the end of the season, you can expect Claiborne to be the best cornerback on the team—that’s saying a lot when considering Brandon Carr.
Claiborne will be a star for this team and in this league for many years to come.
Upside Grade: A-
Let me start by saying that I personally think Tyrone Crawford is going to be a very good player for the Cowboys defensive line in the future.
In college, Crawford recorded 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
We knew when Crawford was drafted that he was a very raw prospect who would need time to develop. The Cowboys coaching staff is giving him that time. He was very impressive in camp, and there is no reason to believe that he’s not going to continue growing as a player.
Crawford saw game action against Tampa Bay this weekend. In his limited action, Crawford was able to record two tackles.
Crawford has a unique blend of size, strength and speed. He has a typical skill set of an effective speed rusher, and I’m excited to see him develop as a Cowboy.
Upside Grade: B
Wilber is a fourth-round draft pick that some thought would be able to develop into an effective outside linebacker to potentially replace Anthony Spencer.
I don’t agree with that.
I think that Wilber is a fast player who has a nice balance of power and speed. I don’t think he’s overly effective at any one aspect of his game.
In addition, Wilber has been fighting injuries and hasn’t been available for the Cowboys at all. The Cowboys may believe in Wilber, but I certainly don’t, and he hasn’t been able to show me any differently.
As I said before, there is a belief that he can evolve into a good player. I’ll hold out optimism on his “upside grade”, but I don’t think he’ll ever reach that potential.
Wilber is a special teams player who can spell on defense occasionally, but I expect the Cowboys to be looking forward to the draft for a Spencer replacement.
Upside Grade: B+
Matt Johnson is a versatile player who can be a very effective safety for the Cowboys offense. He has been labeled a ball hawk and solid tackler because of his college performances that ended in 17 interceptions.
Here is the issue(s) with Johnson: bicep, hamstring and back. Johnson is injury prone. He hasn’t been consistently on the practice field since he was drafted, and he is really just on the roster due to long-term potential.
If Johnson can start playing, I think he can turn out to be very good. With Barry Church out for the season, Matt Johnson would have every opportunity to crack the lineup.
Johnson is a guy who I personally like a lot. I think his playmaking ability is worth noting, and that alone should keep him on the roster at least until his health proves to be his demise.
Keep an eye on Johnson. He hasn’t done much yet, but his upside is through the roof.
Upside Grade: A-
James Hanna is like an Aaron Hernandez 2.0. I think he has very good hands and is definitely more of a receiving tight end.
When the Cowboys drafted Hanna, they did it knowing the league is evolving into a passing league that features dominant receiving tight ends.
At 6’4", 249 lbs, Hanna is a big target with good speed and disciplined routes. He was targeted once in the Giants game and made a gain of 10 yards.
Hanna wasn’t considered a good blocker coming out of college. However, in games that I’ve been able to see him (mostly preseason) he has shown that he isn’t inept at blocking. He uses good technique and just needs to improve on his awareness and overall effectiveness.
Hanna can really emerge as a solid option for Romo. He won’t be able to supplant Witten, who is struggling, but he will be a good compliment to the potential Hall of Fame tight end.