IRVING, Texas – Technically, the guys like Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams are still considered rookies and will be until the NFL calendar year ends in March.
Some of them played active roles, had to grow up quickly and learn on the run.
Looking ahead, it’s time to rank the best rookies on the roster. The criteria is about performance last year and also their big-picture perspective heading into 2014 and beyond.
When the season concluded, the Dallas Cowboys had exactly 10 rookies on the depth chart, so without any honorable mentions, let’s jump right in.
10. Cameron Lawrence – Forced into action because of the injuries at linebacker, Lawrence finished second on the team with 12 special teams tackles, despite playing just 10 games. Lawrence might have a hard time making this team again if all the linebackers are healthy in camp but he proved he can be a difference maker on special teams and that always helps.
9. Jakar Hamilton – He wasn’t as productive as Lawrence by any means, but in terms of long-term, Hamilton could have more upside, especially considering the question marks at safety. Hamilton got put in a bad spot in the Detroit game and his inexperience was put on display. What a rough spot for any rookie to make his debut. But he once started at Georgia as a freshman, so talent is there.
8. B.W. Webb – This fourth-round pick wasn’t much of a contributor this past season. He was also forced into action more than the Cowboys wanted and there were more struggles. And that was somewhat expected considering he came from William & Mary and now he’s playing slot cornerback. He was eventually replaced by Sterling Moore in the nickel, but let’s see what kind of jump he makes from Year 1 to Year 2.
7. Jeff Heath – If this was about production and stats, Heath would’ve likely been No. 3 on this list. Say what you want about the New Orleans game when he had a night to forget or some other plays in which his coverage skills are in question, but Heath showed a lot of promise for an undrafted rookie from Saginaw Valley State. Heath started only six games but finished sixth in tackles with 60 and tied for fourth with six pass breakups.
6. J.J. Wilcox – He gets the nod over Heath on this list because of upside only. Don’t forget Wilcox only played one year of safety in college before joining the Cowboys so it’s still a learning process for him. He had some moments where he flashed his athletic ability but there were also some “lost” moments. Come next year, Wilcox likely gets the chance to win the job once again.
5. Joseph Randle – His placement’s based more on what he could mean in the future than what he contributed as a rookie, finishing with 54 carries for 164 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Unless an extension gets worked out, this upcoming year will be DeMarco Murray’s last season under contract with the Cowboys. Dallas drafted Randle as a potential carry-the-load back and someone capable of handling the full duties. The Cowboys have to figure out if he can be a long-term option next year.
4. Gavin Escobar – He flashed his potential a few times throughout the year but was only used sparingly. This offseason might be more essential for him than any other rookie on this team. The coaches continually emphasized just how important it will be for Escobar to get stronger prior to the start of next season. The backup tight end finished with nine catches, 134 yards and two touchdowns, serving more as a passing option than a stout run blocker.
3. DeVonte Holloman – The rookie, who never played middle linebacker prior to the 2013 season, finished the year as the starter at that spot after various injuries. The sixth-round pick also happened to be one of the most valuable contributors among the rookie class, finishing with 28 tackles and tied for fourth on the team with two sacks, both of which came in the finale. That was his best game of the year, leading the team with 11 combined tackles. He should compete for a starting outside linebacker spot next year.
2. Terrance Williams – One of the more inconsistent players early in the year and in training camp became one of the offense’s most accountable, consistent options late in the year. The receiver’s ability to get behind the defense added an element for Tony Romo and Kyle Orton that few other players possessed on the team. His 44 catches for 736 yards and five touchdowns all rank in the top five in team history among rookies, and he got noticeably better as the year went on.
1. Travis Frederick – The Cowboys were highly criticized for moving back and grabbing the Wisconsin center late in the first round, but he couldn’t have exceeded expectations much more than he did. Frederick immediately stepped in as the center and stayed on the field all year, helping to anchor the Cowboys’ best rushing attack in years. There were some growing pains early on, but by the end of the year he helped the Cowboys’ offensive line become one of the most formidable in the league.