A draft class needs more than a year to develop before it can be fairly judged. That’s a good thing for the Cowboys’ Class of ’09, since it appears to be an epic failure at this point.
The Cowboys’ brass is confident that perception will change over the next year. They expect a handful of players to join kickoff specialist David Buehler and reserve tight end John Phillips as consistent contributors. (WR Kevin Ogletree also made some impact, but he was undrafted.)
Here’s a quick look at what last year’s draft class has done so far and what hopefully is ahead:
ILB Jason Williams (third round, 69th overall) – He’s a phenomenal athlete who struggled to grasp the playbook and was set back by a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason finale. His failure to make an impact on special teams was a major disappointment, resulting in him being inactive most games. Jerry Jones strongly hinted at the combine that he expects Williams to challenge Bobby Carpenter for the nickel/dime linebacker role.
OL Robert Brewster (third round, 75th overall) – He has yet to put on shoulder pads as a professional. He missed all of last season after tearing a pectoral muscle while lifting weights over the summer. He’s still reshaping his body, which was too blubbery despite losing significant weight at Ball State. His goal should be to challenge for a starting position at either right tackle or left guard in 2011.
QB Stephen McGee (fourth round, 101st overall) – Jones admitted at the combine that the Cowboys haven’t seen much from McGee, who missed the last two games of preseason with an injury. The Cowboys plan to use minicamps, training camp and the preseason to determine whether McGee is a good developmental project. They don’t plan on drafting a quarterback this season, but the position will become a draft priority in 2011 if McGee doesn’t pan out.
OLB Victor Butler (fourth round, 110th overall) – Butler at least contributed on special teams, but he never earned the coaching staff’s trust to get consistent playing time on defense despite making three sacks in limited snaps. DeMarcus Ware’s neck injury forced Butler into a significant role in the upset over the Saints, but he didn’t grade well in that game. The next step for him is to become a situational pass rusher.
OLB Brandon Williams (fourth round, 120th overall) – Williams was a little ahead of Butler before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason finale. The Cowboys have high hopes that he can earn the situational pass rusher role that Butler didn’t last season.
CB/S DeAngelo Smith (fifth round, 143rd overall) – He’ll be best remembered as the defensive back who lost a highly publicized post-practice race to a kicker. He was released in the final cuts and bounced around to a few teams.
S Michael Hamlin (fifth round, 166th overall) – Hamlin broke his wrist during the preseason finale and didn’t see the field much after he got healthy, but Valley Ranch insiders are still high on him. They’re particularly enamored by the big safety’s ballhawking ability. If Ken Hamlin gets cut, it wouldn’t be stunning if Mike Hamlin (no relation) wins the battle to replace him.
K David Buehler (fifth round, 172nd overall) – He did exactly what the Cowboys drafted him to do: Make a major impact in field position, leading the league in touchbacks on kickoffs and contributing in other roles on special teams. However, he wasn’t able to replace Nick Folk as the placekicker when Folk failed. The Cowboys hired ex-kicker Chris Boniol to help Boniol Buehler develop into a reliable field goal kicker. The hope is that he’s good enough so that the Cowboys don’t need to carry two kickers on the roster next season.
ILB Stephen Hodge (sixth round, 197th overall) – He missed the whole season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee. If he can come back from that, he should immediately be an impact special teams player. Hodge, a safety at TCU, is also a darkhorse in the competition for the nickel/dime LB role.
TE John Phillips (sixth round, 208th overall) – He exceeded expectations on offense – contributing as a tight end, H-back and fullback – but was exposed at times on special teams. He’s not a great athlete, but his attitude, work ethic and intelligence are above average. If Martellus Bennett doesn’t follow the owner’s orders to focus, Phillips could earn playing time in two-tight end sets.
CB Mike Mickens (seventh round, 227th overall) – His lack of speed and explosiveness were exposed during training camp, when he was burned on a regular basis. Spent several weeks on the Cowboys’ practice squad after being released in the final cuts and was later picked up by the Buccaneers, who cut him weeks later.
WR Manuel Johnson (seventh round, 229th overall) – Spent the entire season on the practice squad after being released in the final cuts. He’ll have an uphill climb to make the 53-man roster, but he has a chance. He worked as the scout team punt returner, a position the Cowboys want to upgrade. He doesn’t have great speed, but he has potential to develop into a decent slot receiver.