Don't worry, despite the title, there's no funny business in here...
I was going to post this in the comments section of Bfree2Broncs' excellent post about our outside linebacker situation. His post started a discussion about Robert Ayers, and it got me thinking about our draft class in general. However, I thought I might just do a fanpost about how a couple of Cowboys can make us more comfortable about our rookie draft class from last year.
Obviously, I'm here to talk about our 18th overall draft pick from 2009, Robert Ayers. And the man we traded our first rounder in the upcoming draft to draft in the second round of last year, Alphonso Smith. I don't think that it's a secret that we all wish both these guys had made more of an impact on the field last year. However, as us fans tend to do, I think we sometimes expect too much of young players in this league. I am going to compare both Big Robert and the Phonz to a couple of Dallas Cowboys that might just make us feel better about our situation moving forward.
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Mike Jenkins in the first round of the 2008 draft, 25th overall. Let me preface this by letting you all know that my father is an avid Cowboys fan, the Cowboys are my second favorite team, I live in South Texas, and I have watched every Cowboys game over the last 4 or so seasons, give or take a game or two.... Jenkins came into the organization expected to make an impact right away, as it goes with a first round draft pick. As a rookie, Jenkins played sparingly and was considered a bit of a bust by the Cowboys' faithful. He played in 14 games in 2008, starting 3. He tallied 19 tackles, 4 passes defensed, and 1 interception. Believe me, his rookie season didn't blow anyone away. Even moving into the 2009 season, he split time (swapping starts, which is idiotic) with Orlando Scandrick who was a fifth rounder out of Boise State in the same draft class as Jenkins, 2008. However, after game 3 of the 2009 season where he nabbed an acrobatic interception, Jenkins solidified his role as starting cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys.
I feel pretty confident in saying that he played exceptional football over the latter part of last year, and I wouldn't argue with you if you told me he was the best cornerback in football during the last half of the season. He finished the 2009 campaign with 49 tackles, 19 passes defensed, and 5 interceptions. A heady improvement over his rookie year, to be sure.
Do we see where I'm going with this yet? If you haven't been keeping up on your Blue's Clues, I'll spell it out for you. Jenkins looked lost his first year, and eventually looked like a completely different player in his second. Yes, I expect something similar from our man Alphonso. Sometimes it takes a year or two to get in the groove of things at this level, I expect to see a different player in Smith next year. Between the adjustment, playing behind quality corners, and battling injuries that were possibly worse than we knew about, I expect Alphonso to contribute as a solid nickel corner next year and to take the reigns from our veterans down the road as a starter.
Now onto Anthony Spencer. He was drafted by the Cowboys 26th overall out of Purdue in the 2007 draft. Again, being a first rounder, a lot was expected of this guy coming in. He joined a fairly deep OLB core with Dallas, including, of course, DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis. He saw limited playing time as a rookie but still managed to make a few plays. He finished the 2007 season with 36 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. The Cowboys were excited about his potential as he made a decent showing as a rook. Then, in his second season in 2008, he regressed just a bit. He, at times, looked lost. It didn't seem like he had improved, and failed to make any significant impact. He finished the 2008 season with 34 tackles and 1.5 sacks, definitely not moving in the right direction. There were grumblings that he was a bust, and that someone else might be needed on the roster to pick up the slack. In the offseason, the Cowboys jettisoned the aging Greg Ellis to the Black Hole (can anyone confirm that he survived?), officially passing the baton to Spencer. He grabbed that puppy and friggin' ran!
He started the 2009 campaign solidly, but without a huge splash. Over the last half of the season, it's fair to say he outplayed his outstanding teammate, DeMarcus Ware. His improvement spurred the Cowboys into the post season with a ton of momentum, helping to create one of the most wicked pass rushes in the league. He transformed into a ferocious pass rusher, and a solid tackler in the run game. His stats from 2009 look like this: 67 tackles, 6 sacks, 7 passes defended (a stat which he noticeably didn't record in his first 2 seasons), 1 interception, and 2 forced fumbles. I think it's safe to say that it took Spencer a couple years to get his bearings, and then he absolutely exploded onto the scene as an elite player at his position and living up to his billing as a first round draft pick.
Oh, and here's the kicker. He played defensive line in college! Sound familiar? That's right, like our boy Ayers, Spencer had to go from defensive line to outside linebacker in the pros. Obviously, this is no easy transition. As you can probably guess by now, I expect Ayers to be a very solid player for us in the future. I would'nt even be surprised if he and Doom combine to form the most fearsome pair of pass-rushing OLB's in the league on par with the boys in Dallas. Maybe not next year, awwwww heck, next year baby!
In conclusion, I hope this post can talk some of you down from the ledge, and put things into perspective a bit. Young players struggle, they improve, then they make us happy. This is how it goes sometimes.