Why the Cowboys’ 2024 rookie class could see more playing time than most recent rookie classes

At irregular intervals over the last few years, I’ve tried to project the playing time of Cowboys rookie classes, with varying degrees of success.

  • In 2015, the estimate was wildly over-optimistic in projecting 3,000 snaps for a rookie class that ended up playing just 2,092 combined snaps, or 9.1% of the total offensive and defensive snaps that year.
  • In 2018, the projection was that the rookie class would play 12.1% (2,838) of all offensive and defensive snaps, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that the projection was very close: The 2018 rookies played exactly 12.1% (2.786) of all snaps.
  • In 2020, the projection was 2,458 snaps (10.5%), but injuries to starters pushed the rookie totals to a staggering 3,501 snaps, or 14.0% of all snaps. 2020 UDFA Terence Steele alone accounted for 968 unforeseen snaps.
  • In 2021, I was again a bit optimistic in projecting almost 3,000 snaps (12.7%), mostly because I vastly overestimated the impact second-round pick Kelvin Joseph would have. Joseph’s paltry 164 rookie snaps limited the 2021 class to 2,510 snaps ( 9.7%)

Today, I’ll try yet another projection, even if we all know that preseason projections are not worth much. And I’ll try to do it by looking at comparable rookies from previous Cowboys draft classes.

1st Rd: OT Tyler Guyton. We don’t have to go back very far here, as the last tackle the Cowboys drafted in the first round was Tyler Smith in 2022, who played 1,144 snaps in his rookie season.

2nd Rd: DE Marshawn Kneeland. The comparison here is just as recent. Fellow second-round DE Sam Williams played 273 rookie snaps in 2022, and that is a reasonable comparison for Kneeland. Consider that previous edge rushers (outside of Micah Parsons) had similar numbers.

  • Dorance Armstrong (2018, 4th): 273
  • Taco Charlton (2017, 1st): 401
  • Randy Gregory (2015, 2nd): 245
  • DeMarcus Lawrence (2014, 2nd): 223

3rd Rd: OC Cooper Beebe. This one is more tricky, and probably depends on whether you project him as an immediate starter. Fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz played the majority of his snaps (426) in six out of eight games in 2020, but then was injured and lost his job to Joe Looney. First-round pick Travis Frederick in 2013 came in as the immediate starter and notched 1,025 snaps. It may take a while to sort things out between Beebe and Brock Hoffman at center, so I’m taking the Biadaz comparison of 426 snaps here.

3rd Rd: LB Marist Liufau. Mid-round linebackers have had a rough time in Dallas recently. DeMarvion Overshown (2023, 3rd) missed his entire rookie season with an ACL, Damone Clark had spinal fusion surgery in his rookie season (2022, 5th) that saw him miss the first seven games (though he would still notch 398 snaps after that), and Jabril Cox (2021, 4th) landed on IR after just seven games and nine defensive snaps. The 2024 depth chart at linebacker is pretty thin, so even if Liufau is unlikely to be a day one starter, I’d expect him to collect something like Damone Clarke’s 398 defensive snaps.

5th Rd: CB Caelon Carson. Given that Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland are the likely starters, and with Jourdan Lewis manning the nickel position, it’s unlikely Carson will be a strong first-year contributor on defense. At the same time, he may not face super strong competition from Eric Scott or Nahshon Wright on the depth chart. Wright (2021, 3rd) managed 91 snaps in his rookie season, Scott (2023, 6th) didn’t see a single snap in his rookie season, and neither did Reggie Robinson (2020, 4th), Michael Jackson (2019, 5th), or Marquez White (2017, 6th) before them.

DaRon Bland (2022, 5th) became a starter midway through his rookie season and ended up with 598 snaps, and that may be a good comp for Carson. The fourth CB on the depth chart is just one injury away from significant playing time.

6th Rd: WR Ryan Flournoy. Jalen Brooks (2023, 7th) managed to get 77 snaps, Jalen Tolbert (2022, 3rd) had 89, Simi Fehoko (2021, 5th) had just seven snaps, Cedric Wilson (2018, 6th) had zero, while Ryan Switzer (2017, 4th) and Noah Brown (2017, 7th) had 91 and 158 snaps respectively. I’ll take Tolbert’s 89 snaps as the likely count for Flournoy.

7th Rd: OL Nathan Thomas. Fellow OL Asim Richards (2023, 5th) saw 39 snaps in spot duty last year, anything beyond that would probably be a surprise at this stage.

7th Rd: DT Justin Rogers. John Ridgeway (2022, 5th) didn’t even make the final roster and was claimed off waivers by Washington, Quinton Bohanna (2021, 6th) saw a lot of action with 233 snaps, and Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell (2017, both 7th round) didn’t make the final roster either. So where to put Rogers? If the Cowboys bring in a veteran DT, Rogers likely won’t see a lot of snaps. But if he and Chauncey Golston are all the Cowboys have to spell Mazi Smith and Osa Odighizuwa then he should see Bohanna-level snaps.

Here’s what all of that adds up to:

2024 Draft Class Snap Count Projection
Round Name POS Equiv. Player Projected Snaps
1 Tyler Guyton OT Tyler Smith (’22) 1,144
2 Marshawn Kneeland DE Sam Williams (’22) 273
3 Cooper Beebe OC Tyler Biadasz (’20) 426
3 Marist Liufau LB Damone Clarke (’22) 398
5 Caelen Carson CB Daron Bland (’22) 598
6 Ryan Flournoy WR Jalen Tolbert (’22) 89
7 Nathan Thomas OL Asim Richards (’23) 39
7 Justin Rogers DT Quinton Bohanna (’21) 233
Total Rookie snaps 3,200
Rookies in % of total snaps (est.: 23,500) 13.6%

Obviously, the “equivalent players” are equivalent for the purposes of the snap count only. This projection also assumes this draft class remains largely healthy; you may want to reduce the total number of projected snaps if you assume differently.

In isolation, the numbers above don’t mean much. But if we compare them to those of previous Cowboys rookie classes, we understand the numbers a bit better. The title of this post already gave it away, the snap counts for the 2024 rookie class could rival some of the best recent draft classes. Here are the Cowboys rookie class snap percentages since 2007:

’07 ’08 ’09 ’10 ’11 ’12 ’13 ’14 ’15 ’16 ’17 ’18 ’19 ’20 ’21 ’22 ’23
Rookie snaps in % 3.8% 6.7% 1.5% 6.9% 8.5% 6.5% 15.3% 9.5% 9.1% 13.5% 10.6% 12.1% 2.4% 14.0% 9.7% 12.5% 5.2%

The 13.6% shown as the total snap percentage above would be the second highest total of the last 10 years, slightly behind the 2020 rookie class (14.0%), and the tiniest bit above the 2016 rookie class (13.5%) – and that is without accounting for some additional contribution from the 2024 UDFAs.

More importantly though, the 2020 and 2016 classes both yielded four starters each. 2016 was all about Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, but the Cowboys also added CB Anthony Brown and DT Maliek Collins that year. And 2020 yielded Ceedee Lamb, Trevon Diggs, Tyler Biadasz, and UDFA Terence Steele as future starters.

The 2024 class may not (yet) have the star power of the 2016 and 2020 classes, but can it yield four eventual starters? That’s the real question and the ultimate litmus test for this rookie class, the snap counts are just a byproduct of that.

Do you think this rookie class has the potential to eventually deliver four starters?


How many starters will the Cowboys eventually get out of the 2024 rookie class?


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