IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.
Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full seasons removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 season.
As we count down the days to camp, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will take a different question each day that is hovering over this team.
With 27 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the viability of rookie starters:
27) Can Wilcox Buck Recent Trends During Training Camp?
A look back in the annals of recent Cowboys draft history gives a sort of blueprint on what to expect from the team's latest batch of rookies.
In the past 10-12 years, only a handful of non-first-round draft picks have earned their way into the starting lineup during their rookie campaign. To clarify: it's a pretty common to see the DeMarcus Wares and the Morris Claibornes of the world start from the get-go. It's not as normal to see such a feat from a later pick.
This is an important trend to keep in mind when considering the oft-discussed J.J. Wilcox, who many seem to consider a threat for a starting safety spot if he impresses during training camp.
Wilcox looked good during OTAs and minicamp, but good enough to defy the statistics? Since 2003, roughly six draft picks not taken in the first round have worked their way into the starting lineup. The vast majority of those – Julius Jones, DeMarco Murray, Rob Petitti and Martellus Bennett – worked on the offensive side of the ball.
The list of defensive rookies to make the distinction is even more select. Second-round defensive end Chris Canty started two games as a rookie before he made the jump to a full season in 2006, and fifth-rounder Orlando Scandrick got in as a starter on two occasions in his 2008 debut.
Fourth-round safety Pat Watkins is easily the best-case scenario comparison for Wilcox. Watkins started nine games in his debut season, totaling three interceptions, 38 tackles and seven pass deflections. Cowboys fans would probably do backflips if Wilcox could contribute that statline right out of the box, though it's worth mentioning that Watkins' 2006 rookie season was the best of his five-year career. [embedded_ad]
It's always fun to speculate on impact rookies, and there's no doubt the Georgia Southern star could be a standout in Dallas, even if he doesn't' crack the initial starting 11. History tends to show that will be the case. And judging by the careers of the Cowboys' few rookie starters, it might be for the best if Wilcox eases into a larger role.
Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 27:
- The Cowboys made Wyoming defensive back Aaron Kyle the 27th overall pick in the 1976 NFL Draft. Kyle started 40 of his 64 games in Dallas and made 11 interceptions. He spent the last three years of his career with Denver.
- Wilcox continues a long line of safeties to sport No. 27 in franchise history. Eleven of the 14 players to wear the number before Wilcox were safeties.
- The most prominent of those was Mike Gaechter, a track star turned defensive back in the Cowboys' early days. He played from 1962 until 1969, when a torn Achilles tendon ended his career. Gaechter tallied 21 interceptions in his career.
- Eddie George finished his illustrious career wearing the No. 27 for Dallas. George rushed for 432 yards and four touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2004 – just the second time in his nine-year career he didn't eclipse 1,000 yards.
- Longtime Cowboys linebacker D.D. Lewis holds one of the more impressive records in franchise history with 27 career playoff games to his name. Lewis played in 186 games during a 13-year career. He played in one NFC Wild Card Game, 12 NFC Divisional Round Games, nine NFC Championship Games and five Super Bowls.