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Mailbag: Evaluating young players vs. backups?


We've seen several young players like Deuce Vaughn, DeMarvion Overshown and John Stephens stand out so far in these games, but because they are largely going up against second- and third-stringers, how do you truly evaluate how good the Cowboys' younger guys can be, knowing they're facing NFL backups right now?Paul Zuniga/Amarillo, TX

Patrik: I love this question, because it's a perennial struggle in the NFL as a whole. Fact is, until you see the young guys perform against the best starters in the league, you won't truly know what they're capable of, but it's also true that how they perform against any NFL talent whatsoever also tells a tale. For a guy like John Stephens Jr., who looked really good in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars backups, you have to give the high grade while also knowing you need to see him against better competition. But, guess what? I've seen him in camp practices against the first-string Cowboys defense (mercenaries) and he's still holding his own, so jot that down. For Vaughn and Overshown, well, both were lined up against starters against Jacksonville before the Jaguars sent in the backups, and neither of the Cowboys rookies looked as if they cared about the change. They just kept eating and, guess what? They've also made impact plays against the Cowboys first-team defense in camp practice. So, in all, keep in mind that you should be grading these guys by what you see in preseason games … and … what you can't see in camp practices (this is where leaning on credible analysts with access comes into play).

Nick Eatman: There's always an aspect that seems to be forgotten when people mention this. Sure, Deuce is running against backups for the Jaguars. Third-team defenders that probably won''t make the team. Well, he's also running behind third-team blockers as well. He's catching passes in the flat from a third-team quarterback. The same is said for John Stephens as well. These guys can only perform with the situation they're in. They didn't ask to be put on the third team or the second team. They were asked to go play football and that's what they did. Tony Romo looked pretty good at times with the third team. He also looked bad at times, too. These guys are just learning how to play the game in the NFL. You evaluate them because they're going out there and either making good plays or bad plays. Trust me, no player in the NFL has ever dominated the fourth quarter of a preseason game, and then never got a fair chance to compete.

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