Jaylon Smith: Whenever they say I can play, I’ll play

AP

The Cowboys will take part in the first preseason game of the year against the Cardinals on Thursday night, but it looks like Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith’s first NFL game action will wait a little longer.

Smith has been practicing with the team during camp after spending his rookie year on injured reserve due to a knee injury that included nerve problems, but coach Jason Garrett didn’t say whether he would play. Owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday that Smith is unlikely to play in the Hall of Fame Game, however, and Smith says he’s ready whenever they call his number.

“I don’t know if I’m going to play or not,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “It’s a matter of if they’ll let me. Whenever they’ll tell me I can go play, I’ll go play. I’ll just take it day by day. That’s what we’ve been doing. Really looking forward to getting some reps.”

Smith’s presence at practice and in contact drills like the short yardage work the Cowboys did on Tuesday suggests it won’t be too much longer before they let him loose in a game if he is indeed on the bench Thursday night. That will mark a big step for Smith and the first view of how he might fit into the defense come the regular season.

Jaylon Smith: First padded practice “a great feeling”

AP

The wait to see linebacker Jaylon Smith in pads as a member of the Cowboys came to an end on Wednesday.

Smith participated in a padded practice for the first time since suffering torn ligaments in his knee and damage to the peroneal nerve in his leg while playing for Notre Dame in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, a span that covered 572 days and much doubt about his playing future. The work was limited — eight snaps with the second team — but it left Smith in high spirits.

“That was a great feeling, a huge accomplishment being back on the field,” Smith said, via Brandon George the Dallas Morning News. “It was full pads, so there were a lot of things that come with it. The nitty-gritty and the full contact. It’s something that I embraced, and I was able to get after it. … I can’t remember the last time I had pain in my knee or my foot. My knee feels 100 percent. I can hop on one leg.”

Smith’s fellow linebacker Sean Lee said Smith “moved great” and George’s report from the practice said Smith showed no signs of favoring his left leg during the practice. All of that adds up to a positive step for the player and a base to use to build up to the ones that will have to follow for him to play a significant role come September.

Jaylon Smith’s nerve shows improvement as Cowboys have high hopes for LB

AP

Jaylon Smith’s latest electromyogram (EMG) test showed improvement in the nerve, and though it still may be months before the linebacker’s peroneal nerve fully regenerates, it was good news.

Smith is practicing with his teammates, something he wasn’t able to do this time last year.

It feels great,” Smith said, via Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News. “Last year I was kind of a spectator just in the beginning stages of rehab. Now I’m in the mix and playing football.

“The plan is to work hard and every day. It varies as far as the scheduling. I’m just doing everything that they allow me to do.”

Smith, who will practice every other day during camp, has vowed to play in the season opener. His return to action has not been questioned as much as how good he will play if he has to wear a brace for drop foot. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones compared Smith to a “No. 1 draft pick.”

Smith was rated as a top-10 pick for the 2016 draft before his devastating left knee injury during Notre Dame’s bowl game Jan. 1, 2016. The Cowboys used a second-round pick on Smith, who spent last season rehabbing.

“He was at the top of the board and would have been at the top of the board this year,” Jones said. “The caveat is what we all wonder. Can he play like he had the career playing at that particular time? So that’s what we’re here to see. To me, he’s just like looking at a No. 1 draft pick out here coming out on the field for the first time.

“We all know his circumstances, and what he needs to overcome. It looks really good, all testing, all feeling, really looks as good as I could have hoped that it would look at the time. We’ll see.”

Cowboys bring back Justin Durant

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Former Cardinal Daryl Washington has spent some time lobbying for a job with the Cowboys since being reinstated from suspension and released by Arizona, but the team has opted to go in a different direction at linebacker.

The team has brought back veteran Justin Durant. Cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon has been dropped from the 90-man roster in a corresponding move.

Durant spent three of the last four years with the Cowboys — he played for the Falcons in 2015 — and appeared in 13 games as a reserve for Dallas last season. He had 37 tackles and a sack in those appearances.

The Cowboys may have to play without Damien Wilson for some part of the upcoming season if he’s suspended as a result of his recent arrest and, despite optimism from the team, it remains to be seen how much Jaylon Smith will be able to offer after missing his entire rookie season with a serious knee injury and resulting nerve problems. Durant’s signing gives them an insurance option with experience in their defense should they need to look elsewhere.

Cowboys will use caution with Jaylon Smith in his return

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The Cowboys will continue to be patient and use caution with linebacker Jaylon Smith as he returns after more than a year of rehab. Smith reported with the team’s rookies Wednesday, getting in some work ahead of the veterans despite being a second-year player.

Coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday that when the Cowboys begin practice in California on Monday that Smith will practice every other day as he did in the offseason.

“He’s done well, really had a great spring and handled the work on the field really well,” Garrett said. “He’s been outstanding in his rehab, and that’s one of the reasons we took the chance on him that we did. I think we had a really good feel for the kind of person that he is based on our experiences with the people at Notre Dame and what they said about him and then just our experiences throughout the evaluation process.

“Trust me, he hasn’t had bad days. He comes to work every day with a great spirit. It’s a challenging injury he was coming back from and he’s handled it very well. Still have a long way to go. We’re going to take it day by day, but he’s made a lot of progress.”

Smith, a second-round pick in 2016, used his rookie season as a redshirt after a devastating left knee injury in Notre Dame’s bowl game. He returned to practice this offseason and told the team website last week that he finally feels like himself again.

The damaged peroneal nerve in Smith’s left knee, though, has yet to fully regenerate, forcing him to wear a brace for drop foot. He will have another nerve test soon. Despite that, the Cowboys remain confident the linebacker will help them this season.

“We knew Jaylon’s situation, the first year was going to amount to a redshirt year,” Garrett said. “We had no expectation he’d be able to play, but he’s on schedule. We’re excited to see him come back.”

Jaylon Smith feeling like himself again

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The Cowboys won’t know everything about Jaylon Smith until he gets into live action, but they do know the linebacker has come a long way in the past year.

Smith used his rookie season as a redshirt, rehabbing from a devastating injury to his left knee. He returned to practice this offseason and said he finally feels like himself again.

It’s a great feeling,” Smith said, via David Helman of the team website. “I’m out there, and I’m grinding, and I’m feeling like myself. That’s all that matters.”

Smith understands the questions: Will he return to the form that made him a top-10 prospect before his bowl game injury? Will the damage to the peroneal nerve in his leg, which created drop foot, force him to wear an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO)? Can he be effective if he has to wear the brace?

“It’s understandable,” Smith said of the questions. “[Everyone] wants to know. That’s the reality of it. You guys want to know. . . . I have no control over people not being able to see [him in practice].”

While most players dread camp, Smith can’t wait.

“To be able to compete at a high level,” Smith said of his expectations. “That’s something that I’m really looking forward to back in Oxnard, Calif., being able to be on the field again and running and competing with my guys is something that I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to being out there.”

Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith says he’s “ready to play some ball”

AP

There has been cautious optimism about Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith throughout the offseason.

The second-year linebacker that missed him entire rookie season after a devastating knee injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl left him with nerve damage and a case of drop foot has been able to participate in most of Dallas’ offseason program.

Smith has been confident throughout the spring that he’d be ready to play this season. Now Smith says he’s ready to go.

“I feel like me. I look like me. I am me,” Smith said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today.

“I’m Jaylon Smith. Ready to play some ball.”

Smith’s nerve continues to regenerate and he still wears a brace to help address his drop foot issue.

Smith was a potential top ten pick last year before the knee injury brought his football future into question. The Cowboys took a flier on Smith with a second-round pick in hopes that his knee would recover sufficiently enough to be a factor in the future. Their investment may be about to pay off.

For all intents and purposes, Smith will have his rookie season this year. While he’s made progress, he still isn’t 100 percent either and the Cowboys will need to manage his workload at times.

But considering that a year ago it was completely uncertain whether Smith would ever be capable of doing even this much again, he’s come a long way already.

Thursday morning one-liners

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Bills DT Marcell Dareus will be honored at a minor league baseball game.

The Dolphins will wear their throwback uniforms twice this year, and their Color Rush uniforms against the Ravens.

Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore is on pace in learning his new system.

Who’s benefiting the most from the Jets purge? Owner Woody Johnson, who doesn’t have to pay old guys.

As he began his Ravens visit, WR Jeremy Maclin watched last night’s NBA playoff game with some potential teammates.

The Bengals will have to get better play from their young OTs for this season to work.

Browns DE Desmond Bryant is motivated to see QB Ben Roethlisberger in the opener.

Steelers LB Arthur Moats is eager to share his wisdom with younger competition.

Texans assistant Romeo Crennel is enjoying his job too much to retire.

The Colts are a confident bunch, whether they deserve to be or not.

The Jaguars won’t be able to tell if they’ve improved until pads go on, according to Doug Marrone.

Titans ownership can only imagine if they enjoy the kind of success the local hockey team has (though the fish thing might get old without ice).

The Broncos are beefing up their defensive line, literally.

Young Chiefs WRs are going to have to step up in the wake of Maclin’s departure.

The Chargers hope they’re building chemistry this offseason.

Raiders S Reggie Nelson is doing his homework every night as he competes with young guys.

The Cowboys are trying to keep expectations for LB Jaylon Smith in check.

Giants LT Ereck Flowers is getting better reviews this offseason.

Some rookies are adding energy to the Eagles’ WR competition.

Washington is working S Su’a Cravens at both positions in OTAs.

Bears TE Dion Sims loved acquiring more talent at his position.

The Lions are expecting big things from S Miles Killebrew.

One Packers rookie is making the rare step from eight-man football to an NFL camp.

It doesn’t sound like the Vikings are in on soon-to-be-free WR Eric Decker.

Much of the Falcons’ improvement last year traces to the addition of C Alex Mack.

Former Panthers “training camp MVP” getting another shot in Canada.

Saints S Marcus Williams liked the family atmosphere in Utah (so he’s clearly in the perfect place now).

A look at some position battles in Buccaneers camp.

Cardinals QB Carson Palmer thinks age is just a number.

Rams S Lamarcus Joyner is relishing his new expanded role.

The 49ers are focusing on getting more pressure up front on run downs.

Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner is aiming high.

Jason Garrett on Jaylon Smith: He hasn’t had a bad minute

AP

The Cowboys still don’t know for certain what to expect from Jaylon Smith this season. But they are encouraged he can return to the player he one was because of the person he is.

It’s been consistent and it’s been remarkably good,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said via David Moore of the Dallas Morning News. “That started all the way back when we first met him, back at the combine and through the draft process. That’s one of the reasons you take a chance on someone like this, with the injury he had.

“We all knew the severity of it. We do think we had good information coming from Dr. [Dan] Cooper. But I think the bet was made because of the kind of guy that he is. Not only has he not disappointed, I think he’s exceeded all expectations in terms of the kind of person he is. He hasn’t had a bad minute, let alone a bad day.”

The Cowboys gambled Smith could return to the level than made him a top-10 prospect before his left knee injury Jan. 1, 2016, in Notre Dame’s bowl game. They drafted him in the second round in 2016, knowing last year would serve as a redshirt season for Smith.

“Working through this, working back from an injury like this can be challenging,” Garrett said. “It can be lonely. But each and every day he has a great spirit, a contagious spirit that is so positive for the people around him and it makes everyone excited.”

Smith still wears a brace on his left foot after damage to the peroneal nerve in his leg created drop foot.

Wednesday morning one-liners

AP

Jets top pick Jamal Adams is gaining notice at OTAs.

Football Outsiders expects the Bills to be measurably worse this season.

New Dolphin Nate Allen is excited to work with Reshad Jones.

Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower is raising awareness of diabetes, in honor of his mother.

The Ravens are working on establishing an identity on offense.

Bengals WR A.J. Green thinks he has plenty of good years left in him.

The Browns are taking it slowly with top pick Myles Garrett.

The Steelers told S Daimion Stafford to lose weight, so he dropped 10 pounds.

The Texans are having a Jets reunion in their offensive line room.

Indianapolis wants to see RB Marlon Mack’s explosiveness translate to big plays on offense.

Calais Campbell is showing leadership in Jacksonville.

Titans WR Taywan Taylor is making a good first impression.

Broncos CB Chris Harris thinks NFL Network’s Top 100 rankings are “a joke.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid embraces high expectations.

Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing thought his players looked like they celebrated a little too much on Memorial Day.

The Chargers are still getting some favorable press in San Diego.

Stephen Jones continues to think LB Jaylon Smith will make a difference in Dallas.

Are the Giants scared off from Colin Kaepernick in part because of the Josh Brown case?

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz needs to coach up the cornerbacks.

Washington OLB Trent Murphy said finding out he was suspended was like a punch in the gut.

Bears CB Kyle Fuller says he’s healthy.

Here’s a look at the most important Lions this season.

The Packers’ chief contract negotiator knows he has to play hardball, even with players he likes.

Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell is trying to bounce back from a disappointing rookie year.

The Falcons like what they have in a young group of linebackers.

The Panthers’ video team is going high tech.

Can Saints WR Michael Thomas be the next Julio Jones?

Jon Gruden and Malcolm Glazer are going into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor.

The Cardinals’ special teams has to get better.

Rams QB Dylan Thompson has some experience serving as the team’s camp arm.

The 49ers’ coaches are talking to veteran players about the importance of competition.

Seahawks S Earl Thomas appears to be making progress after last year’s broken leg.

Jaylon Smith doesn’t regret fateful decision to play in bowl game

AP

The trend toward key NFL prospects skipping non-playoff bowl games gained a boost from the serious knee injury suffered by former Notre Dame (and current Cowboys) linebacker Jaylon Smith. But Smith says he wouldn’t have passed on playing in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State if he had an example like his own to rely on.

“Those freak types of accidents, injuries, they happen,” Smith told Ed Werder and Matt Mosley of the Doomsday Podcast. “But you don’t go in the game thinking, ‘Oh man I’m going to get hurt.’ That was my decision, and I love it. And I wouldn’t change it. If I knew that I was going to get hurt and wasn’t going to be a top-five pick again, I would have literally played in that game again because of my teammates and how much Notre Dame means to me.”

It’s one thing for Smith to say he’d assume the risk again. Smith is saying he’d embrace the consequence, too.

“We’re playing in the Fiesta Bowl with three, four, five top-10 picks in that game,” Smith said. “It was a really highly anticipated game. My brother [former Cowboys running back Rod Smith] played at Ohio State, and Ohio State was my second choice. I always wanted to get a chance to play.”

Smith nevertheless respects those who decide not to play in bowl games that can’t lead to a championship.

“Salute to those guys,” Smith said. “My experience, what I liked about people making their decisions, whether they’re playing the game or not, it’s your own decision. You have to make that decision for you. So for me, I made the decision to play in that game, and I don’t regret it at all. That’s the beauty of any decision I’ve made, it’s been my decision. If I had the decision again, I would have played in that game.”

Some will say that Smith wouldn’t say anything else, because there’s nothing at this point that he can do to change the outcome. Regardless, the point is that these business decisions need to be made. Regardless of whether the player chooses to play or not to play, something that previously wasn’t even a consideration has now become an occasion for players to balance their future interests against their current circumstances.

Sunday morning one-liners

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Said Bills coach Sean McDermott, “You look at all the different aspects of building a roster, it’s not just the guys that are on the team. You have to look at draft picks, and you know, what draft picks we have for next year. Do we have all of them? Are we one short?”

LB Lawrence Timmons is confident he can fit wherever the Dolphins need him.

The Hollister brothers are trying to make the Patriots as undrafted free agents.

Jets CB Morris Claiborne has remained confident despite numerous injuries.

Outside opinions don’t seem to be shaping the Ravens’ view of themselves.

How many receivers will the Bengals keep on the roster?

Assessing Browns QB DeShone Kizer’s chances of winning the starting job.

A look back at the last week for the Steelers.

Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel is off to a good start in his new job.

The Colts have high hopes for DT Johnathan Hankins.

Jaguars S James Sample hopes to remain healthy this year.

Six notes from the first week of Titans OTAs.

A look at the path WR Carlos Henderson took to the Broncos.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid did some sportswriting in college.

Raiders T Donald Penn has learned to listen to his body over the course of his career.

Chargers G.M. Tom Telesco is embracing the team’s move to Los Angeles.

LB Jaylon Smith and DE Charles Tapper forged a bond while rehabbing injuries as Cowboys rookies.

The tabloid takes on Giants WR Odell Beckham continue to roll in.

Breaking down the Eagles’ salary cap situation.

CB Kendall Fuller could have a bigger impact for the Redskins this season.

The Bears think DE Roy Robertson-Harris could break through this year.

What does Matt Asiata’s addition mean for the Lions running backs?

Packers TE Martellus Bennett likes the NFL’s new position on touchdown celebrations.

Said Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon on winning the starting job, “Don’t count me out. That’s always my goal. I’m competitive. I think it will be a good way to evaluate myself and see where I stack up against them.”

Looking ahead to the Falcons’ date with the Dolphins.

S Mike Adams offers the Panthers an experienced hand in the secondary.

Saints DE Trey Hendrickson wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school.

Buccaneers K Nick Folk is trying to focus on his own performance while competing with Roberto Aguayo.

S Tyrann Mathieu is among the Cardinals with the most to prove this season.

What can the Rams expect from rookie TE Gerald Everett?

Tracing the roots of the 49ers’ interest in LB Reuben Foster.

Will this season be Pete Carroll’s most challenging as the coach of the Seahawks?

Friday morning one-liners

AP

Bills C Eric Wood feels close to 100 percent after last year’s broken leg.

Laremy Tunsil is happy to be back at left tackle for the Dolphins.

The Patriots want rookie DT Josh Augusta to lose some weight.

The Jets waived/injured WR Brisly Estime after he tore his Achilles tendon.

TE Dennis Pitta is happy to still be with the Ravens.

CB KeiVarae Russell hopes for more playing time on the Bengals defense this time around.

A look at how Ryan Grigson fits into the Browns front office.

Steelers S Sean Davis isn’t lacking confidence.

WR DeAndre Hopkins is looking forward to learning from new Texans assistant Wes Welker.

The Colts defense has gotten a lot younger.

Jaguars LB Myles Jack continues to be mentored by Paul Posluszny.

Titans T Taylor Lewan has thrown his support behind the Predators’ push for a Stanley Cup.

Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas is feeling healthy this offseason.

Tyler Bray has been working as the No. 2 quarterback for the Chiefs.

The Raiders are looking for a full season from DE Mario Edwards this year.

G Donavon Clark wants to be a healthy contributor for the Chargers in his second season.

The signs continue to point to LB Jaylon Smith returning to the field for the Cowboys.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo fielded a lot of questions about Odell Beckham on Thursday.

QB Nick Foles had an eventful tour of the league before returning to the Eagles.

QB Kirk Cousins is getting used to a new set of Redskins receivers.

How much can WR Victor Cruz help the Bears?

Lions G T.J. Lang will hit the racetrack for the Detroit Grand Prix.

Ty Montgomery will remain a running back with a wideout’s number for the Packers.

Said Vikings rookie C Pat Elflein, “Yeah, that first meeting, going over the plays, that was my welcome to the NFL moment, especially being a center, you have to be able to use your brain and use it quickly and be decisive.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank likes the relaxation of celebration penalties.

LB Luke Kuechly likes the veteran additions to the Panthers defense.

The Saints paid tribute to the late Cortez Kennedy at practice.

Watch Buccaneers QB Ryan Fitzpatrick solve a Rubik’s Cube.

Said Cardinals DL coach Brenston Buckner, “I’m not going to chew their food up and then give it to them. I’m going to teach you how to chew it yourself, because when you chew it yourself, you’ll be more satisfied.”

Outlining reasons for optimism about Rams QB Jared Goff.

Kyle Shanahan is growing more comfortable in his role as 49ers head coach.

How long until the Seahawks have all their rookies signed?

Wednesday morning one-liners

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Jay Ajayi may be the Dolphins’ most important player.

Is former Bills GM Doug Whaley breaking his arm by patting himself on the back?

For Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, the key to cashing in is staying healthy.

Sheldon Richardson thinks he can have a monster season in the Jets’ defense.

Ravens TE Dennis Pitta is a big fan of The Bachelorette.

Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick says he’ll be back in two weeks from a hand injury.

The Browns think they have reasons for optimism.

Steelers WR Martavis Bryant is finally back to work.

Texans QB Tom Savage and coach Bill O’Brien are getting on the same page.

Colts OT Le’Raven Clark may be ready to make a big jump.

Is Jaguars QB Blake Bortles ready to bounce back in a big way?

Titans QB Marcus Mariota is making progress.

Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch are sharing the spotlight at Broncos OTAs.

Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin is determined to have a big year.

Raiders third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes isn’t allowed to attend OTAs because of the NFL’s rules keeping players out until their schools finish their spring semesters.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers is as competitive in the offseason as he is in the regular season.

Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith is continuing to make progress in recovery from his devastating knee injury 17 months ago.

Is Odell Beckham’s absence from OTAs a sign of immaturity?

Eagles CB Patrick Robinson is blaming himself for his slow development.

Here’s a look at some of the camp competitions in Washington.

Will the Bears have a Top 5 pick again next year?

The Lions’ top two rookie draft picks are learning the defense together.

Packers G Jahri Evans wants to prove he’s elite.

Vikings RB Dalvin Cook is showing his stuff at Vikings OTAs.

Falcons WR Julio Jones has a big-time fan in Ric Flair.

Will Panthers LT Matt Kalil play well after surgery?

Formerly a defensive lineman for the Raiders, Drew Iddings is trying to make the Saints as an offensive lineman.

Bucs backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is glad to have another Harvard man in the locker room in Cameron Brate.

Cardinals RB David Johnson wants to take the next step toward NFL greatness.

Rams QB Jared Goff is making strides in his first full offseason.

San Francisco LB Reuben Foster is doing as much as he can while protecting his surgically repaired shoulder from contact.

The Seahawks remember Cortez Kennedy as an all-time great on and off the field.

Cowboys see big improvement in ex-basketball player Rico Gathers

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The Cowboys took former Baylor basketball player Rico Gathers in the sixth round of last year’s draft even though he hadn’t played football in college, or even in high school. And even though Gathers never got on the field as a rookie, they think that gamble is going to pay off.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says a year on the practice squad did Gathers a world of good, and he now appears to be ready to play tight end in the NFL.

“You think about where he was, coming from last year,” Garrett said, via the Star-Telegram. “He hadn’t played football since junior high, and he had done a really good job working out, trying to understand and get better at the fundamentals of the game away from here, but once he got here, it’s a different story. He came to work every day, and you saw him get better. He’s a very different player in all ways. He’s grown up in a lot of different ways that will help him become a better player this year.”

Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan loved what he saw of Gathers at the team’s first minicamp practice.

“It’s night and day for [Gathers] in a good way from last year,” Linehan said. “When you know what you’re doing and you’ve got your body in football shape, it’s amazing what you can do, and that’s the biggest difference from where he was a year ago until now.”

Gathers and linebacker Jaylon Smith are two Cowboys 2016 draft picks who didn’t play at all as rookies but could be in for big years in 2017. Dallas already has two big hits from the 2016 draft in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. If Smith and Gathers are able to live up to their promise, that Cowboys 2016 draft class could be legendary.