By Chad Lesher
When we were riding high in 2016, it was the offense that gave us those good feelings as the Boys rolled into the playoffs. Zeke was easily the leading rusher in the NFL, Dak had only four INT’s and Beasley was putting his sauce on a career year. After a disappointing exit from the playoffs, it was the defense that took a lot of the blame for their inability to get to Aaron Rodgers in a closely contested Divisional Round game in Arlington. So, as expected, the Cowboys went very heavy on the defensive side in the draft with three of the first four picks going to the defense. In the fourth round, the Cowboys took Ryan Switzer out of North Carolina. Many fans don’t know much about Switzer except that he is a “Beasley Clone.” But, if Switzer is going to help this team in his rookie year, he has to be more than just a slot receiver.
The Cowboys punt and kick return game in 2016 didn’t provide much help to the offense. The Cowboys averaged 20.5 yards per kick return while opponents averaged 22.6. Punts weren’t much better as the Boys averaged 7.1 yards per return and opponents were at 8.7 yards per return. And, just to ensure you remembered correctly, we didn’t get a punt or kick return touchdowns in 2016. We can’t lose sight of the fact that football has three phases. We hope the offense continues to be strong and that the defense gets better too. But, if we want to get to Minnesota in February, the special teams have to make plays in the return game.
That is where we hope Switzer comes in. While most experts expect Switzer to take Lucky’s roster spot due to being dynamic in the receiving game, that won’t take much. Lucky only caught 3 balls last year for 48 yards. He did have some nice running plays at 10 carries for 82 yards but even that aspect of his game seemed to flatten out in the latter part of the year. I think the coaches already see that Switzer will be more dynamic in this role even during his rookie year.
But can he translate his success in college to the NFL in one year? Did you know that Lucky never had a return TD at Florida Atlantic? What about Cole Beasley who also took on this role for the Boys? Nope. No return TD’s at SMU and actually rarely did returns in college. Before you ask, Dez had three at Oklahoma State but everyone is scared to let him do it due to a potential injury.
So, Ryan Switzer, we need you to step in and make some plays in the punt return return game. While kickoffs are not part of his history, punt returns are absolutely in his wheelhouse. Switzer had FIVE TD’s on punt returns his freshman year and ended up with SEVEN in his college career. But his average return yards resemble a roller coaster during his four years at UNC. 20.9 yards/return as a freshman, 4.6 yards/return as a sophomore, 13.7 yards/return as a junior and 6.6 yards/return as a senior. It averages out at 10.9, which would be a big boost for the Cowboys if he could do that in his rookie year. But, the statistics show, there is no guarantee he steps into the punt return role and improves the Cowboys return game.
With all that said, I think Switzer is an upgrade to what Lucky has done for the team. Lucky has great relationships on the team but Switzer seems to have buddied up close to Dez to learn as much as he can. I know that Switzer is a new shiny toy that Cowboy fans want to be an explosive addition to the slot receiver position and to our return game. But, we will have to see how he adapts to the NFL early on before we guarantee him the punt return spot against the New York Giants in Week 1. I’m optimistic because the kid is an absolutely great athlete. There are just no guarantees and we will have to keep all options open through training camp.
One more question…who is returning kicks on this team? Hmmm…maybe that will be my next blog.
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