OXNARD, Calif. - The enthusiasm over the Dallas Cowboys rookie class is normal. Every team, every year, believes it has assembled a special group, and in Dallas, there are always echoes of "The Dirty Dozen,'' the 12 drafted players who made the team as 1975 rookies.
And then Cowboys Nation looks at the names in the 2020 group, and looks at the holes on the carryover roster ... and, well, we're all sharing owner Jerry Jones' famous "dancing sugarplums'' mental image.
Dallas drafted 11 prospects, and of course, the UDFA guys count as prospects as well. We've seen some wildly optimistic takes about what linebacker Micah Parsons and his fellow newcomers might accomplish, right off the bat, starting this week here at training camp in Oxnard - not just as roster members but also as contributors ... and maybe even as starters.
What does the makeup of the roster tell us? And what does recent NFL history tell us about rookies on teams in Week 1?
First, to the names:
Micah Parsons, linebacker, Penn State (12th Overall)
Kelvin Joseph, cornerback, Kentucky (44th Overall)
Osa Odighizuwa, D-line, UCLA (75th Overall)
Chauncey Golston, defensive end, Iowa (84th Overall)
Nahshon Wright, cornerback, Oregon State (99th Overall)
Jabril Cox, linebacker, LSU (115th Overall)
Josh Ball, tackle, Marshall (138th Overall)
Simi Fehoko, receiver, Stanford (179th Overall)
Quinton Bohanna, defensive tackle, Kentucky (192nd Overall)
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Matt Farniok, O-line, Nebraska (238th Overall)
Hey, why not all three rookie D-linemen making it! Why not all eight defensive guys making it? Why not all 11 making it?
Mostly because history says that's not the way this works. To wit:
*Last year, a total of 31 first-round picks made final Week 1 rosters in 2020. That's good news for Micah - but it's also the most (by a smidge) since 2018.
*A total of 50 rookies started Week 1 games last year. But over the course of the last 10 years, the league-wide average has been 43 Week 1 rookie starters - that's 1.3 per team.
*Last year, overall, 246 rookies in 2020 were named to Week 1 rosters - meaning an average of 7.7 rookies made opening-day rosters. (Sidebar: That's down 17 percent from the previous year, a factoid that can be blamed on COVID, right? COVID also cost one UDFA per team a job, as 30.8 fewer UDFAs made 2020 rosters when compared to the average over the previous 10 seasons.
*Another COVID (we assume) byproduct: Last year, just 24 UDFAs made opening-day rosters. Probably, that's because there was no "normal'' summer, with full training camps and preseason games. So vets got jobs instead of unknown kids.
How low was that number? In 2013, 78 UDFAs made teams.
Now apply these numbers to Dallas. UDFA possibilities figure to re-open up. Parsons looks like the only decent bet to be an opening-day starter ... and in minicamp, you'll recall, on many occasions, the two linebackers on the field were Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, not Micah. And while it is reasonable to think that Joseph, Osa, Golston, Wright and Bohanna also figure as decent bets to join Parsons and to help early on, and while we could visualize the other five doing the same ...
Again, the league average for rookies on rosters hovers around seven or eight. So, "sugarplums'' are wonderful. And if this group of Cowboys rookies exceeds that number come September? Then we can start taking "Dirty Dozen'' talk seriously.