The 2016 draft class for the Cowboys looks to be one of the best ones in recent memory.
Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott carried the team to a 13-3 record last season. Sixth rounder Anthony Brown stepped up and started 10 games for Dallas as a rookie, staying glued to some of the game’s best receivers. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins finished second on the team with 5.0 sacks, and he led all defensive linemen in snaps played. That draft class is a success based off of those four players alone, but the potential for it to be even better presents itself as camp kicks off today, with rookies reporting to Oxnard.
Jaylon Smith’s long-awaited debut draws closer, with analysts, fans, and the Cowboys themselves wondering if he can realize the potential Dallas banked on when they selected him 34th overall. But Smith isn’t the only red-shirt Dallas defender looking to bounce back from a career-threatening health scare and have an impact for the Cowboys.
“Me and Jaylon obviously haven’t hit the field yet and balled out with these other guys,” Cowboys defensive end Charles Tapper said at the National Fantasy Football Convention in Dallas this past weekend. “Once we hit the field, me and Jaylon prove what we’re supposed to prove, I think we’ll all come together and talk about the dynsaty that could be built.”
Tapper was Dallas’ first of two fourth round selections in 2016 (Prescott being the other) and appeared ready to settle into a role that finally fit his skill set.
“Oklahoma basically played him in a frog stance,” Draft analyst Dan Turner told CowboysCast in 2016. “I wouldn’t say they ruined him, but it makes evaluating him a lot harder. But his power is just absolutely astonishing.”
Tapper’s athleticism and measurements appeared to be those of a prototypical 4-3 right end, but the Sooners’ 3-4 defense limited his big play ability, asking him instead to stack up the edge and eat up blockers. Even still, Tapper managed 13.0 sacks during his time at Oklahoma, and his athletic testing at the combine made plenty of teams salivate.
But Tapper’s hopes of thriving in Dallas’ system were in serious jeopardy. Not long into training camp, the Cowboys discovered Tapper had been living and playing with a L5 Pars Defect. It basically amounts to a stress fracture in the spine. The injury was serious enough that the Cowboys shut him down for the year late in September.
Tapper was finally cleared by doctors in January to return to football. Having missed his entire rookie season, He says he’s feeling a good kind of nervous as he prepares for the 2017 season.
“I missed a whole year of football, I’m restarting everything back over, so it’s like the excitement is back there. I’m getting the jitters like I’m about to play a game. I just can’t wait to get out there and put my pads on somebody finally.”
If Tapper is able to be the speed-rushing right end the Cowboys desperately covet, it will be a huge relief. David Irving will miss the first four games of the season, there is debate about whether Taco Charlton is a fit at the right side, and DeMarcus Lawrence has yet to prove he can be the player Dallas needs. Should Tapper step in and perform well on the right side, Irving, Charlton, Lawrence, and others are free to be molded to the desires of Rod Marinelli.
While there will be some conditioning hurdles and re-adjustments to the speed of the game, Tapper is welcoming the challenge with a big smile.
“I’m feeling great. I’m feeling light. Ready to go run with Coach Marinelli and knock out this Marinelli madness the first day.”