In case you have been living in an alternate dimension, the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams units are bad. Not just less than ideal, or below average.
We are talking rock bottom, as bad as it gets bad.
The Cowboys’ 2019 special teams rankings are not for the weak and squeamish.
Turn away if you must…
2019 Dallas Cowboys Special Teams Rankings
- 25th in opponent return average
- 29th in field goal percentage
- 30th in kickoff average
- 32nd in starting field position
- 32nd in net punting average
- 32nd in kickoff return average
- 32nd in kicks blocked
- 30th in total special teams DVOA
The Cowboys specialty units were so astonishingly bad that it seems impossible to rank so low in so many categories. That is until you realize that this is a longstanding trend for the team.
Dallas Cowboys Special Teams Rankings since 2011 (first full season of Garrett as HC):
- 19th in field goal percentage
- 24th in kicks blocked
- 32nd in kickoff return touchdowns
- 22nd in punt return touchdowns
- 25th in punt return average allowed
Since 2014 the Cowboys have just six combined blocked kicks and special teams touchdowns. Six. For comparison’s sake, the Philadelphia Eagles had 25 such plays that occur over that span.
Former Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel has come aboard to help lift the Dallas special units out of the cellar. Now we are surely all familiar with the CeeDee Lambs and Jalen Reagors of the world; the early round studs who could instantly make an electrifying impact on the Cowboys’ return units.
Rather than repetitively profile high-end players, I went digging for some late-round/UDFA “diamond in the rough” types who could potentially help coach Fassel gain back some of that precious hidden yardage that the Cowboys have failed to prioritize.
Prince Robinson // CB, Tarleton State // 5’11”-189 LBS
As a return man, Robinson is a smooth, weaving runner. Not a jitterbug, but a guy who sort of glides and picks his way through the opposing coverage units. His top-end speed isn’t eye-popping, but he’s fast enough to house a kick at the next level.
2019 was a bit of a step back for Robinson, but as a junior, Robinson had both a punt and kick return touchdown, averaging 15.9 yards per punt return, and 26.6 yards per kickoff return.
Robinson’s home trade is cornerback. On tape, he displays a propensity for laying some major licks on ball carriers, and he does it under control. Watching him for just a few minutes, you see a handful of a textbook, wrap up, high impact tackles. He also does a great job of getting to the football, tallying 4 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles over his two seasons at Tarleton State.
Robinson is the 30th ranked cornerback prospect in the 2020 NFL draft per Draft Countdown.
Isaiah Rodgers // CB, University of Massachusetts // 5’10”-170 LBS
The very first thing you see when you observe Isaiah Rodgers is that he is an A-1, dynamic athlete. This dude can flat out run and is an incredibly agile and instinctive ball carrier when he gets his hands on it. Only one career return touchdown for Rodgers, but when you watch him move with the football, you see how dangerous he could be. This year he was the NCAA’s leader in combined kickoff and punt return yardage.
As a corner, Rodgers’ best trait is his ability to track and compete for the football. This guy has ball skills that bring tears to the eye of a Cowboys fan who doesn’t get to witness many interceptions. Rodgers finished his collegiate career with 11 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries. Ballhawk.
College wide-angle film is tough to find, so it’s hard to investigate the reason Rodgers is such a low-ranking prospect (78th best corner per Draft Countdown). Nonetheless, athleticism and ball skills are enough to build on and make Isaiah Rodgers an interesting late-round dice roll or UDFA.
C.J. Sanders // WR, Notre Dame/SMU (2018 transfer) // 5’9″-183 LBS
Sanders is shifty and decisive as a returner with speed to burn. The sturdily built WR averaged 28.0 yards per kickoff return and scored 6 career return touchdowns.
Sanders does not, however, offer much as a wideout (just 42 career receptions), and is therefore likely a prospective undrafted free agent. If he can get into a camp, it will be because of his kick return ability. If he makes a team, it will be because a team also thinks he has some untapped potential to help in the passing game.
Ahmere Dorsey // WR, Rhode Island // 5’10”-175 LBS
Dorsey was the 2019 FCS leader in combined kickoff and punt return yardage. The former high school point guard averaged 10.8 yards per punt return, 27.5 per kickoff return, and scored 5 return TDs in his collegiate career.
Dorsey has a thick, WR/RB tweener build. The guy looks like he was constructed from granite, but his musclebound frame doesn’t hinder his agility. Quick, choppy feet, tenacity, and really good balance through contact. His top-end speed looks really solid, but he doesn’t quite lay vapor trails taking a ball to the house.
As an offensive player, Dorsey may be a tweener type, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just 43 career catches and 40 rush attempts (4 receiving TD, 4 rushing TD). One encouraging thing that does come to the forefront when you watch Dorsey is that for a shorter guy, he can climb the ladder for the football. In contested situations, whether they be up top or on the ground, the guy just knows how to go after the football with strength and tenacity. With his speed and footwork, maybe there are some tools there to develop a slot man.
Joseph Charlton // P, South Carolina // 6’1″-193 LBS
Cowboys punter Chris Jones ranked 35th in the average distance (41.6) among qualifying NFL punters. In a league with 32 teams, you don’t have to have aced advanced calculus to know that that’s not ideal, and the Cowboys need to do better.
Why not spend a late pick, or work the post-draft phones to secure the draft-eligible punter with the highest 2019 average (47.7)? The two-time 2nd team All-SEC punter improved each year in Columbia and would be a younger, cheaper alternative to the declining Jones.
Special teams coverage units and non-ball handlers on return units are pretty much just comprised of depth players who have actual jobs on offense and defense. However, a productive return man could find his way onto the roster, even if he doubles only as an emergency player on offense or defense.
Hopefully, the Cowboys can find someone to add a little pop to the return game and replace a somewhat expensive punter in decline.