Every season, rookies come in with the pressures of being the future of the franchise and are often expected by everyone to be able to contribute right away. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Not many of these rookies will be day-one starters, but most will be given the opportunity to take playing time away from some of the veterans.
The team is without Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Orlando Scandrick after years with the team. This season, there will be new faces getting more time due to the huge holes left by the departure of their aging vets.
Some rookies are going to be asked to start right away, while others are only going to play selectively. It's probable that all will see the field at some point this season, but only a few will need to make an immediate impact from day one.
Leighton Vander Esch
The Cowboys will probably start off with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson as the starters in the linebacker group. This means Leighton Vander Esch likely will come off the bench to fill in at both the MIKE and WILL linebacker spots in rotation.
It's uncertain which spot will be his spot for the future, but with the health history of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, Vander Esch is going to see plenty of time this season. Going forward, his true spot will reveal itself the more he plays.
Connor Williams is the only rookie that I'm comfortable saying is a day-one starter.
The only hole in the starting group among the offensive line was the left guard. Williams comes off a stellar college career at Texas where he only allowed one sack in his time there. Not only does Williams fill the final spot along the line, he could potentially be the next pro bowl offensive lineman among a group of already elite players.
His priority will be at left guard, but with the injury history to Tyron Smith, he also gives the Cowboys some extra insurance at left tackle. Connor Williams is not only a starter right away, but is probably the team's most valuable rookie.
What Dak Prescott needed was players who are good at route running, separating from coverage and that don't drop passes. Michael Gallup checks all three boxes.
The starting trio of wide receivers at the moment looks like Allen Hurns and Terrance Williams on the outside, with Cole Beasley in the slot. I think it's likely that we see Gallup play all over the field given his versatility and Dallas's need for play-makers.
Gallup was among my top-5 best wide receiver prospects in the draft, so hopefully it doesn't sound too biased when I say, I expect Gallup to be one of Dak's most frequently targeted receivers this season.
The team doesn't have Dez Bryant, Brice Butler or Ryan Switzer anymore and the team needs to find their next number one. Gallup will be given a shot throughout the year to be just that.
Dorance Armstrong Jr.
The good news for Dorance Armstrong's development is also bad news for his playing time; the Cowboys are flushed with defensive end talent and won't need his help very much right away.
He likely won't get a lot of playing time this year, almost as a defacto red-shirt year, but he can use it as quality learning time and play some when needed.
Dalton Schultz may have lucked into a starting job. The retirements of James Hanna and Jason Witten created a huge gap for the Cowboys at their number one and two starting tight end spots. The team also has Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim on the roster, but it'll be interesting to see if Schultz not only has the blocking skills to take the number one spot, but also the receiving skills to do so.
The team may end up keeping all four tight ends but Schultz might be given every opportunity possible to earn a starting spot. If not, he'll take over Geoff Swaim's role as the third tight end, who only comes in on special teams and sub packages.
The hope is the former but he's going to see the field no matter what due to the large need at the position.
Mike White was brought in to compete with Cooper Rush for the team's number two quarterback spot. He has the ball skills to compete for the position but he'll start off as the team's third string quarterback.
If he can push Rush the way Rush pushed Kellen Moore last season, the team may go another direction yet again at the back up position.
As a rookie, he may be stuck as the third quarterback, meaning he won't see any action at all in 2018, even in blowouts. He also likely won't be put on the practice squad neither, likely being too valuable of a prospect to let go. Don't expect to see White this season, aside from preseason.
Chris Covington gives the team valuable depth for the linebacker group. Except for injury, Covington will only be used on special teams or rotations. He was a late round pick, meaning he needs more time to develop than some of the other picks.
He may get his shot at a starting job in a year or two, but 2018 probably isn't his year. He's got plenty of talent but he isn't the rookie linebacker that will be given the most looks this off-season.
Cedrick Wilson is going to come in and play the position that Brice Butler had a season ago, but might have a higher ceiling thanks to his more impressive college career when compared to Butler's. He will be the team's deep threat and his skills compare to Michael Gallup.
While this year Wilson is likely the fourth or fifth wide receiver, and the team's deep threat option, by this time next season, we may see Wilson be named as the other starting wide receiver on the opposite side of Gallup. For this season though, he may not get as many chances early in the season as he will as the year goes along.
The team has its lead dog in Ezekiel Elliott, and their speed/receiving threat out of the backfield in Tavon Austin. Scarbrough will have to compete with Rod Smith as the team's short yardage back. Rod Smith gives the team position flexibility, and plays several different roles, which may give Scarbrough a chance.
He is not in any way going to take carries away from Elliott, and won't be the first change-of-pace option the team has, not with Tavon Austin. We may only see him 5-10 offensive plays a game, especially on two yards or less to gain, or maybe even goalline situations.
He was an exciting player at Alabama, but he'll be a role player in Dallas.
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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