The hope for the Dallas Cowboys offense returning to form in 2018 rests mostly in the legs of third-year RB Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke Elliott, whose 2017 season was derailed by a six-game suspension that he fought until he no longer could, will be looking to prove to the league that he remains one of the most dominant backs in football.
Elliott of course won't be alone, as the Cowboys committing to their running game is certainly nothing new. Many in Cowboys Nation are preparing for the team to add yet another first-round offensive lineman at the end of this month, getting value at left guard with the 19th overall pick.
For all of the talks about how the rest of the team's needs on offense will be addressed in the draft though, it is important not to lose sight of the investment this team may make at RB once again.
Currently, the Cowboys have only Rod Smith under contract to back up Ezekiel Elliott. Smith made a solid case for the RB2 job this season in nine games, but shouldn't be handed the keys to this prestigious position just yet.
The Cowboys did also trade for Fullback Jamize Olawale this offseason, who could earn a role out of the backfield that few fullbacks have in Dallas recently.
Even still, the Cowboys would be wise to come away with multiple new toys for Dak Prescott to work with at this draft, one of which should be a "change of pace" running back. Here are a few prospects to keep in mind.
Nyheim Hines - North Carolina State
NC State's Nyheim Hines may not have tested as the best athlete at the Scouting Combine, but on tape in the ACC he was good enough for 1,399 rushing yards and 152 receiving yards in his final Junior season.
Hines has experience as both a running back and wide receiver, and is an absolute terror in space for any defender. This is a player that gets up the field in a hurry with the ability to run with above average power and vision.
Filling out their depth chart at both RB and WR while keeping the numbers they currently have at both will be difficult for the Cowboys, making a player like Hines that much more intriguing.
Mark Walton - Miami
Admittedly, I'm not as big of a fan of Miami's Mark Walton as most in the draft community. With that said, it is hard to deny the type of explosive ability he could have running behind this vaunted offensive line of the Cowboys.
Walton is a race car of a back when given even the tightest spaces to work in, accelerating quickly and effortlessly to blow past defenders. When Ezekiel Elliott was on the field in 2017, it did appear that the extra gear to his running speed was missing.
While Elliott is undoubtedly still this team's workhorse, mixing in carries for a back like Walton could have outstanding results for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.
Josh Adams - Notre Dame
Josh Adams of Notre Dame should be available a bit later in the 2018 Draft compared to Hines and Walton. Also unlike these other two ACC backs, Adams brings more of a physical style to the backfield.
At 213 pounds, Adams punished defenses all season long for the Fighting Irish, to the tune of 1,430 yards. Creating big plays that win games should still be a priority for the Cowboys, but so to is their proven identity of grinding out drives on the ground to control games.
A running back stable of Elliott, Smith, and Adams would certainly allow the Cowboys to do exactly that, giving them an even longer term view at the RB position.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
At this point, nobody following the Dallas Cowboys will be surprised if an offensive lineman or wide receiver is announced as this team's pick early in the draft.
Running back should be added to this list as well, and the immediate impact the team gets out of a rookie runner may even exceed that of the receiver they appear set on drafting with a priority pick.
Nyheim Hines, Mark Walton, and Josh Adams are just three names to remember as players that can help the Cowboys here.
Cowboys Draft Target: South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel
Our search for a new pass catcher for the Cowboys in this years' draft class continues, this time with a wide receiver.
South Carolina's Deebo Samuel put himself on the map with a strong Sophomore season, but fell off a bit due to a severe leg injury early in 2017. After a strong 2018 campaign, and an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl, Samuel has played himself back into early Day Two draft discussions.
I don't know that anyone "won" Senior Bowl week more than Deebo Samuel did this January. Samuel, who had to deal with some poor quarterback play throughout his college career, didn't get much of a break in that department either at the Senior Bowl. But, he did show out every day at practice, and seemed to go viral on Twitter at least once a day.
During his actual collegiate season, Samuel finished with 882 yards and 11 touchdowns on 62 catches, solid production especially coming off an injury and playing in a limited offense. Initially in the NFL, Samuel is going to make his money in the slot. He's a shifty yet explosive receiver type than can quickly beat defenders with his speed. He's not the speedster than someone like Marquise Brown is, but he is explosive enough in his own right, especially in terms of short-area quickness.
Samuel isn't someone who will go up and grab the ball consistently, or even make up for inaccurate throws as often as some others might be able to. But he does have reliable hands, and his ability to get open quickly and create separation should give someone like Dak Prescott easy windows to find him in for completions.
What makes Deebo Samuel so fun for me to watch, though, is his ability after the catch. Despite his lack of size, Samuel is tough as nails, and rarely defers out of bounds or avoids contact. He's built well enough to withstand that contact as well, and when he gets free, he's hard to catch and bring down.
Drafting Deebo Samuel 58th overall would be a heck of a haul for the Dallas Cowboys. In need of another playmaker in the passing game, the Cowboys could make immediate use of Samuel's talents in 2019, specifically as a slot receiver.
As has been mentioned ad nauseam, it seems unlikely that Cole Beasley will be returning to the team this season, which makes the need for a slot wide-out that much greater. Samuel has big play ability from the slot already, and has traits which project him to potentially work outside as well. If he tests well enough at the combine, reps on the outside could very well be in his future.
Samuel should be on every Cowboys fans' shortlist of draft targets in the second round this year.
3 Potential Day 2 Tight End Prospects for the Dallas Cowboys
By now it's no secret the Dallas Cowboys don't have a first-round draft pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft. The Amari Cooper trade took care of that, meaning sitting through the entire Day 1 could be a little tiresome for us fans. But, Day 2 of the draft could get really interesting for the Cowboys, especially as it pertains to the players/positions they could target.
Today, I wanted to take a look at a few of the Day 2 tight end prospects the Dallas Cowboys could be interested in. This would be the second tier of TEs behind the likes of T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, and Irv Smith, all of which should be gone by the time the Cowboys are on the clock at 58th overall in the second round.
I really believe that if the Dallas Cowboys plan on drafting a starting caliber tight end in this year's draft class they are going to have to do it with either their second or third round selection. The TEs available beyond that point probably aren't much of an upgrade over Blake Jarwin or Dalton Schultz, which is praise in itself about the upside of the young TEs they currently have on the roster.
With all of that in mind, I put together a list of three tight ends I would personally target on Day 2 if I were the Cowboys. I tried to identify what they typically look for in a starting TE (size, speed, athleticism), while also taking into account the ones that are are versatile enough to contribute on all three downs in both the running and passing game.
Isaac Nauta, Georgia
Isaac Nauta is a former five-star recruit who never really lived up to his billing during his time with the Georgia Bulldogs. He is a top-notch blocker both in line and when split out wide, but due to the Bulldogs run heavy offense he never really developed into the pass catcher many envisioned him becoming. He possesses good speed and terrific hands to be a threat in the passing game though, even if he doesn't show a lot of separation ability on film.
Nauta looks and plays like a prototypical Dallas Cowboys tight end. He has the desired size (6'4", 246), athleticism, and skill set to step in and be the Cowboys TE1 as a rookie. His blocking ability alone will get him on the field early, but he also shows enough pass catching ability to be a threat in the passing game as well. Overall, Nauta is a pro-ready three down TE who is a high floor prospect with very little downside.
Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Jace Sternberger is a former three-star recruit and the definition of a one-year wonder. He was basically a complete unknown before the 2018 season and had just one catch for 5 yards during his two years at Kansas before deciding to transfer to JUCO. He didn't fare much better at Northern Oklahoma A&M, but Jimbo Fisher thought enough of him to bring him aboard a Texas A&M, essentially turning him into an All-American and first team All-SEC.
Sternberger is almost the exact opposite of Isaac Nauta, but still has the desired traits the Dallas Cowboys look for in their tight ends. Unlike Nauta, Sternberger is much more accomplished as a passing threat. He runs and moves like a big wide receiver and possesses good separation ability. Due to his size (6'4", 250) and athletic ability he is difficult to bring down after the catch as well. He's not as accomplished as a blocker as Nauta, but he shows good technique and will improve in time with added strength. He has the ability to be the Cowboys TE1 as a rookie.
Dawson Knox, Ole Miss
Dawson Knox is a former walk-on quarterback at Ole Miss, but spent the last two years playing tight end for the Rebels. He is one of the more difficult tight ends to evaluate in this draft class due to the unorthodox offense he played in and his usage in the system, but may actually be more pro-ready than many of us believe. He does have the size (6'4", 250), speed, and natural hands to be a complete three-down TE in the NFL and reminds me a little bit of George Kittle when he was entering the league.
Knox is still pretty raw as a player, but moldable and he has the upside to be one of the best tight ends in this entire draft class. He could probably compete to be the Dallas Cowboys TE1 as a rookie, but it might be better for him to be in a timeshare of sorts while he develops his God-given talent. Nevertheless, I have a hard time seeing him making it out of Day 2 of the draft, especially after he puts on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine. His talent might be too much for the Cowboys to pass up.
Could Cowboys Take Another 2nd Round Risk On DT Jeffery Simmons?
The Dallas Cowboys have taken a few risks when on the clock in the second round of the NFL Draft in recent years. Randy Gregory and Jaylon Smith, both important starters on defense, were drafted to the Cowboys after they went down on many teams' draft boards. In 2019, they'll have the opportunity to take yet another risk. Recently, one of the best defensive tackles in this year's class, Jeffery Simmons, suffered a torn ACL while going through a drill during his workout in Florida.
Simmons took to Twitter to share the unfortunate news that will drastically affect his draft stock only a couple of months before the Draft.
Before the injury, Jeffery Simmons was seen as a top draft prospect. Some even envisioned him being drafted in the top 10. As a 21-year old defensive tackle from Mississippi State, Simmons had an impressive career during his time in college football. In three seasons he managed to rack up 157 tackles and seven sacks.
If one thing is clear it's that the Mississippi State product will be an impact player when he gets on the field on Sundays. His quick reaction on the get-off will still interest a lot of teams despite his injury. A sound defender on the running and passing game, he'll pay big dividends for whichever team decides to pull the trigger on him come April.
Due to their recent second round draft history, I can't help but wonder if the Dallas Cowboys will consider him when they're on the clock in the second round. This year though, there will be a big difference. Pick #58 will be the first time the Cowboys will be on the clock in this year's draft after trading away their first rounder for Amari Cooper last year.
It will be tough for them to wait until the third round to pick a player they could actually put on the field for the 2019 season. Specially considering the fact that they're a football team with title aspirations this year. Despite their history and the fact that Simmons will be one hell of a pro, I believe the team will not want to make such a pick in the second without a first round selection.
The team has a big need at DT, although Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins were very serviceable in 2018. We'll see how tempted they are if Jeffery Simmons is still on the board when they're on the clock.
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