For the Dallas Cowboys to have a successful 2018 season they are going to need some of their young players step up and improve their game from a year ago. Keeping everyone healthy will be a huge help as well, but today I want to focus on a few players who I believe will have a breakout year this season.
In 2017 we saw DeMarcus Lawrence go from a player who a lot of Cowboys Nation was calling to get released, to a player who became one of the best at his position. It's rare to see someone take that kind of jump, but I don't think the Dallas Cowboys or their fans are complaining. The only real complaint I see now is how the Cowboys plan on keeping him around.
To say that Lawrence had a breakout 2017 season would be an understatement. He dominated all year and it's that kind of progress we are hoping from some of the Cowboys youngsters. But, who is ready to take that kind of jump?
Below I've identified three players who I believe are going to have breakout seasons in 2018.
Out of everybody on the Dallas Cowboys roster, I think Chidobe Awuzie is the most likely to have a breakout season like DeMarcus Lawrence did in 2017. Part of that has to do with the hiring of Kris Richard, who I believe will help him develop, but it mostly has to do with Awuzie's talent and how he performed as a rookie.
His rookie season didn't get off to the best start due to reoccurring injuries. He was only able to start six of 10 games and finished the year with 25 tackles, one forced fumble, and one interception. Not terrible numbers for a first year CB, but it could've been much better.
I believe with a full year in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program and a healthy offseason, Awuzie will without a doubt be the best cornerback on the roster. He has all the tools to succeed, now he just has to go out and prove it.
Hopefully changing from #33 to #24 doesn't jinx him. The 24 jersey hasn't been very kind to the last two CBs who wore it.
Out of the entire Dallas Cowboys 2017 draft class, Xavier Woods might have been the most impressive in his first year in the NFL. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that he was a sixth round draft pick, the 191st player selected. And I don't know about you, but I'm really looking forward to see him play this season.
As a rookie, Xavier Woods was used in a variety of roles in the Cowboys secondary and finished the season with 42 tackles and one interception. He played in all 16 games, but only started in for those contests.
I'm really expecting Xavier Woods to take a big jump in his second season with the Dallas Cowboys. I wouldn't be surprised if he is one of the starting safeties. A lot of people say that he's a little undersized to play the position, but he is almost exactly the same size as the safety everybody wants the Cowboys to trade for, Earl Thomas.
I believe if the Cowboys don't take a safety early in the 2018 NFL Draft it's probably because they like what they have in Xavier Woods.
I've actually been predicting a breakout season for Byron Jones these past several years, but unfortunately he hasn't really lived up to those aspirations just yet. I'm going to go out on a limb again and predict he finally proves why he was a first-round draft pick.
The Dallas Cowboys didn't do Byron Jones any favors by continuously having him play different positions in the secondary. I've always believed his best position was at CB, which is why am really excited the Cowboys are no longer going to play him at safety. He played safety out of necessity and has been average, but I think he will be an above average CB.
His size and athleticism should benefit him more at CB than it did at S. At safety he was asked to match up with bigger tight ends in coverage and was out physicaled from time to time, but I don't think that will happen when guarding receivers. I really think we will see a different player in 2018.
* Honorable Mention
Jaylon Smith - I thought about adding Jaylon Smith to the list due to his improved nerve regeneration in his knee/drop foot, but I think he had his breakout season last year. Hopefully he will be even better in 2018 though.
Jourdan Lewis - Jourdan Lewis is another player I contemplated adding to the list, but he is kind of being demoted a little bit and will likely be the Dallas Cowboys nickel cornerback in 2018. I'm still expecting big things from him.
Which Dallas Cowboys players do you think will have a breakout 2018 season?
Bye Week and Amari Arrive After Cowboys’ Rally Stripped Away by Redskins
Strange things happen when these two NFC East foes tangle and you can add Sunday’s latest chapter to that list. As Dallas was driving late in the fourth-quarter and looking to take their first lead of the game, Dak Prescott was strip-sacked by Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan which was "returned" for a touchdown. That gave the ‘Skins a 20-10 advantage and a lead they would never relinquish.
It didn’t help that in the waning moments Cowboys’ long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur was flagged for moving the ball pre-snap. The attempt was moved back five yards, which certainly didn’t help kicker Brett Maher knock what would have been a game-tying field goal through the uprights.
He missed, Dallas lost, and here we are.
As the Cowboys ride off into the sunset for the next couple of weeks, it should be noted that this is a team that has been as good at home as they have been abysmal on the road. In Jerry’s World, the team is bathed in milk and honey winning all three games at home while on the road their slate stands at 0-4 after their Week 7 loss to Washington.
It’s an interesting dichotomy and one that will be scrutinized by players and coaching staff alike. But one thing the Cowboys have not done is fill the void vacated by Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The latter retired voluntarily while the former was essentially made an offer he could most definitely refuse, a severe pay cut. As a result, Dak Prescott has yet to find an elite target to call his own.
Cole Beasley has done an admirable job stepping up but he checks in at No. 45 in receiving yards and is essentially a slot receiver as opposed to a speed merchant screaming down the sidelines. The Cowboys are ranked 29th in passing yards and 26th in points scored, which means something had to give - and it finally did.
Dallas swung a deal with Oakland for two-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper who is struggling through his most difficult season yet. The 24-year-old Alabama product had a stellar rookie and sophomore campaign but 2017 proved to be his first not eclipsing 1,000-yards receiving and this season is even less impressive with only 280 yards and one touchdown thus far.
In return, Dallas sent their 2019 first-round pick to the Raiders who will now have three in the opening round next April.
If the Cowboys were going to make a deal for a skill player then they picked the perfect time. Cooper will have two weeks to get up to speed with the Dallas playbook and foster a relationship with Prescott. Without a legitimate deep threat, the Cowboys were going nowhere and this helps even the playing field.
The question is whether Cooper is a supernova whose time in the league was brief but spectacular or if he merely needed a change of scenery to reignite what was once a promising career. The Cowboys will learn one way or the other and have paid a fairly steep price to find out. However, if this move does bear fruit, it could mean the difference between an early vacation and a postseason invitation. Let’s hope it’s the latter.
As we often do when we turn the chapter on another week in the NFL, we look ahead to see what awaits and there is no better indicator as to which way the wind is blowing than our friends at Bovada, the sports betting industry’s mainstay that is always chief among the best online sportsbooks in the world. Bovada, as well as many other top-rated sportsbooks can be found all in one place, Sportsbook Review, so when in doubt, check them out.
When the Cowboys get back to work they will welcome the Tennessee Titans into AT&T Stadium (it will always be Cowboys Stadium to us) where we will see what the oddsmakers post in terms of the opening point spread. But until then, we will hope that our 'Boys return healthy and ready to roll with a brand-new weapon named Amari Cooper stretching the field and giving Prescott a deep threat… finally!
Dak Prescott: A+ Leader, But “C” Level QB Play
Let me start by saying this: as a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, I love Dak Prescott.
Prescott is everything you want in a franchise quarterback. He's a leader the players seem to respond to, he says all the "right" things in the media and, most importantly, he competes like hell every Sunday. Never, not even when Chaz Green failed him to the tune of 6 Adrian Clayborn sacks, has Dak Prescott quit on the Dallas Cowboys.
But in the National Football League that simply isn't enough, and never was that more clear than during last Sunday's loss to the Washington Redskins.
On the surface, Sunday looks like one of Prescott's better games in 2018. He threw for over 250 yards for just the second time this year, he brought the Cowboys back from down 10 late in the fourth quarter and gave them a chance at overtime, and he battled back from a vicious head shot which Tony Romo immediately said would sideline him the remainder of the game.
As usual Dak Prescott did not quit, and he helped to give the Cowboys a chance to win.
But when you look a bit deeper than just the surface narrative you see that Prescott is more of a reason the team lost Sunday than nearly won.
Repeatedly Prescott made the same types of mistakes he's been making since his miracle rookie season came to an end, and once again they were the downfall of this Cowboys offense. Too often he holds onto the ball longer than he should, fails to recognize open receivers, doesn't trust himself to make tight window throws, and abandons clean pockets when he has seemingly no reason to do so.
The two plays which really lost the Cowboys the game on Sunday occurred back to back. And, ironically, they represent Dak Prescott and his Cowboys career in a nut shell.
The first play was third and medium late in the 4th quarter. Prescott and the Cowboys were down 3 and needed the first down to keep a potential game changing drive alive. Prescott stood firm in the pocket, trusted Cole Beasley, and delivered a strike for a huge first down. The problem? Holding was called on Connor Williams and the play was brought back.
Then came third and long, with Prescott backed up near his own goal line. Despite the longer distance, Dak Prescott had at least one if not two open options down the field to convert the first down, and enough time in the pocket to make the play. Instead, Prescott felt phantom pressure and spun out of a clean pocket, getting disoriented and fumbling the ball in the end zone.
It went from 13-10 first down Cowboys, to 20-10 game over in a split second. And while, of course, the holding was not his fault, that sack fumble was absolutely egregious. Especially in their own end zone and especially as Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott were both open for potential first downs.
While the Cowboys skill position players haven't been particularly good this season, the front office went out and tried to make a change to that this week by trading for wide receiver Amari Cooper. There's no more excuses left for this passing offense.
The Cowboys need to be able to play modern offense in the NFL, and to do so their quarterback has to play better than he has for most of 2018. Now that they are without a first round pick in 2019 Dak probably has another uncontested year ahead as the starter. But beyond that Prescott will need prove that he belongs and deserves franchise quarterback type money.
For the Cowboys sake, I hope he raises his play to that level soon.
The Cowboys Are What They’ve Been Since ’96: Average
Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys have been trafficking in overzealous fan hope for quite some time. For much of the past 20 years they have spent their offseasons making minor roster tweaks, maintaining the same core and swearing they are one of the more talented teams in the NFL.
If we just got one call... If Tony Romo stays heathy...If Sean Lee stays healthy...If Ezekiel Elliott wasn't suspended...
A whole lot of "ifs." That's what the Dallas Cowboys have been characterized by since they last held the Lombardi Trophy in January of 1996. And even in the more recent years, where Jerry Jones has pulled back a bit of his control and allowed Stephen and company to make the roster decisions, the Cowboys have stayed the same average franchise.
So last Sunday when Dak Prescott took an inexcusable sack in the end zone, missing multiple open receivers and handing a key divisional game over to Washington, I wasn't surprised. When Jason Garrett coached scared down the stretch, settling for a 47 yard field goal in the cold and windy weather to tie, I wasn't surprised. And when the Cowboys were called for a snap infraction to back that field goal attempt up over 50 yards, well, that's the same old Cowboys that I have always known.
If there's a way to lose a football game, the Dallas Cowboys of the last two decades will find it.
Sure there's a couple of 13-3 and 12-4 seasons in there, but there are also multiple 4-12 years to offset that. Sure there have been years where the Cowboys seemed to be just a play or two away from taking that next step, but the bottom line is they haven't.
Yes the Cowboys finally attempted to turn over their roster in recent years, but they rode "the hot hand" right into the ground at quarterback. And at this point, there's simply no denying it.
We are the Bengals. We are the Dolphins. We are the Lions. We are every average, middling, quarterback-purgatory-living franchise in the NFL. And, as usual, it starts at the top. If things are going to change and the Cowboys are going to become the Cowboys ever again, I highly doubt Jason Garrett will be the one to do it.
Ironically, all is not lost this season. The Cowboys will probably win their next game against the Titans and get back to .500 before a big game with the Eagles. And they'll probably hang around 7-9 or 8-8 this season, falsely believing they are "in the hunt" all year because that's who they are.
And unless massive, franchise changing decisions are made this offseason, that's who they'll stay.
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