If you've been following national media's NFL previews, you've likely heard a lot of similar statements about the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. Today, I thought we'd run through some of these storylines and see if they have real merit, or if they're just overrated hype.
The first, and most prevalent that I've seen, is that the Cowboys will struggle without Dez Bry
ant and Jason Witten in the offense. Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that I have tremendous respect for the contributions that both men made during their time in Dallas.
But if you want to say that Dallas lost Bryant and Witten, then you're really a few years late with that point. Neither guy had played up to their reputations in recent seasons.
Jason simply got old. There's no shame in that for him, or in us admitting it as fans. He could still get open with his pristine route running, but he couldn't do anything with the ball after the catch. Watching Witten go sideways or backwards after every catch last year became depressing.
Dez, while several years younger, finally showed his mileage as well. We predicted all the way back in 2010 that Bryant might not last long with his physical playing style. We were right; the wear and tear was evident as he wasn't the same explosive athlete anymore over the last few seasons.
This isn't to say that Blake Jarwin or Geoff Swaim is going to fill Witten's shoes, or that Allen Hurns is guaranteed to replace Dez' production. But many keep looking at the WR and TE positions as if Dallas just lost two All-Pros, and neither Jason or Dez have been at that level since 2014.
No, we don't know what sort of production the Cowboys will get out of their current receivers and tight ends. But last year saw what happened when you kept trying to feed aging stars with diminishing returns. We saw predictable results from that strategy.
Maybe less familiarity and more unpredictability in the passing game is exactly what this offense needs.
Another common criticism of the 2018 Cowboys is the lack of experience in their secondary. This is wrong on a few levels.
For one, none of these players are rookies. Jeff Heath is in his sixth season, Byron Jones is in Year Four, and Anthony Brown has had a lot of playing time over the last two years. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis were starters as rookies in 2017. Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier have also had some run since coming to Dallas.
There may not be household names among this group yet, but the arrival of Kris Richard as Defensive Backs Coach and the development across the difference means breakout potential is high for several of these players. Awuzie looks like a star in the making and Byron Jones should benefit from moving back to corner.
Safety is more concerning, but Heath is actually underrated despite all of the sarcastic "G.O.A.T." jokes. Once Woods gets healthy and Jeff can play in the box where he belongs, you'll see more playmaking and less coverage issues.
Sure, there where still be some growing pains. That is a natural part of relying on young players. But to say that the youth among the DBs is a liability is a one-sided perspective.
Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor were third and fourth-year players when they won their Super Bowl. They were in the second round of the playoffs a year before that.
Young teams can win in the NFL. That youth can be a strength in December and January when older teams are wearing down. If these Cowboys corners and safeties have the potential that we think they do, then their age may be a positive by the end of the season.
While the Cowboys receivers and defensive backs may need to prove themselves in 2018, one guy who doesn't is Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Still, that notion has been put out there by more than one outlet.
There is no denying that Elliott is one of the best RBs in the game. He has led the NFL in rushing yards-per-game the last two years. If not for the suspension last year, Zeke would have won back-to-back rushing titles since entering the league.
Elliott may not put up the receiving numbers of peers like Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson, but he isn't asked to. Dallas hasn't utilized him in the role as much as they could; Zeke is a great receiving back when called upon.
If you think Zeke has something to prove on a personal level, that's fair. Availability is key, and obviously he can't be a star sitting in the commissioner's doghouse.
But it appears all of that is behind Elliott now, and he's free to get back to being the most productive rusher in the NFL. He's not coming back from an injury or even an off year; he was on pace for close to 1,600 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last year without the missed time.
You shouldn't need to see another carry to know that Ezekiel Elliott is still an elite RB. Roger Goodell is the only one who could slow him down.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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