If 2017 was any indication, injuries can take a tremendous toll on a team. The Dallas Cowboys are no different. In the first half of the season they struggled to keep people healthy in their linebacking corp, losing Anthony Hitchens in the preseason and Sean Lee just a few games into the regular season, which forced Jaylon Smith into a role he wasn’t quite ready for in 2017.
Seeing how the team fell apart in the second half of the season with the loss of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith showed Dallas that the options they had at backup tackle weren't good enough. As we look to the 2018 season, there are still places where the Dallas Cowboys can’t afford an injury.
Here are five players they need for all 16 games.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
Like every other team that has eyes for playoff and Super Bowl contention, the Dallas Cowboys need Quarterback Dak Prescott to stay healthy in 2018. Prescott, entering his third year in the NFL, hasn't missed a start in two seasons and has been a durable player -- see the Atlanta Falcons game from 2017.
He's a big quarterback who can take hits, but with his running ability -- and sometimes the play caller's stupidity -- Prescott sometimes gets put into some really vulnerable positions.
Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, but that's an aberration, not the norm. That just doesn't happen. We can't expect that backup Quarterback Cooper Rush or Mike White to be able to step in and carry the Cowboys to their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Say what you want about Prescott's final eight games of the 2017 season, but you need him on the field leading this team with the departures of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. He may not be in the elite group of quarterbacks, but he's a good quarterback who can win you a lot of football games in the NFL.
Tyron Smith, Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys went to work in the offseason to get themselves a better insurance policy at tackle after the debacle of the 2017's second half of the season. Chaz Green and Byron Bell were for the most part awful at keeping Dak Prescott's blind side clean.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Cameron Fleming, who started at right tackle for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl last season, to be their swing tackle. They then spent their second round pick on Connor Williams, who they plan to play at left guard but also has a lot of experience as a left tackle in the college ranks. He was an All-American selection his freshmen and sophomore years at the University of Texas.
If necessary, the Dallas Cowboys have two options to replace Tyron Smith, but in all honesty, we should hope that Fleming never has to see the field and that Williams never has to slide over from left guard.
The 2017 points per game numbers should be indicative of the impact felt by Tyron Smith's absence.
Cowboys offense in 2017 with Tyron Smith = 28.5 pts/game (ranked 4th) Cowboys offense in 2017 without Tyron Smith = 8.0 pts/game (ranked last) Poor chemistry with Dez, no Zeke...those things hurt, but there is no greater Dak-friendly piece than your All Pro left tackle.
While the Dallas Cowboys may have much better depth on the offensive line this season, I don't want to go through another season of Dallas Cowboys football without Tyron Smith.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
If not for the first two mentioned on this list, Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence might be the most important piece to a team that wants to get back into the playoffs and make a deep run. Pass rushers don't grow on trees, and while DeMarcus Lawrence has had his issues with injury and consistency, 2017 should leave no doubt that he is one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL.
For the Dallas Cowboys, they don't have anyone else who comes close to what Tank can do on a football field.
He's a three down player who plays the run as well as rush the passer.
Lawrence has two seasons in which he played 16 games and in those two seasons (2015 and 2017), he recorded eight and 14.5 sacks, respectively.
Aside from David Irving's 2017 and Maliek Collins' 2016, the Cowboys don't have a lot of proven pass rushers on the roster. Sure, they have potential with guys like Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Randy Gregory -- if he's reinstated -- but at the moment, that's all it is, potential.
Lawrence takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the guys on the defensive line and his absence would put that weight right back on their shoulders. His is an absence they can't afford.
Sean Lee, Linebacker
He's entering his age-32 season, but 2016 All-Pro Sean Lee is still a great player for the Dallas Cowboys.
They are a different team with him on the field, especially in the running game. The three games that stand out to me are the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, and the Atlanta Falcons game.
In the Rams and Packers games, Lee didn't even play a snap. The Dallas Cowboys lost both games despite the offense scoring 30 points. They got gashed on the ground and through the air by the opposition's running backs.
Sean Lee started the Atlanta Falcons game and played eight snaps, all in the first quarter. Here's what the Atlanta Falcons offense did during Lee's eight snaps:
- The Dallas Cowboys forced a three and out on their first defensive possession.
- On four first quarter carries with Lee on the field, the Falcons were held to minus one yard rushing. In case you missed it, let me say it another way, 4 carries for -1 yard rushing.
- Matt Ryan went three of four for a healthy 75% completion percentage, but averaged only 6.25 yards per attempt.
- Atlanta had to settle for a 50 yard field goal at the end of the possession in which Sean Lee was injured at the end of the first quarter.
After Lee went out, Ryan threw 25 more times for 190 more yards, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt. The running game got a boost as well, even though star Running Back Devonta Freeman went out with a concussion on the first series of the game.
After only managing minus one yard on their first four carries, Falcons' running backs and wide receivers, led by Tevin Coleman, combined for 131 yards on 30 carries to the tune of 4.3 yards per carry.
That's a significant difference.
Now, the offense didn't do the defense any favors in the now-infamous "Chaz Green game," but the defense wasn't able to hold up its end of the bargain either.
The Dallas Cowboys hope Jaylon Smith takes another step in his recovery from the knee injury that has kept him limited so far in his NFL career. They also drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft for insurance at the position as well.
Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard are nice depth, but at the moment you don't want to be counting on those guys to play 95% of your defensive snaps.
The fact remains that until Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch show they are capable of handling a full workload, you need Sean Lee on the field.
Just like Jack Nicholson told Tom Cruise in the movie A Few Good Men, You want him on that wall. You need him on that wall.
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back
Before you tell me that the Dallas Cowboys can win games without Ezekiel Elliott, I just want to leave this here for you.
Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott's highlights from the 2016 Season. Subscribe to NFL: http://j.mp/1L0bVBu Start your free trial of NFL Game Pass: https://www.nfl.com/gamepass?campaign=sp-nf-gd-ot-yt-3000342 Sign up for Fantasy Football! http://www.nfl.com/fantasyfootball The NFL YouTube channel is your home for immediate in-game highlights from your favorite teams and players, full NFL games, behind the scenes access and more!
Not only does Ezekiel Elliott churn out the "dirty yards," as Head Coach Jason Garrett likes to say, but he's a game-breaker. Anytime he touches the ball, he's a threat to take it for a touchdown. He has amazing patience and vision to find the hole, and the burst to get from the first to second levels in a hurry.
Only two running backs have averaged more yards per game in their first two seasons than Ezekiel Elliott's 104.6: Eric Dickerson (122.3) and Clinton Portis (106.9).
Elliott, through 25 games, has averaged a touchdown per game.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave you my projection for Ezekiel Elliott in 2018. I'm expecting big things for the third-year running back out of Ohio State University.
Rod Smith, Bo Scarborough, Darius Jackson, and Tavon Austin are fine players, but none of them combine the speed and physicality that Elliott brings to the table. Elliott is as complete a running back as there is in the NFL, running, receiving, and blocking. It's hard to find a running back that is elite in all three of those traits, but Zeke Elliott is.
Maybe the running back position has devalued in the NFL, but the value of Ezekiel Elliott is greater than any other running back on the Dallas Cowboys roster. By a lot.
If he were to miss extended time during the 2018 NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys offense would look a lot different.
With Elliott on the field, opposing defensive coordinators have to get eight or nine guys in the box against the Dallas Cowboys' run game. When he's not available, coordinators can have less guys in the box knowing that anyone else carrying the ball for Dallas is nowhere near as explosive. This makes things much harder on Dak as play action becomes less effective and teams will leave more guys in coverage for Prescott to beat.
Elliott is one of the three best running backs in the NFL and the best skill-position player the Dallas Cowboys have.
On an offense with a lot of unproven skill players and with a game plan designed to Feed Zeke, they can't afford to have Elliott missing from the dinner table.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Who else must the Dallas Cowboys have available to make a run at their sixth Lombardi?
DL Kerry Hyder Helps Solidify A Re-Tooled Defensive Line
The Cowboys got off to a busy start to week two of free agency on Monday, and capped it off by signing defensive lineman Kerry Hyder to a one year deal.
The former Detroit Lion could be classified as a "one year wonder" of sorts, but when you look closer at his career arc, you see that Hyder can provide upside at multiple positions across the Cowboys' defensive front.
After having 8 sacks and 19 quarterback hits as a defensive end in 2016, Hyder missed all of 2017 with an achilles injury. Last season, under new head coach Matt Patricia, Hyder was moved out of position and forced to play as a nose tackle and 5-technique more often.
So, the last time Hyder was healthy and playing in the role in he will likely fill in Dallas, he was productive. Yes that was a couple of seasons ago but it makes Hyder worth the one year deal he received from the Cowboys.
What exactly is that role, though?
I see Hyder primarily as a rotational 3-technique for the Cowboys. At just 270 pounds Hyder isn't going to play over the center often, and won't be very useful as a 1-technique against the run. He's at his best when lining on the outside shade of an offensive lineman, where he can use his get-off and quickness to create pressure.
Kerry Hyder can also fill in at defensive end if needed, especially when the Cowboys go into a nickel package. Hyder is similar to Tyrone Crawford in his ability to move inside and out, but is a bit better of a pass rusher than Crawford when at his best.
Hyder is a high energy, motor, and character defensive lineman who will fit right in with a Rod Marinelli unit. If it all clicks for Hyder and he regains his 2016 form, the Cowboys will have stolen an impressive pass rushing defensive lineman who can win from multiple positions.
If Hyder is actually a "one year wonder" who is more of his 2018-self with the Cowboys despite being put in a better role to succeed, Dallas can move on rather quickly because he is only on a one year deal.
This is a smart signing by the Cowboys front office as they look to re-tool their defensive line, and avoid being pigeon-holed into over-drafting at a certain position this Spring.
New Cowboys WR Randall Cobb Announces His Signing With A Fantastic GIF
On Tuesday this week it became official the Cowboys would sign former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb to a one year deal worth an estimated $5 million. After his visit Monday morning, speculation around whether and when he would sign was swirling.
Cobb confirmed his intentions to join the Cowboys himself, and did so with some A+ GIF usage on Twitter.
In case you don't know, the GIF Cobb tweeted is Woody from Toy Story, emerging confidently and tipping his cap.
This was Cobb signaling that he his a Cowboy, and he appears excited to be joining America's Team. Cobb also received some social media love from his now former teammates in Green Bay, including wide receiver Davante Adams and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers had some parting words for new Cowboys WR Randall Cobb
Clearly Randall Cobb made an impact in Green Bay, both on and off the field. Let's hope he can replicate some of that in Dallas now that he has joined the Cowboys.
Malik McDowell Is Well Worth The Risk For The Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are reportedly brining defensive lineman Malik McDowell into The Star this week for a visit, as they decide whether or not to potentially sign him for the 2019 season.
McDowell is a former second round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who fell to day two because of what scouts call "off the field" or "character" concerns. McDowell did not last long with Seahawks, as he was released in 2017 following an ATV accident in which he reportedly suffered "extensive brain and eye trauma" according to Charles Robinson.
None of us know much about who Malik McDowell is as a person, or what concerns their really should be with his health. But what I do know is that on tape at Michigan State, McDowell was a top 5-10 player in the 2017 draft class. He was a stud, and has the traits to continue to be a stud in the NFL.
The 2017 NFL Draft is chock full of talented, athletic, and productive defensive linemen. While most of the draft pundits have focused on EDGE rushers thus far, the defensive tackle class also possesses some of this year's top NFL prospects. Arguably the best of those defensive tackles is Michigan State's Malik McDowell.
Back in 2017 I wrote a full scouting report on McDowell, detailing why he earned such a high grade on my board. McDowell is a versatile linemen who is explosive off the ball, powerful and rangy against the run, and a skilled pass rusher who plays with a high motor. What more could you really ask for?
"McDowell is a patient pass rusher at times, setting up the blocker how he likes and then beating them with ease. McDowell’s ability to swipe hands off helps him greatly, but his quick swim is his most effective pass rush move.
On this play he uses that swim to perfection, forcing the center to power down to the right before swimming back to the other side."
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
When the Spartans went to a three man pass rushing front, McDowell moved to the EDGE often and made plays with his quick, active hands and impressive swim move. He was much more impressive on the interior, however, and could be a direct replacement for David Irving as an explosive and powerful 3-technique for the Cowboys.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
I love that the Cowboys are bringing McDowell in for a free agent visit. His price will likely be low, as he is yet to play in an NFL game over the last two years, but his ceiling remains very high if he is healthy. It's rare for a player with his college production, natural ability, and measurables to completely fail in the NFL.
Maybe all McDowell needs is a second chance to get his head right and prove that he belongs in the league. Maybe he flames out quickly and can't get on the field due to "off the field" stuff. Or, maybe he simply isn't healthy enough to contribute as an NFL player. Regardless, for the price he'll likely command, McDowell is well worth the risk if the Cowboys are willing to take it.
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