Draft day is almost here and it's business as usual for the Dallas Cowboys. Every year, NFL scouts, coaches, analysts and writers break down hours of film on different prospects and potential draft picks.
By now, the team's scouts and coaches have watched film, gone to the pro days, interviewed players, etc. The team has done its homework so that by the time it's their turn to pick, Cowboys fans everywhere are hoping that Jerry & Co. will make the right moves.
A lot has occurred this off-season, and now the team will need to answer for the moves they made.
Players like Anthony Hitchens and Dez Bryant are no longer with the team, and new Cowboys like Allen Hurns and Kony Ealy are eager to get started. However, before anyone hits the field, the Cowboys need to answer these five questions during the draft.
Only when these are answered, will the Cowboys be ready to get started.
Who will replace Dez Bryant?
Signing Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns look like solid moves that will help quarterback Dak Prescott, but neither look like viable heirs. Realistically, Thompson looks to be more of a Brice Butler replacement and Allen Hurns is an improvement at the WR2 position over Terrance Williams.
As far as finding the new play making, number one receiver? That looks likely to be answered in one of the first three rounds.
Whoever this new player is will have a lot of pressure on them to not only click with Dak Prescott, but to become the new star receiver wearing the star. The last one was Dez Bryant, so they'll have some big shoes to fill.
In what round do they complete the offensive line?
The Cowboys are as close to having a complete offensive line as you can have, except for the left guard spot. Last year's starter, Johnathan Cooper, is gone and there's a vacancy at his position. The team has a few options on the roster currently in Chaz Green, Marcus Martin, Joe Looney, and possibly La'el Collins.
Collins looked very good at right tackle in the second half of the season, and switching him back to guard doesn't seem likely. What does seem likely is using a draft pick on the position.
If the team wants an instant starter, they'll have to address the left guard in one of the first two rounds. This year's interior line group is very top-heavy, and any one of them look like they could fill in nicely with the Cowboys.
What's the team's biggest defensive priority?
The Cowboys have needs at linebacker, safety and nose tackle. Which one gets drafted first is sometimes based upon best available as well as which area needs the most help.
The Cowboys have a starting set of linebackers in Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson, but the depth behind them is not very good. Depth is much more important than realized when you throw in the injury history of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith.
The Cowboys have plenty of talent and depth along the defensive line, but the biggest mistake made was playing Maliek Collins at the nose tackle position when he thrived at the 3-technique. A pure nose tackle is a big need, which could solidify the starting front four.
Finally, we reach the back-end of the defense.
Amazingly, cornerback is not a need this year, as it has been. With Byron Jones moving back to corner opposite Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis playing in the slot, the starting corners are set.
As far as the safety position, Xavier Woods looks like the most talented, and he has the ability to play multiple secondary positions. Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier will compete for the other starting spot, but I wouldn't put it past the team to improve on the position sometime early in the draft.
Is Rico Gathers the future?
We all saw Rico Gathers ball out in the 2017 preseason, and then Cowboys fan's imaginations went wild. However, a concussion and subsequent neck injury caused Gathers to miss all of his second year.
With Jason Witten not getting any younger, James Hanna retiring, Geoff Swaim being more of a blocker than a receiver, and Blake Jarwin being all potential at this point, the tight end position is a question mark. We all want Rico to be "the guy," but how much longer can the team wait?
I wouldn't put it past the Cowboys to at least consider drafting a tight end. This year's tight end group is very deep, and all options should be considered. Undoubtedly, Rico Gathers is talented and could become a serious receiving target for the team, but by the time the draft is over, we may have our answers.
Is Earl Thomas still on the table?
Ever since Earl Thomas went into the Cowboys tunnel following their game against the Seahawks, Cowboys twitter has been buzzing. As we've gotten closer to the draft, these rumors have not died down in the slightest.
The Seahawks initially tried to get a first rounder for Earl Thomas, but that wasn't happening.
A more likely asking price is a second or potentially a third-round pick. Dallas being willing to trade one of those for Thomas is still a possibility.
Earl Thomas, wherever he ends up playing, wants a new contract, and it doesn't look like he'll get one. Richard Sherman is gone, and Earl Thomas could end up the same way. Not only does he want a new contract, he wants to go to a team of his choosing.
With the release of Dez Bryant, a contract extension for Earl Thomas is a bit more realistic. But whether or not the Cowboys are interested in trading for him, or if Seattle wants to part with him will be answered on Draft night.
The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up
Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.
The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.
As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.
Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.
Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.
Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.
Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.
All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.
How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?
Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?
With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.
Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.
I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.
I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?
Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.
Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.
Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.
Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?
Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook
Let me start this article with a strong opening statement: The Cowboys will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. There's been a lot of talk about the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. But when we break it down, the current setup will most likely play out better for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.
The Dak Stats
Certain quarterbacks shine when they have that go-to playmaker. We're talking about guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Ocho Cinco, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Dez Bryant. But other QBs do better at reading the defense and quickly adapting to what is given. Dak Prescott is the latter breed of QB.
Let’s do a quick numbers exercise to prove this.
When Prescott is targeting 8 or more receivers throughout the game, his passer rating jumps from 86.1 (targeting less than 8) to 104.5. He passes for almost 50 yards more per game and his touchdown to interception ratio drastically improves from 21-13 to 24-4.
Most importantly, when he targets at least 8 different receivers, the Cowboys are 14-2. When he targets less than 8, the team is just .500 at 8-8.
Without a doubt, Prescott is much better at adjusting to what the defense is giving him. He just isn’t one of those guys who can successfully "force" the ball (like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Not feeling the pressure of having to get the ball into the hands of the star playmaker will give this offense a new kind of depth in 2018.
Yes, losing Jason Witten hurts, much more so in my opinion than not having Dez.
Questions Still Loom
This is still the Cowboys' biggest concern on offense. There is some great depth. We have Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, and the young stud out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz. But between the three who have any NFL experience, there are only 9 catches between them. I must say that Dalton, with his 4.75 40-yard dash, has a legitimate shot at seeing a lot of playing time in his rookie campaign and could become an impact player with his size (6’5”, 244-lbs) and speed.
But despite the battle for TE being wide open, and debates about whether or not the team needs a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys are still expected to give the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East. Here are the odds on the defending NFC East champions and how (although early) it is expected to shake out:
- Philadelphia Eagles -167
- Dallas Cowboys +350
- New York Giants +650
- Washington Redskins +750
NFC East Week 1 Predictions
The Cowboys open the season in a difficult road game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been listed as 2.5-point favorites (follow the Cowboys NFL Odds here all season long) which isn’t surprising considering they are a tough team playing at home. You might be thinking, "crap, we're opening up as underdogs?" Don’t worry too much; it actually bodes fairly well because the lines-makers generally give a 3-point advantage to the home team. This means that they actually handicap the Cowboys to be a half-point favorite on a neutral field and a 3.5-point favorite in Arlington.
The Redskins open their season in Arizona against the Cardinals. The line is set at a pick ‘em (meaning there is no point spread; it's anyone's game). But, looking at the 'Skins and Cardinals, I think Washington gets disappointed in Week 1 and starts their season with a loss.
The Giants get to test their new offensive line and see if they were right in continuing to place their faith in Eli Manning against the best defense in the league. The Jags are 3-point favorites at MetLife stadium. This means the Jags are actually 6-points better. I do think that the Giants will be vastly improved this season, but they are also going to open with a loss.
The Eagles don’t have it easy either, but they will probably pull out the win at home as 4-point favorites against the Dirty Birds on Thursday Night Football. Their defense is just too good. Atlanta's road offense scored just 21 points per game last year while Philly scores 28 on average at home. The Eagles' home defense has been downright nasty, only allowing 12 points per game in Philadelphia.
This will be a two-horse race for the division between the Eagles and Cowboys. And even if the Eagles win the East, the Cowboys will wildcard into the playoffs.
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