The Dallas Cowboys came into the 2016 NFL Draft coming off a disappointing 2015 season. Former Wide Receiver Dez Bryant broke a bone in his foot during the teams week 1 victory over the New York Giants, and never fully recovered from it. Also, Tony Romo suffered multiple collarbone injuries and only appeared in 4 games. The team finished a dismal 4-12 and possessed the number four overall pick once the draft rolled around in April, and new life was restored.
Names like Jalen Ramsey and Joey Bosa were linked to the Cowboys with their first pick in the draft. However, the team went a different route and decided to sure up the running back position, and drafted Ezekiel Elliott out of Ohio State.
He wouldn't waste any time making his presence known on the NFL level. Leading the league in rushing with 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns in fifteen games, and powering the Cowboys to the NFC East title and the playoffs. In addition, he was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named a First-Team All-Pro. 2017 was a rocky one for Elliott as he dealt with domestic violence allegations. Unfortunately, he would have to serve a 6 game suspension which the Cowboys never fully recovered from, finishing just short of the playoffs at 9-7. His production was still elite, however, rushing for 983 yards in ten games. In 2018, with all his legal troubles behind him, he would win his second rushing title in three years with 1,434 yards and lead the team to another division crown. Firmly establishing himself once again as the leagues best running back.
Ezekiel Elliott is the Cowboys identity on offense, he's the engine that makes it all go. His 101.2 yards per game average is second all-time, trailing only Hall of Famer Jim Brown (104.3). He's a generational talent, and as the year's pass, he keeps proving he was the right selection on draft day.
In the second round, the Cowboys took a gamble and selected Linebacker Jaylon Smith out of Notre Dame with the 34th pick. Smith was coming off a gruesome knee injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. He tore both his ACL and MCL and was carted off the field with tears in his eyes, and leaving uncertainty about his NFL future. Just six weeks post surgery he was already squatting 500 pounds. By April, he was doing drills working himself back into peak condition prior to the draft. He would redshirt, to use a college term, his first year in the league and not risk further injury.
Once he saw the field in 2017, he showed flashes of the player he was at Notre Dame, but it was clear he wasn't quite fully healthy yet. Nonetheless, he was very solid with 81 tackles in his first year of action. But 2018 would see Smith take a leap into the conversation of the leagues elite at the linebacker position. He finished with 121 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
He truly is an amazing comeback story. He's come from an injury that could've derailed over even ended his career, to one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Very inspirational.
Tony Romo was the team's franchise quarterback. But without a reliable backup on the roster, the Cowboys needed to make sure they had insurance just in case an unfortunate injury should occur. In the fourth round, they found their guy and selected Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State.
Prescott would start off as the third-string quarterback behind Romo and newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. However, when injuries put both men ahead of him on the sidelines, he got the keys to the car heading into 2016 season. After a rough debut against the New York Giants, he would run off eleven straight victories and lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 record, the NFC East title and the number one seed in the conference. Also, he would be named Offensive Rookie of the Year for his efforts, not bad for a fourth-round pick.
2017 would see him regress a little, especially without Ezekiel Elliott for six games. His yards and completion percentage both went down, while his interceptions increased by nine. The Cowboys would finish 9-7, missing the playoffs by just a single game.
After falling short of the postseason just a year before, the pressure on Prescott was huge going into 2018, and he wouldn't disappoint. He set a career high in passing yards with 3,885. He would complete passes at almost a five percent higher rate than the year before and lower his interceptions by five. The Cowboys would finish 10-6 and win the NFC East for the second time in three years.
The only quarterback that's won more games than Prescott the last three seasons is Tom Brady, probably the greatest ever. His 15 game-winning drives, 13 primetime wins, and 19 rushing touchdowns are all tops in the NFL for quarterbacks since his rookie campaign. Most importantly, he's started all 48 games since entering the league. It's clear to see that he has far surpassed the expectations of where he was drafted.
The Cowboys found other value in the 2016 draft as well. In the third round, they drafted Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins out of Nebraska. He's battled foot and knee injuries in his first three years, but his production when healthy has been very solid with 10.5 sacks. In round six they drafted Cornerback Anthony Brown out of Purdue. Currently, he's the lead dog at the nickel corner position, forming a nice trio with Chidobe Awuzie and All-Pro Byron Jones. Lastly, also in the sixth round, they drafted Safety Kavon Frazier out of Central Michigan. Although he hasn't surpassed Jeff Heath as the starter at strong safety, he's been an extremely productive player on special teams. A great value pick here.
A Hall of Fame talent at running back, a franchise quarterback, and a dominant in middle linebacker were all brought to this organization in 2016. When adding the value of the other three players mentioned previously, a foundation has been laid for this team to be good for years to come. Since their arrival, the Cowboys have been one of the most successful teams in the NFL with multiple division titles and playoff appearances. What makes this even more encouraging is that none of them will be over the age of 26 once the season starts. This draft class is setting up to be a memorable one for the Dallas Cowboys.
Cowboys Nation Mailbag: What about Taco Charlton and Ezekiel Elliott?
The 2019 regular season is now less than three weeks away and now is the time when we start getting down to the nitty-gritty. The "dress rehearsal" game is coming this Saturday as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Houston Texans and a lot of the 53-man roster will likely be decided after that game.
As we inch closer to the regular season, the contract status for the Dallas Cowboys' newest version of the triplets and the construction of the 53-man roster will have even greater emphasis in the news.
Thanks for your questions this week. Let's did into this week's Cowboys Nation Mailbag.
How long until all of cowboys twitter completely turns on Zeke? Like immediately after pollards first long td run or????
— E.D.I.T.H. (@cashfeen) August 19, 2019
I guess it depends on what segment of Cowboys Twitter you're talking about.
Contract situations and hold outs always create some tension within the fanbase. They expect players to show up for work as they do. You hear people talk about Elliott fulfilling the agreement of his contract. But what people don't understand is that rookie contracts and the rookie salary scale was negotiated by players already in the league to avoid rookies making Sam Bradford type money. The veterans and to some extent the owners didn't like the idea that rookies could hold out of training camp to negotiate their first contract.
So, when Ezekiel Elliott was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was locked into a contract length (including a team option for a fifth season) and a salary and bonus for the length of that contract.
The other thing to consider is that Elliott is doing exactly what the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do. Though the Dallas Cowboys can fine him, Elliott is permitted by the CBA to seek a contract extension after the third season of his rookie contract, just like you saw Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints do earlier this summer.
I get that fans are frustrated by the idea of a player "not honoring his contract," but in the NFL, that's the way football goes. The owners don't always honor the contracts they've agreed to, cutting a player with guaranteed money left on his deal because his play might have dropped off or simply because he doesn't warrant the cap hit.
But as Mike Leslie of WFAA recently pointed out on Twitter, our jobs aren't like NFL jobs.
There are a lot of folks that understand that there is a business side to all of this. The players, the coaches, and a large segment of Cowboys Nation all understand where Ezekiel Elliott is coming from. Even the "running backs don't matter" truthers aren't throwing Ezekiel Elliott under the bus for holding out for a new contract.
As I've said before, don't get mad at Ezekiel Elliott or even the Dallas Cowboys for the current state of his contract negotiations. Get mad at the Los Angeles Rams for setting a precedent that Ezekiel Elliott is attempting to take advantage of.
Ezekiel Elliott is only doing what's permitted by the CBA. Though the negotiations continue to drag on, there's still three weeks left till the start of the regular season, which is plenty of time to get a deal done.
Until this holdout lasts until the regular season, you shouldn't worry.
Actually John, I do have a question. I haven't reviewed film from Saturday yet (that's my Tuesday deal each week of the season), but your take on Taco? I thought he had maybe his best preseason game in some time. Enough to secure a spot?
— Marlon C Taylor (@MarlonCTaylor) August 19, 2019
Taco Charlton has done some nice things in the preseason thus far. He's been able to create pressure, and by Bobby Belt's splash metric, Taco Charlton is leading the team.
Cowboys leaders in disruptions (sack, TFL, QB hit, INT, PD, FF) through two preseason games:
1. Taco Charlton - 4
2. Donovan Olumba - 3
t3. Ricky Walker - 2
t3. Kerry Hyder - 2
t3. Trysten Hill - 2
t3. Joe Jackson - 2
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) August 19, 2019
Obviously, this isn't the only way to evaluate talent, but it does give an indication that Taco Charlton has been good this preseason. I've long believed that Taco was going to make the 53-man roster for the sheer fact that he was a first-round draft pick. That may not be a good enough reason for some, but he's a player that the Dallas Cowboys won't give up on lightly. He's doing enough at this point in the preseason to warrant another year.
Cutting Taco Charlton in 2019 actually costs you money. It would cost the Dallas Cowboys roughly $3.5 million in 2019, but they could save $1.3 million in 2020. It's not likely that the Cowboys will pick up his fifth-year rookie option, which would be for 2021. Financially, the only move that would make sense is a trade, which would cost the Dallas Cowboys only $1.3 million in dead money.
While I think Taco Charlton is a player that is destined for the 53-man roster, with reports that DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are about to be activated from the physically unable to perform (P.U.P) list, it may come down to a numbers game at defensive end.
Players like Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Kerry Hyder, and even Jalen Jelks may have something to say about Taco Charlton's spot on the 53-man roster, but I believe they give him another year to prove he's worth retaining.
PFF Ranks Dak Prescott As Tier 3, 18th Overall Quarterback
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the subject of constant debate around the football world. Now that it's getting time to pay him, those debates are even hotter.
As I discussed last week, Prescott has been much better than he's often given credit for, though the narrative continues to be that he is carried by his offensive line and rushing attack.
Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 starting quarterbacks heading into the 2019 season, placing them both in tiers, and in traditional order as well. Prescott clocked in at 18th overall on their list, listed as a tier 3 NFL starting quarterback.
"Tier 3: Volatile or conservative quarterbacks whose production will rely even more heavily on supporting cast and play calling. Tier 3 quarterbacks can post top-10 production in any given year in the right situation."
The other quarterbacks listed in Prescott's tier include Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton, all ranked in front of him. Prescott is ahead of a couple of tier 3 passers as well, though, including Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr.
"Even with his added rushing ability, Prescott has settled in as a mid-tier quarterback whose production is more dependent on his supporting cast, and this will be a big year to see if he can get back to his rookie levels of efficiency."
Personally, I'd rank Prescott ahead of a decent number of those tier 3 quarterbacks, such as Stafford and Cousins. Overall, though, it's tough to have too big an issue with their assessment of Prescott and the Cowboys offense. He has been somewhat up-and-down during his time as the Cowboys starter, and saw a big spike in his play when given Amari Cooper as a weapon in the passing game a year ago.
While the entire fanbase is hopeful that he will improve on his mechanics and decision making under new leadership on offense, we can't bank on that happening just yet.
Still, Dak Prescott has looked excellent this preseason, and should be poised for a career year in 2019. I think there's a good chance he finds himself closer to Wentz and Watson on these types of rankings than Carr and Stafford by this time next season.
Cowboys RB Tony Pollard Continues Excellent Training Camp
Rookie Running Back Tony Pollard hasn't wasted any time making his mark on the Dallas Cowboys organization. The buzz around the fourth-round pick began to pick up steam back in May during OTAs when he broke a long touchdown run in practice. It was a sneak peek into the speed, change of direction and vision that the former Memphis Tiger possesses.
46.2k Likes, 700 Comments - Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) on Instagram: "Rookie on the run 🌟 #EarnTheStar"
Dak Prescott has been impressed by the rookie since OTAs, confirming his pre-draft thoughts about Pollard. "He's somebody I watched before the draft that I was excited about. I looked up his highlights and they said receiver at first. I was like 'Dang, I thought we were getting a running back.' But then you see him playing running back and he's still having success. You look at Randall Cobb's highlights, it's the same thing he did in college. It's exciting," Prescott told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.
Pollard has only added to the hype of what he can bring to the Cowboys offense since first stepping on the field in May. Even in a short sample size against the 49ers a little over a week ago he showed the patience needed to be an effective runner on the pro level. 16 yards on 4 carries won't blow you away but it's all about reps at this point for him and maximizing them before the season starts. Also, he silenced those who doubted he if could run between the tackles in the NFL.
Recently, he showed off a different dimension of his skill set in practice during some one-on-one battles with Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. This shouldn't surprise anyone, though, considering Pollard had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards and 9 touchdowns in college.
Tony Pollard ghosts LVE in 1v1s. Beautiful https://t.co/PEJMw8hmBP
Tony Pollard beats LVE deep down the sideline. Perfect throw by Dak. #Cowboys https://t.co/2dDp0mUSMs
In the first video above, in particular, Pollard does a great job of selling his route to the outside before gaining inside leverage to beat Vander Esch. This is the kind of savvy you want to see from a young running back transitioning to the NFL.
Pollard once again put on a show Saturday when the team played the Los Angeles Rams in Hawaii. The Cowboys went 97 yards on a twelve play drive to take an early 7-0 lead. He would gain 42 yards on 5 carries and add a catch for 9 yards as well, topping it all off with an impressive 14-yard touchdown run.
The NFL really let the Dallas Cowboys draft Tony Pollard in the fourth round. (via @nflnetwork) https://t.co/Hqkd6e4YuE
Three things stand out about this run in my eyes. First, the patience Pollard shows in letting the play develop. Running backs sometimes are too impatient and let potential big plays go to waste. Great job by him setting up his blocks and hitting the hole. Second, the balance he shows after taking a hit early in the run. What you always want to see is your running back(s) have the ability to not go down on the first contact they receive. Lastly, the awareness to cover the ball at the end of the run to avoid a turnover and cross the goal line.
So far in two preseason games, Pollard has 9 carries for 58 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per rush, putting him almost right at his 6.8 yards per rush average in college.
Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones hasn't been quiet about his feelings on what he's seen from Pollard so far. After the first preseason game, Jones said he was confident Pollard could "carry the load" if All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott's holdout goes into the regular season. After Saturday's victory against the Rams, Jones had another raving review of the rookie, but with a slight twist to it.
"What's amazing for him is to come in here and he hadn't done that much," Jones told the Dallas Morning News. "He knows exactly what to do and he knows how to do it. If he goes out there and he plays to that level he's going to be [at] for the next several weeks, he's going to be right in the middle of it early. That will really complement what we're doing with Zeke, not replace that, I mean that, not replace it. Nobody is getting cute here, certainly be a great compliment to have a great running game where I can picture those guys [having] success at the same time out there really giving the defense some fits."
The Cowboys have a one-two punch at running back with the potential to set the NFL on fire. As Elliott continues to work out a long-term deal with the front office, Pollard will keep getting the much-needed reps on order for him to be ready to go on September 8th against the New York Giants, regardless if he's the starter or not. Once Elliott and Pollard are providing their services simultaneously, we could be looking at the NFL's top overall backfield.
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