The dust is starting to settle, and the Dallas Cowboys roster for 2018 and starting to become clearer and clearer as we approach training camp and the upcoming NFL season. After all of the drama from free agency surrounding Dez Bryant, to the retirement of Jason Witten and the NFL Draft, Cowboys Nation is getting closer to seeing a brand new team.
A big question at this juncture, however, is did the Cowboys really improve from 2017? They added new pieces, got some new toys in a few trades and now can see a tiny glimpse into the future of the squad. But did they improve?
People everywhere who follow the Cowboys knew what they needed to address the most after the 2017 season: Wide receiver, defensive tackle, guard, linebacker, safety, and eventually tight end was pushed as a bigger priority with the subsequent retirements of James Hanna and Jason Witten. As far as if the team improved, we'll have to break it down.
There's no question that Dak Prescott is the starter and the presumed quarterback of the future. Cooper Rush came in as an undrafted free agent from Central Michigan and outplayed Kellen Moore in the preseason, eventually becoming the new backup quarterback.
In a surprising move, the Cowboys used a fifth round pick on Western Kentucky quarterback, Mike White. White was a name that rose up draft boards as a solid developmental project. In his final two seasons as a starter, he was able to throw for 8,540 yards, 63 touchdowns and complete 66.5% of his passes.
The player, himself, isn't bad. In fact, some draft analysts had Mike White as a third round prospect, and Dallas got a two-round value out of it. What it does bring into question, however, is if Cooper Rush's job is in jeopardy?
Is this move strictly for competition? Will the team decide to keep all three? Did the Cowboys waste a pick?
In terms of skill, all of these players are quality quarterbacks, but using a draft pick on a quarterback, after Cooper Rush seemed to have earned the job, only raises more questions instead of answers. The team will have time to answer but for right now, this doesn't seem like a smart move.
The Cowboys backfield is the team's car, and they only really needed some gas. What they got instead was an Xzibit-style pimped out makeover.
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the game's young superstars and is firmly sitting in the driver's seat. After serving his 6-game suspension last year, Elliott looks ready to get back into the game.
Rod Smith offered not only some solid backup effort, but position flexibility and special teams play. Smith was all over the team last season; at tailback, full back, slot receiver, kick returner.
It seemed the team would add a 3rd down back, which they did by trading with the Rams. In exchange for a sixth round pick, the Cowboys got for former first-rounder Tavon Austin, and then followed it up with announcing intentions to play him exclusively at running back, adding speed and hands that the backfield needed.
Thought they were done? Nope.
In the 7th round, the Cowboys added one of college footballs most punishing runners, Bo Scarborough from Alabama. A physical back who should be looking forward to running between his new center and right guard. The backfield already looked set, but adding this beast is just overkill in the best way.
The last brick has been lain and the Great Wall of Dallas is complete. Not only does the team have their starters, but they have a great collection of backups who can step in and play well for the squad.
Left guard was a big need for the team. Johnathan Cooper did a solid job last season, but not so well that the team was giving him an extension. Instead, they looked 201 miles South to University of Texas Offensive Lineman Connor Williams.
An All-American tackle, he looks set to step inside next to Tyron Smith and solidify arguably the best offensive line in football.
Another question was the swing tackle, the tackle who backs up both La'el Collins and Tyron Smith on both sides. Last season, the job was split between Chaz Green and Byron Bell, with undesirable results.
The Cowboys improved in that department by signing Cameron Fleming, a player some thought would get starter money, but instead went to Dallas at an affordable rate. In New England, he started 20 games in four seasons, and only allowed 7 sacks during that time. Adding Fleming gives the Cowboys and their fans some relief and relaxation in the event one of the tackles is hurt.
I'm not sure how losing your number one and two tight ends in the same off-season can possibly make you think the position has improved. Full disclosure.
Jason Witten, one of the game's greatest tight ends who will be in the hall of fame one day, and James Hanna occupied the tight end one and two spots for a number of years. Witten was a reliable receiver and both were good blockers throughout their time.
Remaining on the depth chart are a bunch of question marks.
Geoff Swaim has largely been a blocking tight end and only has nine career receptions going into 2018. Rico Gathers has shown a lot of promise and talent during his time in the preseason, but hasn't yet been able to see the field. Blake Jarwin has plenty of skill, but is still very raw. Finally, the Cowboys 4th round selection, Dalton Schultz, from Stanford, is not a very polished receiver but is an excellent blocker. It wouldn't surprise me to see him be one of the starters in 2018.
I would expect a rotation of all four tight ends in 2018 to find the next starting pair. James Hanna can be replaced but no one will ever be able to replace Jason Witten. All-time greats don't grow on trees. All the team can hope for is that the position doesn't suffer too much as a result.
The good news is that the main core from last season's dominant defensive line is back: DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton and Tyrone Crawford. Add the return of promising players such as Lewis Neal and Charles Tapper, the additions of Kony Ealy and Jihad Ward, as well as drafting Dorance Armstrong Jr. and the team looks as deep along the defensive line as it has looked in years.
However, a big hole that needed addressing this off-season was finding a permanent nose tackle. Brian Price is a solid rotation player, and Maliek Collins has shown to be much more effective at the three technique. Yet the didn't address the need.
I expect the team to add another defensive tackle at some point to better fill the hole. Some options have been a possible reunion with Terrell McClain, who played in Dallas from 2014-16, or possibly undrafted defensive tackle, DeQuinton Osborne, who was the only rookie acquisition at the position.
The defensive line was a huge strength for the Cowboys in 2017, and I expect it to be in 2018 as well. Despite the nose tackle spot still being in question, the Cowboys front four rotation looks like it could be one of the league's best.
The Cowboys linebacker group took a huge hit this off-season with the losses of Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber. This left the Cowboys with just Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson.
As a starting group, it's not a bad trio, but the Cowboys had no depth to spare. Even with the off-season addition of Joe Thomas from Green Bay, the team was in dire need of depth.
They addressed the need not once but twice in the NFL Draft.
They drafted Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State in the first round and Chris Covington in the 6th round. This group won't be able to be properly judged on if it has really improved or not until the team hits the field in the fall, but the depth looks fixed and the linebackers already look like they can be better than they were a year ago.
For the first time in a long time, the secondary looks like it will be a strength for the Cowboys and not a weakness.
New secondary coach, Kris Richard has come in from the Seattle Seahawks and is looking to revamp a very talented, young secondary. He was the key creator of Seattle's Legion of Boom, which caused terror for quarterbacks all around the league for years.
The move from safety to corner looks like a great move for Byron Jones. He'll be paired with second year players Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, on the opposite side and in the slot, respectively.
Xavier Woods is the Cowboys' most talented safety and is the most likely to play the free safety position. The other safety spot will either be occupied by an improved, hard-hitting Kavon Frazier or Jeff Heath (The G.O.A.T).
The secondary looks as solid and as talented as it has ever looked. With a great coach who can mold the secondary to a level we know they are capable of, all signs are pointing up for the Cowboys defensive backfield.
Finally, the position you probably have the most questions about. Sorry for making you wait. No position group has seen more changes this off-season than wide receiver. Let's recap.
Losses: Dez Bryant, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer
Acquisitions: Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Tavon Austin (reported to be a RB)
In an effort to give the team more "Dak-friendly" receivers, the team parted ways with Dez Bryant, who seemed to have chemistry problems with Prescott. In response to that, the Cowboys have options in Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson and draft picks Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson.
None of them are the play-maker that Bryant was, but they all have the ability to run crisper routes, which Prescott relies on. You shouldn't be shocked if two or three of these players become main targets in the passing game.
A shocking move was the trade of Ryan Switzer after a solid rookie season. With the trade for Tavon Austin, and subsequent position change, Switzer became expendable. It wasn't a popular decision, but it made trimming the receiving core easier.
Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Noah Brown, Hurns, Thompson, Gallup and Wilson are the receivers on the team currently. However, Dallas usually only keeps maybe five or six on the team. Don't be surprised by anymore trades or cuts to come.
The receivers should have better chemistry with Dak Prescott than Dez Bryant had, but don't hold your breath on any big plays you hope can come from this group on day one.
Todd Gurley Leaps Ezekiel Elliott on NFL Rushing Leaderboard
After several weeks as the NFL's rushing leader, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been bumped to second place. With a 208-yard explosion last week against the Broncos, Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams has leaped Zeke on the leaderboard.
Elliott was no slouch himself in Week 6, putting up 106 yards on the vaunted Jaguars defense. But Gurley nearly doubled that in Denver, and now leads Zeke by 37 yards.
Here are the current NFL rushing leaders, :
- Todd Gurley, Rams - 623 yards
- Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys - 586 yards
- Melvin Gordon, Chargers - 466 yards
- Kareem Hunt, Chiefs - 456 yards
- James Conner, Steelers - 453 yards
- Saquon Barkley, Giants - yards
- Matt Breida, 49ers - 430 yards
- Isaiah Crowell, Jets - 430 yards
- Sony Michel, Patriots - 400 yards
It's still early in 2018, but it's already starting to look like a two-horse race for the rushing title. And it's no surprise that those two would be Elliott and Gurley.
Last year, Zeke and Todd were the top two in the NFL for yards-per-game. Gurley missed one game that year and finished second in total yards behind Kareem Hunt. Elliott was held back by his suspension.
Week 7 could allow Elliott to retake the lead. He'll see a Washington defense that he ran for 150 yards on last season in a single game. However, they are currently sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.
Gurley gets a slightly softer opponent in the 49ers defense, who are just 13th in run defense. Both games will be on the road.
While these stats certainly aren't as important as wins and losses, they do matter to the players. Rushing titles come back into the conversation when Hall of Fame credentials are being considered.
If things stay at their current pace for Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley, we may be tracking this race all the way through the end of the regular season.
Michael Gallup Showing Signs of a Breakout
We're only six games into the career of Rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup who was selected 81st overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2018 NFL Draft. It's been a slow start to his career, mostly because of usage. On Sunday, he took a step toward what many thought he could be for the Cowboys when he was drafted; Wide receiver one.
The numbers, one reception on two targets for 27 yards, may not indicate a breakout is coming, but if you look at the two targets he saw and the quality of the corner he faced, they're more impressive.
Look at this catch by #Cowboys rookie WR Michael Gallup https://t.co/lD1xJ2WemD
On the Dallas Cowboys first drive of the day, Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott looked Michael Gallup's way down the left sideline and hit him on a nice back shoulder fade that looked an awful lot like a Dez Bryant-like contested catch. It was a key play on 3rd-and-9 to get the Dallas Cowboys into Jacksonville territory on a drive that led to a Brett Maher field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Later in the game with the Cowboys driving to score a touchdown, Gallup made a tremendous catch when he got perfect depth behind All-Pro Corner Back A.J. Bouye and in front of the safety help. It looked to be an impressive touchdown catch just inside the end zone, but was overturned on replay. On review, Gallup wasn't able to get his second foot down after he made contact with the defender. Though the touchdown didn't stand, it was an impressive effort for Michael Gallup.
Michael Gallup with a near circus catch to ALMOST haul in his first NFL TD. Ruled incomplete. #cowboys #jags @CSUFootball https://t.co/SePSc3n1Yp
Michael Gallup led the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver group in snaps (81% of the offensive snaps) on Sunday, and according to Mike Clay from ESPN, he led the Dallas Cowboys in routes run as well. Both of Gallup's targets came against Bouye, showing an ability to beat one of the best corners in the NFL.
Michael Gallup paced the Cowboys in pass routes (25) for the first time in his career on Sunday.
As Michael Gallup sees more opportunities to play, his opportunities to make plays are going to continue to grow. With news coming down that Tavon Austin is unlikely to play for several weeks because of a groin injury, more snaps are opening up at the wide receiver position. Tavon played 18 snaps before getting injured on Sunday, so there will be increased opportunities for Gallup moving forward.
Gallup's only seen about 3 targets a game, but with the increased snaps he saw in week six and the potential for even more with Austin coming, the opportunities should grow. As he continues to come down with impressive catches like he did on Sunday (even if only one of them counted), it's going to increase Dak Prescott's and the coaching staff's level of trust in the rookie.
It's safe to say that more big time catches are coming for Michael Gallup and a breakout is coming sooner than later.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cole Beasley is Your Interim WR1
Watching the Dallas Cowboys beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 40-7 was undoubtedly fun for Cowboys Nation. There were not many positive expectations for the Cowboys heading into this game but both the defense and offense put on impressive performances at home in an attempt to remain serious contenders within the NFC East.
We learned a few things about the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday as they beat one of the top defenses in the NFL. Let's talk about in this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday!
Cole Beasley Is Your Interim WR1
The Cowboys have yet to find their #1 wide receiver, but Cole Beasley is making a serious statement looking like the most reliable target in Dallas. Being 5'8 and a slot receiver doesn't really help Beasley's case to be the #1 guy, but he's making plays.
Last Sunday, he was the only wide receiver on the team with more than one catch. The other player with more than one reception was Geoff Swaim, who only got his hands on the ball twice. Beasley finished the day with nine receptions for 101 yards and two touchdown catches. The Cowboys need other WRs to step up but in the meantime, let Beasley put the sauce on opposing defenses. Hopefully he continues to hurt defenses like he did versus the Jaguars' feared secondary.
The team still needs a guy who can be a consistent threat on the outside, though. Third-round rookie Michael Gallup could develop into that, but he isn't there yet. We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, it's all Beasley.
Bright Future for the Defensive Line
Blake Bortles was sacked three times by the so-called "Hot Boyz" last weekend. To be quite honest, the future for this defensive line looks brightest than it ever has. The return of Maliek Collins and David Irving to the field were desperately needed for this defense to take the next step. Collins and Irving were somewhat limited, but their snap counts will surely increase as the season continues.
A lot of little details went into this sack from Maliek Collins. From his alignment pre-snap to his timing on the spin, it was a beautiful display of rushing the passer by @SavageSevv. https://t.co/CYcfLH6AfB
Randy Gregory also got limited snaps versus the Jaguars, but he was able to make an impact either way. He finished the day with one sack, two hits and one QB hurry. I can't wait until these guys' snaps increase. This should be a very scary unit for opposing quarterbacks.
Dak Prescott's Stats Don't Reflect His Performance
The Jaguars are the best defense this team has faced and yet it's been the offense's best performance. Dak Prescott's passing stats may not look great, but his play was. Even though he failed to cross the 200 yard mark on the air, he rushed for 82 yards and kept Jacksonville's defense honest. Dak has faced a lot of criticism this year and will likely continue to do so.
Even still, we've seen him ball out on various occasions now. Dak can play. He may not be an elite passer, in fact he's far from being that, but he can make this offense work if they play to his strengths.
We've heard players talk about "turning the corner" in Dallas. Cowboys Nation should hope that is the case. What's more frustrating than watching an offense being unable to move the chains and score touchdowns, is knowing they could do it with a better execution and play-calling. Thanks to players like Dak, Ezekiel Elliott and Cole Beasley, there's a silver lining for the Cowboys' offense.
Inconsistency is the Problem for Cowboys
Simply put, this is not the team we had witnessed in the first five weeks of the season. Even in the two prior wins this year, the Dallas Cowboys had not looked dominant at all. Specifically the offense. They hadn't faced a defense as tough as the Jaguars', but they were able to drop 40 on them. Now granted, they did it with the help of the defense, but still. We hadn't seen this version of the Cowboys.
Even with a 40-7 win over the Jaguars, it is tough to imagine Dallas will keep this up as the season continues. Hopefully, they do and I'm wrong about this. They need to be more consistent if they want to end up surprising the NFC East and walk away with the division title.
Although they got the big win, they still left points on the field and fail to execute for touchdowns in the second half. Even when the defense forced turnovers. In close games, this cost you wins in the NFL. The Cowboys can't afford to lose many more games, even in a weak division.
Star Blog1 week ago
If Jason Garrett’s Out, Who’s In? Potential HC Candidates
Star Blog4 days ago
Should the Dallas Cowboys Trade for These 2 Oakland Raiders?
Player News1 week ago
Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL’s Top 10 Rookies
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Did Garrett’s OT Decision Cost Him More Than Just the Game?
Star Blog7 days ago
Is Jason Garrett Losing the Cowboys Locker Room?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Dallas Cowboys Players Who are Performing at an Elite Level
Game Notes6 days ago
Jaylon Smith Looks Healthy, And The NFL Should Be Terrified
Player News2 days ago
Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver Amari Cooper On the Trade Block