The NFL offseason can get boring at times, leaving us die-hard football fans time to think up and discuss abstract ideas.
Earlier this week, some fellow Inside The Star writers and I were discussing how many Cowboys would make an "All-NFC East" team, fielding a full 53-man roster. It was a fun exercise, and one that we took a little time coming up with.
So, I figured I'd let you all in on the debate, as we search through the division for the best talent at each position. Instead of building a full 53-man roster, however, I have come up with a two-deep depth chart.
Let's first look at the offense, and examine the defense during another post.
- Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
- Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
To be honest, this might be the easiest group to sort through. In my opinion, Prescott and Cousins are the clear cream of the crop in the NFC East, with Eli Manning and Carson Wentz falling in behind them.
While many believe Wentz has a ton of promise, he certainly did not perform anywhere near as well as Prescott did during their respective rookie seasons. I'm not the biggest fan of Cousins, and understand why the Redskins aren't sold on him as the answer going forward, but he certainly has enough talent and production to make him QB2 in the NFC East.
Manning has the pedigree, but he has shown a decline in his play over the last few seasons. Though Odell Beckham has done a nice job of masking those deficiencies.
- Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
- LaGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
I mean, come on. We all know who the best running back in the NFC East is.
Last year's league leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott earns the RB1 title on our All-NFC East squad. Behind him is a new conference-mate, LaGarrette Blount, joining the Eagles from the New England Patriots via free agency.
Blount is the second best back in the division currently, though I thought hard about putting New York Giants running back Paul Perkins in over him on upside alone. Perkins was a guy I wanted the Cowboys to target in 2015 before they selected Elliott, and I still believe he can play at a high level.
- Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
- Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
- Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles
- Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins
- Sterling Shepard, New York Giants
Imagine this receiving corps?
Arguably the best wide out in the entire NFL, Odell Beckham, is clearly our WR1 here. After him, the NFL's receiving touchdown leader since 2010 in Dez Bryant is named WR2, and the dynamic Alshon Jeffery comes in at WR3.
Terrelle Pryor flashed WR1-type abilities at times in Cleveland last season, and will have the chance to perform at an even higher level with a better quarterback throwing him the ball in 2017.
Last but not least, the Giants' Sterling Shepard just edges out Cole Beasley for the slot receiver role, though I do think you could argue for either one.
- Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
- Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
- Evan Engram, New York Giants
There should be no argument about who the best tight end in this division is, as Washington's Jordan Reed is truly a top five tight end in the entire league. Deciding who would be TE2 was a tougher call, however.
I ended up giving Jason Witten the nod, simply off his pedigree. A future Hall of Fame player, we all know what Witten has done over his career as a Dallas Cowboy.
Lastly, I threw Evan Engram on the roster for his upside. I loved Engram at Ole Miss, and though I thought the Giants reached a bit to draft him, I think they'll still be very happy with his production over the years.
Maybe Zach Ertz should be in over Witten, but he's been nowhere near as reliable lately.
- Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
- Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
- Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles
- Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
On this roster are the two top left tackles in the NFL in Tyron Smith and Trent Williams, and the best right tackle as well in Lane Johnson (at least in my opinion). Oh, and you can add a player who has been one of the top left tackles in the game for years in Jason Peters too.
We all know how great these four players are, but the fact that Morgan Moses was left off a list which included four tackles in the division just furthers that point.
The NFC East has three of the top ten offensive lines in the NFL, so narrowing this list down was tough to do.
- Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys
- Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins
- Justin Pugh, New York Giants
- Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles
The best guard in all of football, for my money, is the Cowboys' Zack Martin. So, clearly, he makes the roster and does so as a starter.
After that, I believe that Washington's Brandon Scherff and New York's Justin Pugh are the next best in the division. Scherff was my favorite interior offensive linemen of his draft class, and after the way he played in 2016, he certainly deserves his spot here.
Brandon Brooks is one of the more underrated guards in football, as is his teammate Allen Barbre. If I was taking five, the Eagles interior duo would both make the team.
- Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
- Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles
Sorry, Giants fans, as I'm only doing a two-deep, Weston Richburg does not make the final depth chart. After a down season by his standards, I had to give the more consistent Kelce the edge as the back up center.
In the NFC East, however, everyone is fighting for second place when it comes to offensive linemen. Frederick is the best center in all of football, and earns the starting center job on our All-NFC East squad.
Does Darius Jackson Have A “Puncher’s Chance” Of Landing On Final Roster?
Remember Darius Jackson?
The sixth round running back was an instant fan favorite of Cowboys Nation, as the fanbase hoped Dallas had found the explosive RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott they needed in the very same draft. Jackson, however, had an up-and-down preseason in 2016 and ended up being waived from the team to make room for Darren McFadden later in the year.
Jackson has bounced around the league a bit since then, joining both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers at different points. He's back with the Cowboys, however, looking to fight his way onto the team's final roster.
But does the fourth year running back have more than a puncher's chance to do so?
The Cowboys spent much of the 2019 NFL Draft rebuilding their running back depth. First, they drafted Memphis back Tony Pollard hoping to find a versatile and dynamic threat to compliment the workhorse that is Ezekiel Elliott. Then, in the seventh round, Dallas took another Ohio State running back in Mike Weber who fits more of the "traditional" running back form.
So with two new touted rookies behind the veteran Elliott, and fullback Jamize Olawale more than likely having a roster spot as well, there doesn't seem to be room for Darius Jackson on the Dallas Cowboys.
That didn't stop him from competing at OTAs, however. DallasCowboys.com named Darius Jackson one of their top ten "head turners" from the OTA practices, and considering that Mike Weber is banged up at the moment, Jackson will certainly have his opportunities to fight for that spot.
Still, the odds suggest that Darius Jackson will not be with the Cowboys come the Fall of 2019. Though he entered the league with some fanfare for a day three pick, his production has been more fitting of his draft grade than of his fan hype.
Jackson hasn't been the explosive player/receiving back that they're hoping Tony Pollard will be, nor has he been the every-down type backup runner that they seem to hope Mike Weber will be.
In the end, the Cowboys-Darius Jackson story is likely to close during this year's training camp.
Cowboys Camp: Strong Safety Battle One to Watch
When the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp in late July, they'll have most of the roster settled. On paper, they're a team that doesn't have many holes on the depth chart.
They've added depth at every position and added playmakers on both sides of the football. On defense, there appears to be only one position where the starter heading into training camp may not be the starter come week one. Strong safety.
Veteran Safety Jeff Heath is currently running with the first team defense through the offseason portion of practices. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson were added to the strong safety depth chart featuring Heath and special teams ace Kavon Frazier.
While most teams would be excited about having a returning starter at the position, Heath's 2018 left a lot to be desired. Per Pro Football Focus, Heath missed 19 tackles on the season, which was second in the NFL. It seemed that Heath became more interested in attempting to strip the ball out of the ball carrier's hands than actually making the tackle, which became increasingly frustrating as he forced only a single fumble all season long. Though he had a lot of missed tackles, Heath did finish 15th in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops," which are defined as a "play that results in a loss for the defense." Heath was third on the team in total tackles with 85 and tied with Jaylon Smith for third in tackles for loss with six.
The biggest competition for Heath at strong safety will be veteran George Iloka.
Signed to a one-year contract after spending time with the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, Iloka comes to the Dallas Cowboys adding depth at free safety behind Xavier Woods. He also creates competition for Heath at strong safety, which should help Jeff Heath raise his game and get more consistent with his tackling. Iloka has experience and brings good size and length to the secondary, which should help them defend tight ends in the passing game.
Because of his injury, Kavon Frazier could see his playing time evaporate heading into 2019. If he's unable to get healthy and make an impression early, Frazier could miss out on the 53-man roster when the team makes their final roster cuts.
The player that stands to benefit the most from Kavon Frazier's injury, and the one I'm most interested in watching in the Dallas secondary the rest of the preseason is sixth-round draft pick, Donovan Wilson. The rookie from Texas A&M has made several plays in the secondary that stood out during OTAs. Here's what Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com had to say about Donovan Wilson during last week's minicamp.
"I haven’t written much about Donovan Wilson since rookie minicamp, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention a nice play he had during the two-minute drill. Kris Richard came with a blitz, which forced Cooper Rush to throw “hot” to Dalton Schultz. Wilson, from several yards away, saw Schultz look up and drove on the ball, arriving at the exact time it hit Schultz’s hands. With his left hand Wilson was able to drag the ball away, knocking it to the ground."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Wilson will be a player to watch in training camp. The Cowboys have had success finding defensive backs in the late rounds of the draft. Anthony Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2016 and Xavier Woods was a sixth-round selection in 2017. Now Wilson, with his aggressive and physical demeanor will have an opportunity -- this year or next -- to carve out some playing time in a secondary that needs more players who can create turnovers.
Strong safety is one of the few starting spots where there is actual competition for the incumbent starter. Pretty much every other position has returning starters locked into the starting lineup or, in Travis Frederick's and Robert Quinn's cases, a significant talent upgrade that makes them day-one starters.
The competition at strong safety should help everyone be better for the Cowboys in 2019. If Heath is able to hold off Iloka and Wilson to remain the starter, then he will have once again earned it. With the depth they have this season, including two guys who won't be liabilities in pass coverage, the Cowboys have options if Heath misses tackles in 2019 as he did in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys Shouldn’t Add a Veteran Backup Quarterback
With offseason training activities and minicamps coming to a close, now begins the wait for July 27th and the first day of training camp practice in Oxnard, California for the Dallas Cowboys. In my nearly 20 years following the Dallas Cowboys, this is the deepest and most talented roster I can remember the Cowboys taking to training camp.
Of course, there are areas of weakness, especially when you compare them to other position groups. Unfortunately, there isn't always a simple fix to said area of weakness. If you're looking for one area of complaint, you could point to backup quarterback.
Cooper Rush and Mike White have a combined three regular season attempts between the two of them. I wouldn't hold that against them though, because the reason they only have three attempts between them -- and really it's just Cooper Rush has three attempts -- is because Dak Prescott has been such a durable quarterback that those other guys aren't getting into games.
The only time Cooper Rush has appeared in a game was during lopsided wins against the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 and a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.
The reports coming out of OTAs and minicamp are that Cooper Rush and Mike White haven't had very good practices. Reports of interceptions have a portion of Cowboys Nation concerned about the quarterback position after their franchise quarterback.
Those reports can offer some insight into how things are going, but they should hardly be taken completely at face value. Remember what Allen Iverson said, "We talkin bout practice." Just like we shouldn't get too hyped about what Dorance Armstrong or Dak Prescott are doing in practice, we shouldn't overreact to some bad practices by your backup quarterbacks. Remember, they're largely throwing to guys who are undrafted free agents and are likely to be released when the team trims their roster to 53.
So much of where the concern about the backup quarterback position comes from is because of the recent history this team has had with losing its starting quarterback to injury. Tony Romo missed games in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. That's six out of 11 seasons where he was the starting quarterback heading into training camp in which he missed at least one game in a season.
Dak Prescott hasn't missed a start since his sophomore season at Mississippi State in 2013. That's five straight seasons between college and the NFL that Dak Prescott has been available for his team. In 2013, he was splitting snaps with the Bulldogs senior quarterback, but since 2013, has been available for 88 of his team's 90 games. Dak's started 51 straight games for the Dallas Cowboys in three seasons and has the strength and durability to continue to do just that.
Dak Prescott isn't Tony Romo. According to DallasCowboys.com, Dak Prescott measures at 6-2, 238 pounds. That's huge for an NFL quarterback. Romo was 6-2, 230. Romo, however, never looked as strong or thick as Dak Prescott. He always looked more slender playing the quarterback position and his durability was a concern. So far in Dak's career, durability hasn't been an issue, therefore the quarterback position is less of an issue.
The recent history of 2015, when Tony Romo went down and the season went with it, has many leery of going into a season with unproven commodities. But in that 2015 season, they had "proven" commodities at the quarterback position and those players went 2-11 in the starts that Tony Romo missed.
The free agent quarterback market doesn't look all that enticing at this point in the offseason. And that should be obvious. Any quarterback that was worth signing is already on a team. What you're left with is a who's who of bad quarterback options that wouldn't give you much more confidence in that Rush or White if necessary.
- Matt Cassell - Been there, done that.
- Brandon Weeden - See above.
- Mark Sanchez - See Above.
- Brock Osweiler - Miami, Denver, and Houston did that, chose to go another direction.
- Derek Anderson - not a terrible option, but not necessarily better than what you have.
- Josh Johnson - Pass.
- Geno Smith - The New York Giants didn't want him. Very Hard Pass.
There isn't a free agent quarterback that makes sense. They're either old descending quarterbacks or young retreads that have been through a few different organizations and haven't been able to find a landing spot. Let's get into training camp and the preseason and see what Mike White and Cooper Rush do in a game-like situation before making a definitive evaluation.
With Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna as Dak Prescott's main coaching influences in 2019, there's no need for a veteran backup quarterback to "mentor" Prescott at this point in his career. Moore was always considered a very smart player that was viewed as a future coach. Kitna was one of the better backup quarterback options during his career and has spent time coaching in the high school ranks. Dak couldn't have two better guys in his ear during the week or on gameday. A veteran quarterback doesn't really add anything to what these two already bring.
The Cowboys are content to see how the backup quarterback battle plays out between Mike White and Cooper Rush. Let these guys get as many snaps as they can in training camp and the preseason and if, for some reason, neither guy steps up and you feel like you need to add a veteran, then go grab Mark Sanchez since he knows the offense and has a good relationship with Dak Prescott.
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