Ever since the Dallas Cowboys' heartbreaking Divisional Round loss to the Packers (2016), the hot topic has been how to improve their pass rush. It's completely understandable, but there are no clear answers about how to do it. I'm probably in the minority here, but I think the Cowboys' pass rush will improve in 2017 because of second-year defensive end Charles Tapper.
Unfortunately, Charles Tapper didn't get to prove what he can do for the Cowboys' pass rush last year. He pretty much had to redshirt his first year in the NFL because of a back injury he sustained in training camp.
What was initially believed to be nothing more than back tightness was eventually diagnosed as a Pars Defect injury, or what is better known as a fractured vertebrae. Unbeknownst to him, it is an injury he has had since childhood, but has never caused him any problems.
It looks as if Tapper is now 100-percent ready for the Cowboys' off-season practices. We still have the rest of free agency and the draft to get through, but as things stand right now, he gives me the most hope for an improved pass rush this in 2017.
You may have forgotten, but the Dallas Cowboys drafted Charles Tapper with the first of their two fourth round draft picks in 2016. The second of course was used to draft Dak Prescott and we all know how that turned out.
Hopefully, Tapper can follow suit now that he is 100% healthy.
Who is Charles Tapper?
Charles Tapper is a second-year defensive end out of Oklahoma. At 6'2", 271-pounds, he has the prototypical size for a 4-3 defensive end and the athletic ability to be a really good player in the NFL.
Tapper was one of the top performing defensive ends at the 2016 NFL combine. His 4.59 40-yard dash was the best among the DEs in 2016 and would've tied him for third amongst this year's draft class with UCLA's Takkarist McKinley, who is about 20 pounds lighter.
Of course, a player can't be solely judged by their 40-yard dash, especially a defensive end. But, that speed can be utilized to chase down ball carriers from behind and to put opposing offensive tackles in a difficult position when rushing the quarterback around the edge.
He is also able to convert that speed into power when he utilizes his bull rush. It often results in offensive tackles looking as if they're wearing skates.
One of Tapper's more underrated attributes as a player is his impressive wingspan.
He has 34 3/8'' arms, which allows him to set a strong edge in the running game by keeping offensive lineman from getting into his body. That arm length also comes in handy as a pass rusher. He uses it effectively by not allowing offensive lineman to get their hands on him. It really makes him a difficult player to block coming off the edge.
Charles Tapper will be a difference maker in 2017
You may think I'm jumping the gun a little bit by saying Charles Tapper will be a difference maker for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017, but if not for his back injury last season, he probably would've been the starting RDE.
Tyrone Crawford was forced to move from the inside of the Cowboys defense to the outside to fill that role, but that shouldn't happen with a healthy Tapper.
Charles Tapper already has the benefit of being in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's 4-3 defensive scheme for a year and is probably the Day 1-starter as things stand now. That redshirt year has also allowed him extra time to take advantage of the Cowboys' strength and conditioning program to redefine his body. This should allow him to be a much more effective player.
Another benefit to basically red-shirting his rookie year in the NFL is it has not only given him extra time for his back to heal, but it has also allowed him to develop a more diverse pass rushing repertoire. When watching his game film coming out of Oklahoma, you didn't really see him rush with any kind of plan and didn't really know how to use his hands as a pass rusher.
This should definitely change in his second year, which will make him a more complete player.
I completely understand if you think that I'm being a little overly optimistic about Charles Tapper helping the Cowboys' pass rush in 2017. It is completely understandable.
He is still a somewhat unknown commodity, because we didn't really get to see what he can do in a game situation. However, I believe that he is already better than anybody the Cowboys can draft this year. He has the skill set to be a disruptive force against both the run and the pass as a defensive end.
We'll have to wait and see if the Dallas Cowboys believe as I do, but we shouldn't have to wait long to get our answer.
If the Cowboys pass on drafting a defensive end in the first couple of rounds, we can probably assume they think Charles Tapper can take the next step in his career.
Do you think Tapper improves the 2017 Cowboys pass rush?
Dak Prescott Impresses, Draws Compliments All Minicamp Long
Dak Prescott stood before the media Thursday in a Stetson Cowboy hat, answering questions about his upcoming contract extension.
“I’ve got my cowboy hat on, so I’m a Cowboy, we’ll say that.”
Prescott has cemented himself as the franchise quarterback of America's Team, and now it's time for the franchise to pay him like it. Set to earn roughly $34 million per year (according to recent rumors/reports), Prescott is going to be a very rich and comfortable man in the near future.
But, for now, he still plays under his fourth round rookie contract. You wouldn't be able to tell by watching him on the field, however. Though it was just minicamp, Prescott was impressive as ever over the last couple weeks of practice, earning praise from all levels within the organization.
Veteran Jason Witten complimented both Prescott's anticipation and accuracy, saying his throws have been "off the charts" at minicamp. Prescott himself said that this is the best he's felt since he's entered the league, and it certainly makes sense for this to be the case.
"Is it three years under my belt or just seeing defenses a whole lot more clear, being quicker and faster in everything I want to do, having great teammates around me? Who really knows the answer, but I feel great. I feel confident, and my teammates do, as well.” - Prescott to DallasCowboys.com
If Prescott was ever going to be comfortable, hungry, and ready to go, this is likely the time that it would happen. He has three relatively successful seasons under his belt, and ended 2018 on the best stretch of his career. He is the unquestioned starting quarterback for this team, and has the backing of every key decision maker in the building.
Prescott now has an offensive coordinator who he has not only worked closely with (in some capacity) since he entered the league in 2016, but is also being lauded for his creativity as an offensive mastermind. His quarterbacks coach, Jon Kitna, has been receiving similar praise for how he can coach up Prescott and get his footwork consistent, to help him "throw it through a Fruit Loop."
The time is now for Dak Prescott, and it's encouraging to see how he is responding to this increased pressure and responsibility. Then again we should have no doubt that he will respond positively, as he as throughout his entire young career.
Whenever faced with adversity, Prescott has answered the bell. Now he has all the supporters he needs, and just needs to prove them right.
Does RB Ezekiel Elliott Have A Chance At NFL MVP?
Who is the Cowboys best player?
As a running back, it's quite possible that Elliott is both the best of that bunch and the least important to the team's overall success. NFL.com's Adam Schein disagrees with the latter statement, however, placing Ezekiel Elliott among his top ten contenders for 2019 NFL MVP.
"I think the Cowboys are going to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2019 -- and I think Zeke fuels this team. When Elliott runs for 95-plus yards, the Cowboys are 19-4; when he falls below that benchmark, they're 9-8." - Adam Schein
Schein's prediction will no doubt make Cowboys Nation swoon, but does Elliott really have the opportunity to compete for an MVP award?
For one, this would require the Cowboys be among the best teams in the league this season. It's quite possible, as they did win 10 regular season and 1 playoff game a year ago, but it will have to happen once again for Elliott to be considered.
Next, Ezekiel Elliott would have to put up incredible numbers. Well, it's safe to assume this will likely be the case if condition one is met. Elliott is going to get a lot of opportunities to touch the ball each game, and finding himself among the league's rushing leaders has never been an issue for the young running back. Especially if the team has a lead and is running the ball to kill clock.
Even if both these conditions prove true, though, Elliott will still have trouble getting himself in the real MVP discussion. These awards tend to go to certain positions, and running back is not among that list. If Dallas has such a successful 2019, and their offense is clicking, it's more likely Dak Prescott will be the one contending for that MVP honor.
I know to some it sounds crazy, but Prescott will likely need to be closer to MVP level than Elliott if the Cowboys are to contend in the way Adam Schein suggests in his article.
So, likely, Schein should have named Prescott among his top ten MVP contenders, not Elliott.
Amari Cooper Says He’s Focused On Football, Not His Next Contract
It seems like all anyone has talked about this offseason is who the Cowboys should re-sign, and how they can go about doing so.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper, of course, is heavily involved in those conversations. The Cowboys used their 2019 first round pick to trade for the Pro Bowl wide out last season, and Cooper's emergence helped to turn their struggling offense around immediately.
In just 9 games with the Cowboys last season, he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. He quickly gained the trust of quarterback Dak Prescott, and exhibited a chemistry with the young passer that no one else really has to this point. Outside of maybe Cole Beasley in 2016, perhaps.
While the football world seems to be focusing on what Amari Cooper's contract will look like after 2019, the receiver himself claims to be solely focused on the upcoming season. Cooper spoke with ESPN's Todd Archer about this very subject, emphasizing where his mind lies at this time.
"I just handle my business...I'm more anxious about camp and actually playing football." - Amari Cooper.
Amari Cooper has just one year left on his contract as he plays under the fifth year option from his rookie deal. Cooper will make $13.9 million this season, putting him behind some of the league's other WR1s like Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and DeAndre Hopkins.
There had been speculation around whether any of the Cowboys left with just one year on their contract would hold-out through parts of offseason activity, but Cooper alluded that it never seemed to cross his mind.
"I just want to get better and I love football. That's why I'm here" - Cooper.
Of course, Amari Cooper will play a huge role in the Cowboys offense in 2019. Combining him with a second year version of Michael Gallup, and new versatile threats like Tony Pollard and Randall Cobb, will help make the Dallas passing game as multiple as it's been in years.
The Cowboys will eventually need to get Amari Cooper locked up long term, but for the time being it seems like both he and the franchise are more focused on what will happen on the field in 2019 than in the negotiating room next Spring.
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