When the Dallas Cowboys initially signed Allen Hurns, many in Cowboys Nation were cautiously optimistic excited or at least intrigued by the idea of Hurns playing opposite former Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant. When you looked at the signing, it seemed Hurns would be brought in to compete for snaps with Terrance Williams and whatever rookie they drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Then the Dallas Cowboys front office made the decision to move on from Bryant, which pushed every one of the outside wide receivers up a notch. Terrance Williams got hurt and wasn't available much in the 2018 season and it left Allen Hurns in an unfamiliar role as the lead wide receiver on the outside. The wide receiver group was a disaster for the first half of the season.
Hurns, was by no means the best wide receiver in the NFL, but for what they signed him for (2 years $10 million), he was a pretty nice addition. With the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hurns posted a 1,000 yards season and caught 10 touchdown passes with Blake Bortles as his quarterback in 2015. Injuries and a decline in play for Bortles led to a decline in Hurns production in Jacksonville, leading him to the Dallas Cowboys where an inconsistent passing game -- and misuse of personnel, Hurns in particular -- led to Hurns posting the worst numbers of his career.
In 16 games this season, and seven starts, Hurns only posted 20 receptions on 35 targets for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
Even for the contract that Hurns signed in the 2018 offseason, that's an atrocious return. So why would I be suggesting that Hurns be the wide receiver to replace Cole Beasley if he were to depart in free agency? Because it's in the slot where Allen Hurns does his best work.
In that 2015 season where Hurns went for more than 1,000 yard receiving on just 65 receptions to go along with 10 touchdowns, Hurns caught 29 passes out of the slot and seven of his touchdowns. He can be a really effective player and has good route running ability when he's given more than just come back routes.
I went back through some game film to see what's been going wrong with a wide receiver that was really effective with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but is all of a sudden struggling to find his niche in the Dallas Cowboys offense. So I went and watched some All-22 film from one of his best games in 2017 and from several games with the Dallas Cowboys to try to find the problem.
Of Allen Hurns' tape, I watched the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, and the Detroit Lions games from this season and the AFC Championship game and the Indianapolis game in week seven of 2017.
Here's what I came up with.
Scheming Ain't Easy
Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan takes a lot of flak for the -- at times -- failures of the Dallas Cowboys offense. When they struggle, he's the worst play caller in the world, but we're not giving him a ton of credit when the offense does well. Some of Allen Hurns struggles and lack of production are partly due to not being a great fit for Scott Linehan's offense. Or rather, Scott Linehan not tailoring his offense to fit the strengths of his players, which is part of the reason Linehan was shown the door.
At some point, certain guys just have to fit into the scheme. This is where I think some of the disconnect lies with Allen Hurns. If you watched much of Allen Hurns at Jacksonville, and when I turned on the tape, I noticed that the Jaguars ran Hurns on a lot of routes that allowed him to break quickly at an angle or to run horizontally. Routes like slants, posts, out and in breaking routes, and shallow drags, which allowed him to find room against zone coverage to give Bortles room to throw.
With the Dallas Cowboys, Hurns has been asked to run routes that are much more of the slower-developing and downfield type of routes. Go routes, 15 yards in-breaking routes, and a lot of deep comebacks to the sidelines. On occasion, he was asked to run a shallow crossing route like a drag or a slant route, but generally it was comebacks or deep outs.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about when I say, "slow developing."
Here it's 3rd and 11 and Hurns is lined up in a tight split so that he has some room to work the sideline in his route. He doesn't help himself by running right into the defender before making his cut. I can't tell if Hurns is supposed to run a 15 yard out and Dak just doesn't get the ball to him, or if he's supposed to run a comeback to the sideline and he just rounds his route off too much. Either way, it's not a route that Hurns is all that effective at running, but the Dallas Cowboys had him run it A LOT.
That isn't Allen Hurns' strength. Here's an example of what Hurns does really well.
Hurns is lined up in the slot here with New England showing cover two before moving into man-to-man across the secondary with the linebackers dropping into zone. You can see Hurns get just behind the linebackers in the middle of their zone and underneath the safety charged with covering him. It's a quick post route from play action and a big chunk play. Hurns shows nice hands and zone awareness to turn back to the ball.
Again, Hurns is lined up in the slot and New England again runs man-to-man. On a straight play action, Hurns works his man up the field and then runs a deep out as the outside receiver runs a skinny post clearing the sideline for Hurns to work. It's a quick cut that allows Hurns to separate from his man and make the big play. The design is nice because it clears a lot of room toward the sideline for Bortles to find Hurns for another big play.
And then here's an example from this year.
Hurns is on the outside to the right of the quarterback. Dallas runs a run-pass option (RPO), with Hurns running a slant route. You can see that it's an RPO because the offensive lineman on the left side of the line are run blocking. Hurns makes a quick move on the slant and Dak Prescott puts the ball right where it needs to be on the play. Hurns is very effective at running slant routes from the slot as you see above and something that the Cowboys asked Cole Beasley to do from the slot as well.
From his time with the Jaguars, Hurns had to run a variety of routes including posts from the slot, short to intermediate crossing routes, double moves, option routes, and they're putting him in combo routes out of bunch formations.
The Dallas Cowboys are asking him to try to use his speed to push the defensive backs downfield and run a lot of comeback routes. From what I can tell on the film, he's not nearly as comfortable running comeback routes as he is running slants, posts, and drags. Dallas needs to get him running routes, like the slant off of the RPO. Like I said before, you can't always accommodate every player in the offense, but there are ways to get him running things he's more comfortable with.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Allen Hurns still has a road to recovery from his gruesome broken ankle he suffered in the Dallas Cowboys wild card win over the Seattle Seahawks. If anything can be gained from a four word tweet, it looks like he's about a month away from getting back to the grind of preparing for the NFL's regular season. He'll have some rehab to do, but he should be ready for training camp if everything goes smoothly.
1 month out
As easily Hurns could be Beasley's replacement in 2019, he could also be out the door if the Dallas Cowboys want to save some money by releasing him.
Route running is a subtle art form and from what I could tell, he isn't the same player that he was in Jacksonville. He has a knack for getting open in the middle of the field and shows nice hands. Prior to the Amari Cooper trade, Hurns had his best games of the season against the Washington Redskins before taking a backseat to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.
With changes to the offensive coaching staff and potential opportunities at WR, Hurns could be the guy the Cowboys look to in 2019 to man the slot. He isn't Cole Beasley, but with Amari Cooper leading the way, you don't need him to be. You need a reliable receiver and in the slot, Hurns is very reliable.
NFC East QB Picture Could Look Very Different After the Draft
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Draft Day. One of the most wild days in the NFL calendar that surprises us year after year. Fake storylines and rumors fill our social media feeds, surprising trades ruin every Mock Draft available, and things that we believe to be true change at the last second. Of course, one of the most intriguing things to watch during the Draft is the search from a handful of teams for a franchise quarterback.
While the Dallas Cowboys are worried about paying their guy, a couple of teams in their division are concerned about getting a quarterback for the future. The New York Giants should be ready to prepare for life after Eli Manning and the Washington Redskins need to find an exciting young player if they don't want to depend on Case Keenum and/or Colt McCoy.
This year's QB class doesn't look as good as last year's, but there are a few intriguing prospects worth considering. Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) is expected to go to Arizona at the first pick but he isn't the only QB expected to be drafted in the first round. Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), Drew Lock (Missouri) and Daniel Jones (Duke) have all made appearances in many first round mock drafts.
So what could the Redskins and Giants do to change how the four starting quarterbacks of the division look like?
New York Giants
Holding the sixth overall pick in today's NFL Draft, the Giants look like the perfect candidate to draft a quarterback. Last year, they had a similar opportunity sitting at number two but decided to go for the surefire prospect in RB Saquon Barkley. A year later, fans and analysts still question whether that was the right call or not. They took a top-tier player but didn't address the most important position in football. The bottom line is Barkley killed it in his first year in the NFL and even won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
This year though, it could be time for them to stop passing on quarterbacks and take advantage of their position in the Draft. The name that's been the most linked to the Giants is Dwayne Haskins. Matt Miller from Bleacher Report has even said the Giants have done more work on him than any other team out there. A big surprise in the mock draft universe came a few days ago when Daniel Jeremiah mocked Daniel Jones at #6 to the Giants instead of Haskins.
The Giants could not have an easy task ahead of them if they do want Haskins. The Oakland Raiders at #4 are a threat to draft a QB along with many other teams that could be willing to trade up for the Ohio Sate product. Don't be surprised if the Giants need to move up to secure their guy.
The question remains: Does Giants GM Dave Gettleman want to be aggressive and draft a signal-caller even with Eli Manning still playing? Some say he will, some say he won't. We'll have to wait and see.
The Redskins are far more intriguing than the Giants. First of all, they hold the 15th pick. If they want to draft a first round quarterback, chances are they'll be forced to trade up. Although every year we think quarterbacks won't go early, there's a reason why most are taken by teams that traded up to get in position.
Just talked to a Redskins source who told me Dan Snyder has "taken over the first round of the draft." The last time that happened the Redskins traded two future No. 1's and a No. 2 to move up for Robert Griffin.
If the Raiders end up pulling a big-time trade during the Draft to get into the Top 5, we know what position they'll be looking at. Whether it's Haskins at the top of the round or Lock or Jones a bit later, make no mistake about it. The Redskins could be searching for a QB. Keenum isn't the answer and neither is McCoy. With Alex Smith's playing career being in question, looking for a quarterback only makes sense.
Then there's Josh Rosen. Assuming the Cardinals do what has been expected all along and take Murray, Rosen is going to get traded. Both the Giants and the Redskins could be among the potential destinations for the 2018 first-round pick.
The Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys are the favorites to be the contenders within the NFC East division. However, we can't ignore the fact that the Redskins were doing pretty well prior to Alex Smith's injury in 2018. The Giants didn't do well, but they've gone a long way in improving their offensive line and count with a great running back in Saquon. Both teams could look very different with a change at QB.
If they do end up drafting a rookie QB or going after Josh Rosen, the NFC East QB picture could become one of the most intriguing and promising ones in the entire NFL. Then we'd be talking about one of the most competitive divisions in the league.
The Cowboys Don’t Pick In Tonight’s 1st Round, And They’re Fine With That
The first round of the 2019 NFL Draft gets underway tonight. On ABC primetime this year, the draft is as popular and flashy as it ever has been. Thousands will watch the commissioner read names from a card Thursday night, but the Dallas Cowboys likely won't be involved whatsoever.
And they're totally ok with that.
The Cowboys, of course, used their 2019 first round pick on former Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper helped to awake an offense which had been abysmal prior to his arrival, opening up the passing offense and unlocking quarterback Dak Prescott's best abilities.
Stephen Jones spoke to the Dallas Morning News this week, giving his reasoning for why he is comfortable with not having a first round pick this year.
"I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that would’ve made a difference on our roster like Amari made last year and like we feel like he’s going to make as me move forward" - Stephen Jones
Of course, he's correct. At least partially. Dallas went 7-2 after the Amari Cooper trade, winning a home playoff game while Cooper put up dominating statistics. Cooper quickly became the Cowboys' most prolific target in the passing game and added an element they so dearly missed during the first half of 2018.
Still, though, not having four (plus one) years of a first round pick on a rookie deal is never ideal. You'd like to have the chance to add that young talent on the cheap. Instead, the Cowboys will need to give Amari Cooper a big payday quickly.
There's no debating that the Amari Cooper trade has been a success for the Dallas Cowboys, however. He's the undisputed WR1 in Dallas, and had instant chemistry with young quarterback Dak Prescott.
You can't help but be excited to see how those two grow together moving forward.
Are Ezekiel Elliott And Dak Prescott A Package-Deal?
Dak and Zeke went viral again this week. Once again, together.
It was yet another fun Twitter moment from the Cowboys' star backfield duo, as they have enjoyed more success in their first three seasons together than most fans ever could have imagined back in 2016.
The honeymoon is just about over, though. It's year four for both Prescott and Elliott. Time to take the next step in the postseason and start competing for championships. This also means it's nearing contract time as well.
Elliott knows he'll be a Cowboy for at least two more seasons. The front office picked up his fifth year option earlier this week, ensuring they'd have the elite-level running back through the 2020 season. Prescott's contract, on the other hand, currently expires after 2019. And despite all of the success he's had at quarterback during his young career, he's still on that fourth round salary.
Both Jerry and Stephen Jones has made it known the Cowboys believe in Prescott moving forward. Both have repeatedly said he will be extended in the near future. And if all goes according to plan, Prescott will be the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for a very long time.
They've also fully backed Elliott. And while just about no one would argue that Prescott is better at his position than Elliott is at his, his position is much less valuable to the offense. Yes, even to this offense. One which is predicated on running the football and controlling the clock.
Quarterbacks are still king, and the money Prescott is set to receive proves that point even further.
It's no secret these two players are great friends, and each heralded leaders in the Cowboys locker room. It would be a tall task for this front office to extend one, while bailing on the other. And by all accounts, the Cowboys have no plan on doing so.
Prescott and Elliott seem like a package-deal in the Cowboys backfield. Quarterback and running back next to one another for as long as they are apart of America's Team.
At least, that's the plan.
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