A third-round receiver winning Offensive Rookie of the Year sounds pretty unlikely in paper, but that didn't stop one national media analyst from predicting it. Best of all, the Dallas Cowboys' Michael Gallup was the honoree.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup is my top pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 https://t.co/iU6w4yqK7H
Trapasso's belief is that Gallup, who he called a "first-round caliber" player, will benefit from attention payed to veteran Allen Hurns and have lots of opportunities to succeed. He's clearly a big fan of the rookie, which is wonderful to hear.
While we Cowboys fans love this idea, we also know our team better than many national "experts." In this case, Trapasso's lack of familiarity with the Dallas roster is evident.
Yes, Hurns may be the go-to receiver in 2018. But he doesn't even mention Cole Beasley, a favorite target of Dak Prescott and more likely to get targets than Gallup. There's also Terrance Williams, who still factors into this discussion even if you don't want him to.
What's more, Gallup didn't join the New Orleans Saints. He's with the run-first Cowboys, who will likely be giving Ezekel Elliott every carry he can handle this season.
Not only does Dallas' old school approach makes it much tougher for Gallup, but history also isn't on his side.
In the last 20 years, only four receivers have won Offensive Rookie of the Year: Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, Percy Harvin, and Odell Beckham Jr. All of them were first-round picks except Boldin, who went in the second round.
There is lots of competition for the award in 2018, too. You have several first-round quarterbacks, Saquon Barkley as the new starting running back for the Giants, Receiver DJ Moore walking into a big role in Carolina, plus Calvin Ridley joining the pass-happy Falcons.
So yes, we love Chris Trapasso for giving Michael Gallup praise. But I wouldn't put any money on his prediction.
Of course, I hope he's right and I'm wrong.
2018 Cowboys: Projecting Ezekiel Elliott’s Production
The Dallas Cowboys offense looks very different in 2018 than it did at the beginning of the 2017 season. Gone are mainstays Dez Bryant (released) and Jason Witten (retired), and there's been some minor turnover on the offensive line with Jonathan Cooper replaced by 2018 second round pick Connor Williams.
Another Williams, Terrance, may soon be given his walking papers if the league deems a suspension is in order -- if only because the Dallas Cowboys can get some cap relief through a release in that case.
Today, let's look at what a season could look like for Ezekiel Elliott in 2018.
Before you can look forward, it's important to look back.
Though prior production does not predict future success, in the case of Ezekiel Elliott, because of his age and durability, we can use his past production to extrapolate what he could do looking forward.
In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards and recorded 1,994 yards from scrimmage as a rookie. That while playing only 15 games -- the team sat most of its starters in the week 17 finale because they had already locked up home field advantage.
At Elliott's 108.7 rushing yards per game, had he played in the week 17 contest against the Eagles, it's possible that his rushing total looks even more impressive as it would hit 1,738 rushing yards. He would have been well over 2,100 total yards on the season.
In the earlier game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Elliott rushed for 96 yards and had four receptions for 52 yards.
His totals are already impressive before you factor the 16th game into his 2016 stats.
In 2017, Elliott, after being railroaded by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, had to sit out six games. In the ten games he played he rushed for 983 yards, seven touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. This includes the nightmare at Mile High in which Elliott only rushed for eight yards on nine carries. It was a pitiful performance from the team all around.
If we extrapolate Elliott's numbers from the ten games he played for a 16-game season, we're looking at 1,579 rushing yards, 11.2 touchdowns, 430 receiving yards on 41 receptions, and three touchdown receptions.
The touchdown numbers aren't as impressive as his 2016 season, but the total yardage is almost right on par with his 2016 numbers; the Broncos game included.
In 2016, Elliott had a better yards per carry number (5.1) than he did in 2017 (4.1), but he saw an increase in targets per game from 2.43 in 2016 to 3.8 in 2017. The Dallas Cowboys figured they needed to use him more in the passing game as his receptions per game also increased from 2.1 to 2.6.
It's clear that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best three running backs in the NFL. Of that there is no doubt. He's right up there with Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and David Johnson. Each are great in their own right and each are a ton of fun to watch on Sundays.
So, based on his first two seasons in the league, what can we expect in 2018?
First we should look at how the changes on the offensive side of the ball could impact Elliott and the running game.
Despite how we might feel about their performances in 2017, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are losses. Even though they didn't perform as well as their reputations might suggest, they were threats that defenses had to account for in the passing game, which made things easier for the running game.
Both were on the radar of defensive coordinators and both were effective blockers in the running game.
The Cowboys will be relying on tight ends who have very little experience in the NFL. Aside from Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns, the wide receiver group is lacking experience as well. Williams, at the moment, is no guarantee to be on the week one 53-man roster.
It's possible that the team could be better in the passing game because they have more receivers who are good at creating separation and getting open, but we'll have to see.
Opposing defensive coordinators are going to line up to stop the run and make the passing game beat them.
But that has always been the case. For 24 games, Dak Prescott rose to the challenge and beat defenses. Only the final eight games of 2017, when without Elliott and tackle Tyron Smith did the Dallas Cowboys struggle on offense.
The biggest addition to the Dallas Cowboys offense has to be second round pick Connor Williams. Jonathan Cooper was a good player for the team last year, but Williams is definitely an upgrade.
Williams moves over from tackle at the University of Texas to guard for the Dallas Cowboys. He has the power and physicality to play on the interior as well as good athleticism and agility to work to the outside and second level.
Williams next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick will be tremendous in the run game, and Dallas' starting five on the offensive line is arguably the best it's been since the early 90's.
Fullback Jamize Olawale, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, is a nice addition to the team. He's a versatile player who can catch the ball out of the backfield or take some carries on running plays. He's an experienced lead blocker who should help open holes for Elliott when the team is in jumbo or goal line formations.
Tavon Austin, who the team acquired during the draft for a sixth round pick, adds a speed and big play element that will keep teams on their toes when Austin is on the field. How exactly they plan to deploy Austin or what his snap count will be remains to be seen. There is no questioning that when he's on the field he takes pressure off of Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.
The team drafted Dalton Schultz in the fifth round in 2018 and, while he's not Jason Witten, he's an experienced blocker in a pro-style offense that saw Stanford rush for 200 yards a game. Bryce Love, Stanford's lead runner ran for more than 2,100 yards and was a finalist for the Heisman in 2017. Schultz is Bryan Broaddus' favorite to be the starting tight end when training camp breaks in late August.
I believe that will be Dalton Schultz. https://t.co/Ejml7i0pcR
Allen Hurns was the biggest free agent addition to the team. Though he's had injury issues, he's been a fine wide receiver in the NFL. In 2016, he put together his best season as he totaled more than 1,000 yards and had eight touchdown receptions. He'll likely start along with Cole Beasley in 11-personnel formations and has a similar ability to get open that Beasley does.
That being said, he isn't Dez Bryant.
Putting it All Together - Rushing Total
We won't know exactly what kind of effect the roster churn will have on the overall productivity of the running game until we start playing games, but at the moment, I believe the losses and gains will balance themselves out.
Add in the year-three progression of Dak Prescott and I think the offense gives us reason to be optimistic for 2018.
For Ezekiel Elliott, we can look at his two-year totals and get a pretty good idea of what he'll do in year three.
Over two years, Elliott is averaging 22.6 carries a game, which would put him at about 361 carries over a 16 game season. That would be 49 more than his 2016 total and 25 fewer than his 2017 pace.
Seems reasonable to expect Elliott will see that many carries a game.
Let's say he gets the 361 carries that he's averaged (with his 2017 pace included) over two seasons in the NFL at his career yards per carry average (4.6), that would put him at 1,660 rushing yards this season.
If he received his 2017 pace for carries at 4.6 yards per carry then we'd be looking at 1,781 rushing yards. At his 2016 carry total it would be 1,481 rushing yards.
To me that's about what you should expect from the best running game in the NFL. Anything less than 4.6 yards per carry and 1,400 rushing yards would be a disappointment.
But let's look at what his floor and ceiling could be.
Again, looking back, his 2017 was his worst of the two seasons in regards to yards per carry and 16-game rushing yard pace. If we take his 4.1 yards per carry (which to me makes a good floor for his production) and extrapolate that over his career average of carries per game at 22.6 and a 16 game season, Elliott would rush for 1,480 yards on the season. If he received only 322 carries like he did in 2016, that would equate to 1,320 yards rushing at 4.1 yards per carry.
So, a floor for Ezekiel Elliott looks to be anywhere from 1,320 yards to 1,480 yards rushing this season.
While not his 2016 season, that's a good season for an NFL rusher in today's game. Good but not great. While Dallas could win with that, it would be a disappointing rushing total over a 16 game season.
Now let's look at an optimistic view of what Ezekiel Elliott could do.
If we take his high for yards per carry of 5.1 in 2016, we're looking at anywhere from 1,631 (at 21.5 carries/game) to 1,937.7 (24.2 carries/game). If he got his average of 22.6 carries per game, we'd be looking at 1,844 rushing yards over a 16 game season.
Any of those numbers would be great seasons for Elliott, and it seems reasonable that he could flirt with a 2,000 yard season if he gets the ball at his 2017 pace.
Putting it All Together - Receiving Total
Now, looking at Ezekiel Elliott as a receiver out of the backfield, it was clear they wanted to get Elliott more involved in the passing game in 2017. In the first four games of the season, Elliott received 19 targets and caught 16 passes.
As I mentioned before, his targets per game, receptions per game, and receiving yards per game all increased from 2016 to 2017.
He's averaged nearly 11 yards per reception over his two seasons in the NFL because of his speed, hands, and physicality. He's excellent on screens and hopefully Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan will get him even more involved in 2018.
If they decide they want to get him even more involved in the passing game than he was in 2017, I could see an increase in targets per game from 3.8 to about 4.2 targets per game. Remember, they value Elliott's role as a pass protector, which helps Dak Prescott as much as the offensive line does.
So, what could Elliott's numbers in the passing game look like in 2018 if they get him even slightly more involved in the passing game?
4.2 targets per game would be about 67 targets over a 16 games season. If we use his career catch percentage of 75.3%, Elliott would be looking at about 50 receptions in 2018, which isn't a far cry from his 2017 pace of 41.6 receptions. If he sticks with his career average of 10.9 yards per reception, then we're looking at a 545 yards receiving on the season. Even if he only manages eight yards per reception, the 400 yards would still be a career high for Ezekiel Elliott.
50 receptions is probably the high number for Elliott, while the low is about what he did in 2016 at 32.
Elliott is a threat in the passing game. We've seen him take screens to the house each of the last two seasons, against Pittsburgh in 2016 and San Francisco in 2017. With Tavon Austin in play to give the Dallas Cowboys more options with misdirection, Elliott's work in the screen game could become even more effective.
Touchdowns are far more difficult to predict than carries, yards, and receiving totals, but we can look back at his career thus far and see a pattern.
In 25 career games, Ezekiel Elliott has 25 total touchdowns. He averages a touchdown a game.
It's likely that we could see that average increase in 2018 with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, two huge red zone weapons, no longer on the team.
It's difficult to know exactly how a game will play out and what the game script will allow for a player like Ezekiel Elliott who does his best work when the team has a lead, but I'm going to bet that he hits 360 carries in 2018, which would put him at about 22.5 carries per game.
Some games he'll get more and some games less. I'm also going to assume that he returns to five yards per carry in 2018 with the addition of Connor Williams to help open holes and make the offensive line more athletic, physical, balanced, and complete than it was a year ago.
So, at 360 carries and five yards per carry, Ezekiel Elliott is looking at around 1,800 yards rushing. While that may look like an outlandish number, based on his career to this point, that's certainly achievable.
In the passing game, I see Elliott setting career highs in receiving at 45 receptions for 490 yards.
On the touchdown front, I'll stick with Elliott's touchdown per game averages and project he scores 16 total touchdowns.
Final Projections: 360 CAR, 1,800 Rush YDS, 60 TAR, 45 REC, 490 REC YDS, and 16 total TDs.
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Too high, too low, just right? What do you think we can expect from Ezekiel Elliott in 2018?
Notes on Scout’s Eye from Day Two of Cowboys OTA’s
One of my favorite things to read in the offseason and preseason is anything DallasCowboys.com writer and former NFL Scout Bryan Broaddus has to say about what transpired during these practices. He has an excellent perspective when discussing football. As a former scout turned Dallas Cowboys insider, his stuff is must-read material. It's gold every single time.
Definitely go check out the Scout's Eye from Bryan Broaddus, but here are a few notes that I found very interesting.
The Newest OL Addition
Connor Williams is going to be a huge upgrade from Jonathan Cooper. Don't get me wrong, Cooper played well and was able to turn that into a one-year $5 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Though he played well, he had limitations, primarily in his mobility as a blocker. Because he was limited, the running game was limited in what they could do. That won't be the case with second round pick Connor Williams.
"It might have had to do with the scheme, but I noticed plenty of running plays where Connor Williams was used as a puller. Williams was primarily working to his right. He had a couple of those pulls where his path appeared good and right where he needed to be at the contact point. Given his athletic ability, we might be getting a little taste what the coaching staff has planned for Williams by getting him in space."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Athletic enough to play tackle and strong enough to play guard, he is going to make life very difficult on opposing defenses in the run game. The Dallas Cowboys are going to be able to run pull, stretch, zone, or power plays wherever they want because of the physicality and athletic ability across the offensive line.
The Defensive Backfield
One thing that has been clear from Byron Jones' game is that even if he looks beat, he isn't really beat. Whether it's Rob Gronkowski or AJ Green, Jones has great ability to make up the separation that wide receivers can sometimes get on him.
"Really nice job by Byron Jones recovering on a deep ball to Deonte Thompson. Jones tried to force Thompson to the sideline but couldn’t cut him off. With a little bit of separation Jones had to rally hard to close the gap. Dak Prescott put the ball in a spot where Thompson had a chance to bring it in, but just at the last moment Jones reached in with his off-hand and knocked it away."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Byron has always used his length and athleticism to knock passes away, and with the technique that defensive backs coach Kris Richard is teaching these guys, Jones will have a lot of opportunities to get his hands on the football.
Richard wants them forcing players to the outside on their routes, keeping themselves between the receiver and the football. In addition to Jones' ability to make plays on the ball underneath the route, this could be a big year for him in his fourth year with the Dallas Cowboys.
Another note on the defensive back group.
"Just a note on how the defense lined up in first nickel: Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones on the outside and Anthony Brown in the slot. With Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods at safety. Jourdan Lewis played both on the outside and in the slot with the second group. I was worried that with the new secondary coach that maybe Lewis would not get enough opportunities, but I thought he was outstanding."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
What's interesting to note from this is that Anthony Brown got the first team reps ahead of Jourdan Lewis. It's early in the preseason and so this could change, but perhaps it's not as much of a foregone conclusion that Lewis will be the primary slot cornerback.
With what we've seen from Anthony Brown in the slot in his first two years, he's pretty good from that spot himself. Lewis is the better all-around cornerback, but this will be an interesting battle to watch throughout the preseason.
Lewis had his own shining moment during practice against fifth round draft pick, Tight End Dalton Schultz.
"You have to give Jourdan Lewis some credit. Lewis drew the much bigger Dalton Schultz and fought him in the air to knock away a ball from Cooper Rush. Schultz had the position to make the play, but Lewis wasn’t going to let him have the ball. If Lewis is going to play in the slot there are going to be some days where he is going to have to deal with a tight end playing the inside."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Jourdan Lewis isn't the biggest cornerback on the team and doesn't fit Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard's size profile, but he's a gamer. He has enough length and fight to make things difficult for receivers in the middle of the field.
This defensive backfield is going to be really, really good.
Unsung WR Selection
One of the more underrated moves from the 2018 NFL Draft was the selection of sixth rounder Cedric Wilson from Boise State University. In two seasons with the Broncos, Wilson combined for 18 touchdowns while averaging 19 yards per reception. He topped 1,100 yards both seasons with a high of 1,511 yards in 2017 on 83 catches.
He had a tremendous career, but because he doesn't have a strong athletic profile, dropped to late in the draft.
Could he be this year's Anthony Brown or Xavier Woods?
The Dallas Cowboys have done an excellent job in the later rounds finding good football players. Wilson seemed to have a pretty good day at practice yesterday.
"Cedrick Wilson sure is smooth running routes. I liked what I saw from him driving Anthony Brown off the ball, then turning outside as Brown continued up the field. Cooper Rush put the ball in a perfect spot for Wilson to secure the first down. He also had a nice block on Duke Thomas to Trey Williamson a long run. Sanjay Lal came over and slapped him on the back after he was able to finish that one."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Anthony Brown is no slouch defending the pass. He had a really good 2016 and recovered in the second half of 2017 to put together a nice season. Yes, it's only the off-season and they aren't even in pads yet, but these are two really encouraging notes on Wilson's practice. If he can continue to win reps and flash as a run blocker, he'll be on the roster.
In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys be looking at a WR depth chart of Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns, Noah Brown, and Cedric Wilson, as your top four.
Clear Eye View
The last thing I want to touch on is Jaylon Smith. For two years he's been one of the top stories for the Dallas Cowboys as we've watched and waited to see what his knee was going to do. It seems like things are progressing really well for Smith and he's going to be a better player in 2018 because of it.
"Jaylon Smith has some pass rush moves as a blitzer. He put a nice little side step move past Ezekiel Elliott in order to put some pressure on Dak Prescott. Elliott is one of the better pass blockers in the league and after the move, he had to scramble a bit just to get his hands on Smith."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
The thing I find intriguing with the combination of Smith, Sean Lee, and rookie Leighton Vander Esch is that they all have shown a penchant for blitzing in their careers, even if it was just in college.
This is going to allow for a versatile defense that can line up in a variety of defensive fronts. Whether they are in a base 4-3 or in a nickel 3-3-5, Rod Marinelli is going to be able to mix up his blitz packages, especially if Jaylon shows a marked improvement in his lateral movement. Coverage was a weakness for Smith last year, but if he can improve, the linebacker versatility will be a strength for the defense.
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There are a lot of practices still to come and some very interesting training camp battles to watch. What's the most intriguing camp battle for you?
Jane Slater Reports Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott Showing “Real Maturity”
Due to the drama which followed Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott during the 2017 season, many have questioned just how mature he is. Pundits have wondered if he can be a leader in the Cowboys locker room, or if he is even a "good teammate" at all.
OTAs have officially opened, and Ezekiel Elliott is in attendance for the voluntary workouts. Not only is he in attendance, however, but according to NFL Network's Jane Slater, he is displaying real leadership.
I saw real maturity from #Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott today. He was coaching up the young kids. Told me it was something whole leadership council discussed and says that's how you win...bring up the young guys. Also says he is working on leading by example and being more vocal.
Jane Slater tweeted on Wednesday that Ezekiel Elliott was "coaching up the young kids," and is working on "leading by example and being more vocal." Elliott seemed disengaged at times on Amazon's All or Nothing, and it was clear that his looking suspension weighed heavy on his shoulders.
Now that the issue is behind him, Ezekiel Elliott should be able to return to his 2016 form: not only on the field as a player but also as a teammate and a leader. Of course, you don't want to draw too many conclusions from such a small glimpse into these players' lives, but Elliott did not seem himself during 2017.
It is certainly a great sign for the earliest reports out of Cowboys OTAs to sound like this one.
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