For several Dallas Cowboys, 2018 will be the fourth and final year of their rookie contracts. Coincidentally, this could be a big season for the draft class of 2015 as the Cowboys roster has undergone some major changes.
No player will get a bigger opportunity than Tight End Geoff Swaim, who is getting the first chance at replacing Jason Witten with the starting offense. The former seventh-round pick only has nine career catches, but those were hard to come by with the Hall-of-Famer never leaving the field.
While he's getting veteran deference early in OTAs and minicamp, Swaim will have to earn the starting job before Week One. The athletic Rico Gathers and rookie Dalton Schultz will also be in the mix, and even a dark horse like Blake Jarwin could make noise. It's wide open at tight end right now.
But these early reps as the starter are valuable, giving Geoff even more edge than his three years of experience already did. Swaim has flashed some receiving ability in the past and is a proficient blocker, which is critical for the run-focused attack Dallas' offense uses. At this point it's his job to lose.
If a seventh-round pick can be a solid starter for you, that's a huge boon for the overall quality of your draft class. But Geoff Swaim isn't the only guy that could make a leap this year.
While he's already been a starting safety for two seasons, Byron Jones' move to cornerback might take his career to another level. That is because of the arrival of Kris Richard as the Defensive Backs Coach, who brings the winning strategy of using bigger athletes at corner from the Seattle Seahawks.
Dallas has already picked up the fifth-year option on Jones' rookie deal, meaning he's locked in through 2019. That decision, which will pay him over $9 million next season, speaks to the potential the Cowboys see in Byron at corner.
Jones played CB in college and for part of his rookie season. It's the position where he shined enough to become a first-round draft pick. While Dallas had sound reasoning for thinking he could be a dynamic safety, that experiment never worked out the way anyone hoped
Byron's return to cornerback coincides with the rise of the Cowboys' pass rush. If DeMarcus Lawrence keeps excelling and the defensive front continues improving in its pressure on quarterbacks, guys like Jones will get increased opportunities to make plays.
While Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are the hot new names at CB, Jones has just as much talent and potential. He's still just 25 and will hopefully be in the best position to succeed that he's had so far in the NFL.
Unlike Byron Jones, who has had a major role almost immediately since entering the league, Defensive End Randy Gregory has been almost invisible since he was drafted. That is largely due to his time away from the game due to suspension.
But with Gregory's reinstatement to the league probably imminent, the athletic pass rusher could finally be a huge addition to the Cowboys defensive line.
Randy is the edge rusher the Cowboys have needed for some time, with the agility and speed to take on NFL left tackles on the weak side. With DeMarcus Lawrence now a bonafide threat on the other side, Gregory may not see hardly any double teams or help in his pursuit of opposing QBs.
Of course, Randy has to prove he can still play and the long absence didn't do permanent damage. But given all the work he's put in to get his life back in order, I'm not worried about Gregory putting in the effort to maximize his football potential.
Even though guys like Taco Charlton and Kony Ealy are around, they're all best suited for the same role that DeMarcus Lawrence plays. If he's still got the talent that made him one of the top prospects in the 2015 draft, Randy Gregory is the best right end Dallas has. He could wind up being their biggest addition of the offseason.
While he wasn't technically a draft pick, La'el Collins joined the Cowboys in 2015. After several years of shifting spots on the offensive line, he should be returning as the right tackle and that could be big for his development.
Collins was solid last year but moving to a new position, and some health issues, were evident in his play. 2018 gives him a chance to finally build on what he's learned rather than having to relearn technique.
Remember, La'el was a right tackle in college. He was considered a potential first-round talent in the 2015 class before an undetermined legal problem kept him from being drafted.
If this new stability and hopefully a return to good health help Collins to take it to the next level this year, the already-great Cowboys offensive line will be truly special. Doug Free was better than he got credit for, but La'el has the potential to be just as good as his Pro Bowl teammates.
If Collins delivers, this may truly be the best offensive line in Cowboys history.
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While those four players will get the best opportunities, even guys like Damien Wilson or Chaz Green from the 2015 class are still hanging around. Wilson is always just an injury away from major responsibility at linebacker, and Green was getting first-team reps when Zack Martin was still sitting out during contract negotiations.
Clearly, this is a big season for this 2015 rookie class. Some guys like Gregory and Swaim are fighting for their NFL futures, and others like Jones and Collins are looking to prove they deserve their big salaries.
If the the Cowboys are going to reach their championship goals this year, these young players have to deliver.
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
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