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Cowboys 2017 Rookies Have Tough Act to Follow

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

Entering the NFL as a rookie is never easy. Some guys get better situations than others, but adjusting to the speed and style of professional football is a challenge for almost anyone. For the 2017 rookies class of the Dallas Cowboys, it's an especially difficult task because they have a tough act to follow.

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Maliek Collins, Anthony Brown; the 2016 class immediately gave the Cowboys two new franchise stars on offense and two studs on defense. All four players should be starters this year. Jaylon Smith is also looming as a new leader on defense, making a delayed debut after recovering from a major knee injury.

The Cowboys are also hoping for contributions from defensive end Charles Tapper and safety Kavon Frazier, who should be key backups and perhaps rotation players. Then we get to Rico Gathers, the tight end prospect who was having a fabulous preseason before suffering a concussion. He will hopefully be back sometime this year.

And running back Darius Jackson?

Well, they can't all be winners.

You get the point, though. The Cowboys already have one of their better draft classes of all time. If players continue on their current trajectories, it could easily be the best in franchise history. If these guys can win a few Super Bowls together, then it may be one of the best classes the NFL has ever seen.

Taco Charlton

DE Taco Charlton and Cowboys management

That is the bar that Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Ryan Switzer, and other 2017 rookies are now having to prove themselves against. As fans and analysts, it's easy to become a hypocrite without realizing it, calling 2016 an all-time great class but then also expecting this year's rookies to have the same immediate success. if it happened every year, 2016 wouldn't be special.

Comparative analysis is one of the great enemies of professional athletes. Their production is always going to be held up next to other players in the league, or past stars at their position. This analysis is often highly flawed, ignoring variables from one player or situation to the next. Still, that doesn't stop it from being common practice in sports journalism.

Charlton, Awuzie, and Lewis are already at a disadvantage just because of joining the Cowboys' defense instead of its offense. Dak and Zeke got to be replacement and upgrade parts to an already-working machine. These defensive rookies are being asked to be part of a whole new machine.

Switzer gets the easier gig, stepping into that great Cowboys offense and not being relied on for anything right away. Dallas still has Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Brice Butler and can afford to work Switzer in slowly. His best opportunities to shine will come on special teams as the new return man, and the bar there is low enough that Ryan can impress fans by only making a few big plays this season.

Chidobe Awuzie

CB Chidobe Awuzie

Back to the defense; Taco Charlton at least gets to join rotation and not have too much expected right away. It's our young cornerbacks who face the toughest challenge, perhaps having to take on major roles quickly this year. What's worse, they barely go to play at all this preseason.

Chidobe Awuzie played in the Hall-of-Fame Game but then missed the rest of the preseason with hamstring problems. Jourdan Lewis, also dealing with a hamstring, missed all four preseason games.  They have also been limited in practice due to this.

Cornerback is still one of the toughest positions for players to make the transition from college to the NFL. Nevertheless, despite this and the work they've missed, Awuzie and Lewis may still be forced into duty early.

Orlando Scandrick has struggled with injuries the last few seasons and is now 30-years-old. Nolan Carroll, also 30, could be suspended for a few games at some point this year for his DWI arrest last May. That would leave just Anthony Brown and newly-acquired veteran Bene Benwikere to play corner. We don't even know yet what Benwikere has to offer or where he'll be on the depth chart, let alone how long he'll even be on the roster.

After watching Anthony Brown have to play major minutes last year due to Scandrick and Morris Claiborne's injuries, it's easy to assume that Awuzie or Lewis, maybe both, will also have to step up and play a big role at some point in 2017.

Maliek Collins

DT Maliek Collins

Even on the defense, though, we saw Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown meet that challenge last year. Collins emerged as one of the team's best defensive lineman, pushing veterans like Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton out of the spotlight. He enters 2017 expected to be one of the team's new defensive leaders, perhaps its best player after Sean Lee.

Anthony Brown not only held up but shined at corner, leaving little perceivable drop-off from Claiborne or Scandrick when he was playing for them. It was astounding for a sixth-round pick to be able to handle so much so quickly, and that speaks to even more of the challenge that our 2017 rookies face.

Collins was a third-round pick, Brown was sixth round; that didn't stop them from having instant success. Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis were taken in the first three rounds and won't have any excuse there for starting slowly.

Even though it was on the other side of the ball, Dak Prescott set a new standard in Dallas for rookie excellence. The fourth-round pick didn't expect to be starting and didn't even know he'd have to until after the team's third preseason game, a little over two weeks before the Cowboys' first regular season game. We know the rest of that story.

~ ~ ~

This isn't to say that our 2017 rookies can't meet that standard. Nobody knew what Dak Prescott would be until he started showing it in September. Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown built their reputations in the regular season. Our new players will get their moments and opportunities, so perhaps the greatest surprise of all will be seeing yet another amazing draft class emerge.

This is just a dose of reality; a reminder that what we had last year was very special. To expect the same this year is really unfair to the 2017 class. We can't hold them to the 2016 class' standard, because arguably no draft class in Cowboys history measures up to that.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Game Notes

Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins

The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.

Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.

Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.

Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.

David Moore on Twitter

Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.

Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.

The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.

Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.

Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.

Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.

Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.

He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.

If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.

Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.

Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.

That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Pass Rush Better than They're Given Credit For
James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.

But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.

According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.

Brian Burke on Twitter

Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.

What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.

For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.

As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.

Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.

Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).

Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.



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Player News

Cowboys WR Tavon Austin Skipping Surgery, May Return in 2018

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys WR Tavon Austin Skipping Surgery, May Return in 2018

A groin injury sustained last week against Jacksonville won't send Tavon Austin to injured reserve, at least for now. The Dallas Cowboys receiver has elected to forego surgery at this time, giving him a chance to return to action in 2018.

There was concern that Austin could land on IR initially following the Jaguars game, but he sought a second opinion this week. It appears that this new information was enough for Tavon and the Cowboys to decide that surgery can wait.

Rob Phillips on Twitter

Sounds like WR Tavon Austin will not have surgery at this time after getting a second opinion on his groin injury. He could miss a few weeks, however. #cowboyswire

Austin should miss this Sunday's game with the Washington Redskins. He has been the team's punt returner this season and a useful tool on offense, playing mostly receiver but also lining up the backfield at times.

Despite his limited opportunities, Tavon is tied with Cole Beasley for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns in 2018.

How long Austin will remain out is unknown at this time. After the Washington game, Dallas will have their bye week and then host the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.

Both of these are games that the Cowboys, feeling good after a blowout victory over Jacksonville, should be able to win without Austin. But they would certainly like him back for the Week 10 road game with the Philadelphia Eagles.

In Tavon's absence, Cole Beasley will likely field punts. We may see more of Deonte Thompson in the speed routes that Austin ran on offense, though Dallas could also finally see what recently returned Brice Butler has to offer.

With an expiring contract this year, Tavon will likely want to get back soon and trying to improve his stock for the 2019 offseason. Hopefully, he can still have a positive impact on his value and the Cowboys season in the weeks ahead.



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