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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.

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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!

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Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Cowboys have just one more game to get through without their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve been able to fill in out of the backfield for Zeke Elliott. Throughout the time Elliott has missed though, the Cowboys have lacked the explosive plays on offense that he can provide – until Rod Smith was given an opportunity last week at the Giants.

Smith complimented Morris exceptionally well, running with quickness and power to prove his case for more of a role on offense behind Elliott moving forward. It was the Ohio State product’s consecutive touchdowns of 81 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground that sealed the game for the Cowboys in week 14.

Here is a closer look at Rod Smith’s performance from last week in this latest Sean’s Scout.

Smith3 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

The Cowboys offensive line was dominant as always against a tough New York defensive front, and this first play is a great look at their execution in space and on the move. Rod Smith’s decisiveness when hitting the hole with speed and balance was the first thing I noticed on the game tape.

The best thing Smith does on this play comes at the second level, where running backs can truly make a difference in Dallas. As RG Zack Martin rides his man out of the play entirely, he gets in front of Smith who is seeing the play develop straight ahead. With his long strides, Smith is able to smoothly get through traffic and continue accelerating up field through arm tackles for a big gain.

Smith2 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

These same traits are seen with Rod Smith as a pass catcher – something he does effortlessly to also help fill the void left by Elliott. Watch how quickly Smith commits to his angle up the field after catching this dump pass from Dak Prescott, attacking a defender that has the angle on him after the catch.

Rod subtly leans to the right just enough to make the defender hesitate long enough to allow his burst to evade him and gain extra yards falling forward.

Smith4 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

Smith essentially does the same thing without the ball in his hands here, on his 81 yard catch and run for a touchdown. Setting up the safety out of the slot to be beat across his face, Smith separates from him at the stem and then does a great job getting depth on his route into the vacated middle of the field. With blockers to help him reach the end zone, Smith turns this busted coverage by the Giants into the game’s biggest play.

Smith1 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

This last play I chose to show is probably the least well-blocked attempt for Smith out of the ones in this Sean’s Scout, but there is still a lot to like about what Rod does here with the ball in his hands.

The Giants might be a two-win football team, but they still have marquee players up front, particularly DE Olivier Vernon. Smith does well here to keep his feet moving as he cuts this play to the backside. Vernon does well to limit the potential gain on this play by staying away from the block of Jason Witten, as Smith is taken down by Darian Thompson.

The numbers the Giants had to commit to stopping the run was still a huge reason why Prescott had a career day throwing the football, and Rod Smith’s readiness to step in at RB was a deciding factor in getting Dallas to 7-6.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Proving to be one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable players, considering his cost (under contract through 2018), and ability to contribute on special teams and offense, Rod Smith is the perfect RB3 for this team.

Smith is not elite in any one area, and is not a prototypical RB from a physical standpoint, but his contributions as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker could remain critical to the Cowboys’ hopes of reaching the playoffs behind this offense – even when Ezekiel Elliott is back in the fold.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who’s The Cowboys Real RB1?

Brian Martin

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Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who's Cowboys' Real RB1?

The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from welcoming back their talented Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, but until then they still have a game to play against the Oakland Raiders. That means we will have one more week of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith handling the workload, but which RB is sitting at the top of the Cowboys depth chart?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of decision that can end up winning or losing a game. Both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have had their moments during Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, but neither one of them have really distanced themselves from the other. So, should Rod Smith or Alfred Morris receive the majority of the workload against the Raiders Sunday?

A Case for Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith and QB Dak PrescottRod Smith might just have had is coming out party last week against the New York Giants. Against their divisional rival, in what was a must win game for the Cowboys, Smith rushed for 47 yards on six carries and added another 113 yards through the air on five catches. He also found himself in the end zone twice, once on a rushing touchdown and the other on a receiving touchdown.

You may or may not agree, but I believe that “Lightning” Rod Smith was largely responsible for igniting the Cowboys offense and helping them pull away from the Giants last Sunday. He accounted for over 160 total yards and two touchdowns by himself and didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later in the game.

Rod Smith certainly has traits that make him a more desirable RB over Alfred Morris. First off, he is a more complete back. He is better in pass protection and at catching the ball out of the backfield. But, he is also starting to show up in the running game and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season. His size (6’3″, 235) also makes him a better short yardage back, although I wish he would deliver more of a blow at the end of his runs.

A Case for Alfred Morris

RB Alfred MorrisAlthough there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about Alfred Morris, he has proven time and time again he is more than capable of carrying the workload. He has received the majority of the workload during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and has performed pretty well. In fact, he is averaging 5 yards a carry this season, which is better than any other RB on the Cowboys roster, including Elliott.

Alfred Morris has looked pretty good this season and is playing with more of a spring in his step than I have seen from him in probably his entire career. Last Sunday against the Giants he received the the majority of the workload and finished the game with 19 carries for 62 yards. Not particularly spectacular, but the week prior he did rush for 127 yards on 27 carries in the victory over the Washington Redskins.

Like I mentioned earlier, Morris is a tried-and-true RB in the NFL and is at his best when he can continue to pound the rock and wear down opposing defenses. That is what he did against the Redskins, but he has his limitations as well. Despite his years in the league, he still struggles in pass protection and is limited in what he can do in the passing game. But, he does seem to have the trust of the Cowboys coaching staff.

✭✭✭✭✭

Personally, I would like to see more of Rod Smith this coming Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. I really like what I’ve seen from him in both the running game and in the passing game. I just think he is a more dangerous and versatile weapon then Alfred Morris. His presence on the field really opens up what the Cowboys can do offensively.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Alfred Morris at all. I just think that Rod Smith has proven he is a more dangerous offensive weapon of the two. I don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will agree or not, but I truly believe Rod Smith could once again be the X factor against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, both Rod Smith and Alfred Morris will have to take the back seat once Ezekiel Elliott returns. So, this discussion really only has any credibility for this week in yet another must win situation against the Oakland Raiders.

Who do you like better… Rod Smith or Alfred Morris?

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La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin

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La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?

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