Watching Deonte Thompson dart down the field untouched for 108 yards and a touchdown Saturday night reminded me of why my final 53 comes with a degree of limitations. I am basing my prediction off of who I see having standout performances on offense and defense alone.
But, unfortunately, the guy who performs better on Special Teams, as far as the bottom of the depth chart, are the players that are typically retained, meaning that players such as Jamar Newsome and/or LaRon Byrd could still be on the outside looking in, versus a few corners who otherwise don't even look as though they belong on an NFL field (Scandrick’s suspension situation certainly doesn’t help matters).
With that being said, a quick disclaimer: The following will be a departure from what I think the Cowboys will do; this is my fantasy 53, in a world where every player is great at Special Teams.
Dustin Vaughan has proven he is worthy of a spot on the final 53. But he very well may get caught up in the numbers crunch, and if he does, I find it very hard to believe he will make it to the practice squad. Beyond his prototypical size, ability to make every type of throw at every level, and accuracy, he has something that typically takes rookies a few years to grasp – poise. The only question that remains - and one that I would love to see answered in one of the next few preseason games - is how does he perform against the opposition’s top-tier players using the Cowboys' top weapons and offensive line? That wish may be a few years premature.
When the final 53 is announced, this position is likely to break a lot of hearts. I remained the same here, despite Jamar Newsome’s “breakout” performance against the Ravens. For now, LaRon Byrd still has the inside-track. Despite which receivers eventually makes the team, arguably 8 players in this position group belong in the NFL.
Nothing to add or subtract here. However, I will say in terms of pass catchers, this group could be the strongest it has ever been in the history of Cowboys' TE roster depth.
Truth be told, Joseph Randle looks to be winning this battle. He may not be the better overall runner, over Ryan Williams, but he does everything well; from picking up blitzes to covering kicks on special teams, he can contribute all over the team. My issue with Randle is his lack of break-away speed; when he is on the field, defenses will never have to account for him, because the only opposing player he is certain to outrun in a foot race is the Defensive Tackle.
If the Cowboys keep four running backs or tight ends, the Full Back would likely be the casualty. Clutts still has the inside-track over Copeland.
Weems has struggled with both play and staying healthy. With the injury issues on the defensive side of the ball, this likely will be one of the easier cuts for the Cowboys. John Wetzel is a player to watch; from what I have read, he is making a strong case for further consideration.
I am staying with the same cast of characters from my last 53, because if Frederick is injured, Bernadeau is his back-up. Nwaneri is a great insurance policy that the Cowboys can still afford.
Nothing new here; Frederick should be a Dallas Cowboys for at least the next 5 years.
Ben Gardner was making the team on my last 53. Due to Gardner’s season-ending injury, I replaced him for the time being with Kenneth Boatright. Truthfully, though, none of the above have distinguished themselves as a threat opposing offenses have to account for in game-planning thus far.
Ken Bishop was on this list in my last final 53, but he has been somewhat of an invisible man so far. I replaced him with Zach Minter by merit of the fact that, at least, he showed up in a significant way against the Ravens. However, I wouldn’t fall in love just yet with Minter. Against the run, he was pushed around like he was on skates when he first took snaps in the second half. The second chance received, he showed up against a guy who likely doesn’t make the Ravens final 53; I would really like to see Minter against a legitimate starting Guard. Having said that, no other player has distinguished themselves as he did in limited snaps; and he did so after just a handful of practices. As far as the real final 53, Nick Hayden probably makes the team at this point in the preseason.
Orie Lemon was a part of this group, however, like many players already cut from my original 53, he has not done anything to separate himself and with the necessity of bolstering the Cornerback ranks for the impending Scandrick suspension, the Cowboys will likely go light here. Special Teams, however, may dictate otherwise.
B.W. Webb likely makes this group due to his experience in the system and his ability to contribute elsewhere on the team, but overall I’m not crazy about his coverage ability or lack of size. This is not exactly meant to be an endorsement of Green, but for now he is the unknown quantity that I’m hoping proves to be an excellent addition to the team. Furthermore, as stated in the beginning, if the Cowboys only go with 5 receivers, this is likely the position that extra spot goes to, which is a battle between Sterling Moore and Tyler Patmon.
J. J. Wilcox
Jeff Heath likely makes the team at the expense of Jakar Hamilton, due to his ability to contribute on Special Teams.
Bailey and Ladouceur are still locks for the team. Based on the recent signing of Tom Hornsey, it’s hard to determine if Jones is safe. Personally, I am not a fan of Jones’ leg strength, which is why I replaced Jones on my 53. There is no question about Hornsey’s leg having punted a 79-yarder against Duke in college; the question is his ability to punt directionally and within the 20 to help the Cowboys win field position battles.
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?
Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.
Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.
They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?
Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.
Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.
Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.
Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.
Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.
This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.
The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.
3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018
Coming into the 2018 season, loads of questions surrounded the Dallas Cowboys and the future of their roster.
Could their defense stay intact when the annual Sean Lee injury occurred? Was Kris Richard going to lead the Cowboys young secondary to places we thought they could be? And would Dak Prescott earn a contact extension and become the official franchise quarterback of America's Team.
Of course, there are tons of other questions that may have gone unanswered, but these three critical areas seem to find clarity in 2018.
Leighton Vander Esch And Jaylon Smith Are Legit
The Dallas Cowboys caught a lot of flack for their selection both of these linebackers, each for different reasons.
When they snagged Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was still unknown to the public if Smith could ever even play football again. When they took Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall last April, fans questioned how valuable an off-ball linebacker would be on a defense that already had Sean Lee.
Well, after their first full season together, it's easy to say that both Vander Esch and Smith are the linebacker options of the future in Dallas. Named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season, Vander Esch took the world by storm in 2018. When Lee went down, he was there to not only fill his shoes, but to outplay the veteran all year long.
What is fun to consider is that as good as Vander Esch was this season, Jaylon Smith might be even better. Both posses insane sideline to sideline pursuit ability, and are some of the surest tacklers in all of football.
Watching these two grow together will be a pleasure over the coming seasons.
Their Young Secondary Is Coming Together
Like their linebackers, the Dallas Cowboys secondary is a young group, who fans are excited to watch grow throughout the years. It seemed like more pressure sat on the shoulders of young cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie than of Smith and Vander Esch, however.
With Kris Richard joining the staff and making the decision to move Jones to cornerback full time, it was do-or-die for the former first round pick. Byron Jones answered all the doubters, earning not only a Pro Bowl selection but also First Team All Pro honors for his performance.
Opposite him, Awuzie had a rough start to his sophomore campaign. While typically right there in coverage, wide outs too often made contested catches over him. Over the final few weeks of the year, however, that changed and Awuzie played some of the best football yet.
Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis (in much fewer snaps) all had fantastic seasons as well, giving the Cowboys great hope and confidence in their secondary moving forward. They may need to add another safety during the offseason, however, though Jeff Heath remains more than just a viable option.
Dak Prescott Is Here To Stay
Whether or not you think it's justified, Dak Prescott is the quarterback of the future in Dallas. And he earned that right the back-half of 2018 and during the postseason. After a shaky start to his 3rd season, Prescott turned things around nicely, leading the Cowboys to a 7-1 finish to the regular season.
Prescott played the best football of his young career down the stretch, and showed just how valuable he is both on the field and in the locker room. It seemed like every game he made 2-3 winning plays that put the Cowboys over the top that afternoon.
Dak is going to get a contract extension, and will be locked in as a Cowboy for the foreseeable future, and with the way he played the final 10 games of his season, I can't second guess this decision much at all.
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