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Cowboys Draft: Running Back Prospects & Strategies

Tommy Simon

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Cowboys Headlines - Draft Prospects and Strategies for Running Backs

Free agency has started and everyone has their own ideas about who the Cowboys should pick up, but let’s not forget about the draft. The NFL Draft is where Dallas will improve or slide year to year, and where the Cowboys can build a dynasty or a disaster.

In previous articles we looked at the defensive prospects and strategies position by position, now let’s start looking at the offensive side of the ball.

First up, a glaring position of need: the running back.

The Cowboys need a running back that can contribute year-one and be the starter going forward. With Free Agency playing out like it has, the Cowboys will surely draft a running back at some point in this draft (of course we said that last year too). So in this article let’s take a look at some of the prospects that could be on the Cowboys radar in the first four rounds.

Before we look at the various players, let’s look at some of the attributes that are important when analyzing the running back position. I typically look at:

  1. Speed – For running backs speed is highly correlated to success
  2. Quickness – Even a higher correlation
  3. Vision - Can’t use speed and quickness if you can’t see the hole
  4. Power/Physicality - Can they break a tackle and can you get a hard when you need it
  5. Patience – Do they let the blockers set up the blocks
  6. Blocking – Do they understand what your assignment is and can you execute it
  7. Route Running – Can they run crisp routes and gain separation
  8. Hands – Do they catch consistently and do they catch with their hands
  9. Intelligence – Do they understand concepts
  10. Character/Work ethic – Are they the right kind of guy

With that in mind, here are some of the players available and where I think they'll go in the draft.

Ezekiel Elliott (OSU)

Strengths

  • Compact, strong lower body
  • Quick, shifty, good change of direction
  • Has breakaway speed
  • Has great vision
  • Quick to hole and can quickly adjust as hole shifts.
  • Good vision and runs to daylight
  • Good balance
  • Can run in between tackles and can run stretch play. Probably better bouncing outside
  • Can get low, take on tackler, keep driving and shed
  • Willing blocker, likes to hit rushers
  • Good technique when blocking, takes on blocker and redirects him past QB
  • Catches with hands and knows how to set up screens
  • Doesn’t get driven backwards often. Finishes run.
  • Prevents negative yardage. When stopped in backfield can shift, redirect and find a way to get a few yards.

Weaknesses

  • Was pushed backwards by bull rush. Knows assignment and is willing, but can be knocked backwards.
  • Tries to bounce outside a little too often
  • Can lose balance at times

Summary

  • Starter day one
  • A complete, three down back
  • Needs to work more in I formation
  • For Dallas he would provide a homerun threat who can play three downs
  • A first rounder, I have him rated as a top 15 player

Derrick Henry (Alabama)

Strengths

  • Big man. A power back with good speed. Physical and a load to tackle
  • Tall, long strider. Speed surprises tacklers and causes them to take bad angles
  • Although he runs upright, he is a strong runner. Tacklers tend to fly off of him.
  • Great stiff arm
  • Breakaway speed. He is a homerun threat
  • Sees hole and hits it quickly. One cut and go.
  • I thought he was an outside the tackle runner, but after watching tape he is a good inside runner. He will be a very good back in an I formation.
  • Can adjust direction when running full speed. Makes him shifty in open field.
  • Long arms that allow for him to stiff arm effectively.
  • Doesn’t get driven backwards often. Finishes run.
  • Gets short yardage. Can get pads low
  • Is a decent blocker and understands assignments
  • Good hands for a running back

Weaknesses

  • Runs straight up. Could be an injury risk
  • When there is heavy traffic, he tends to try to bounce
  • Needs more patience to allow blocks to develop

Summary

  • Has the size and the mentality to be a three down workhorse
  • He will become a complete, three down back. Though probably not at the start.
  • Will excel in a stretch type offense scheme
  • For Dallas, he would provide a homerun threat who can run both out of the I and the stretch play
  • I have him graded as am early second round player. Top 40.

Devontae Booker (Utah)

Strengths

  • Compact frame, low center of balance
  • Brings some physicality. Will lower head and deliver hit.
  • Shifty inside runner
  • Can run the stretch play. Good one cut runner.
  • Hits hole quickly. Hits top speed in two steps
  • Ability to cut back
  • Shows patience to set up blocks
  • Shifty in open field, can turn a tackler around
  • Will try to finish play
  • Is not shy of contact. Will lower his head and take on tackler
  • Good short yardage player, always falls forward

Weaknesses

  • Does not look like he has elite speed. Will need to see workout numbers to see if he can be a homerun type back
  • A body catcher, he needs to work on routes and catching with hands
  • Not an effective blocker. He does not have the effort you want.

Summary

  • Should be a good NFL back. His style will translate well
  • Will do well in an offense that runs the stretch. Patience to see hole, then explodes through gets yardage and then finishes runs
  • Will need to become a better blocker
  • For Cowboys he could be a first and second down back that will give you 15 -20 carries a game
  • I have him graded as a mid-second round player. Top 45-50.

Kenneth Dixon (La Tech)

Strengths

  • Bowling ball, low center of gravity and compact
  • Usually takes more than one defender to tackle him
  • He will lower his shoulder and punish you
  • Really good vision. Sees the hole before it fully opens.
  • Knows how to get the short yardage
  • Is not shy of contact. Will lower his head and take on tacklers
  • Is patient will wait for how to develop
  • Good blocker
  • Good hands and good route runner
  • Showed good speed at combine

Weaknesses

  • Does not look like he has elite speed.
  • Dances too much if there is not a hole he can see
  •  Dances too much at times.

Summary

  • On tape, he is a pounder and got big chunks, but not necessarily a big play guy. At combine showed he has speed to be homerun hitter too
  • Will do well in an offense that runs downhill. He is a North South runner. Needs to play in I, not a stretch
  • Reminds me of Tolbert from Carolina.
  • For Cowboys he could be a first and second down back that will give you 15 carries a game
  • I have him graded as a late second round player. Top 60

C.J. Prosise (Notre Dame)

Strengths

  • Good route runner and catches with hands. Was an former receiver
  • Acceleration and quickness are his best traits running the ball
  • He also exhibits good patience and vision
  • Can move a pile, keeps churning his legs. For his size he does a nice job of finishing plays
  • Having played receiver, he is a mismatch for linebackers and safeties
  • Shifty, good lateral quickness
  • Runs the stretch play well. Better on the outside than inside though
  • Decent blocker, bends knees, squares up

Weaknesses

  • Has had history of injury
  • Runs upright and too tall. Doesn’t get pads low enough and that can allow tacklers to drive him back
  • Tries to bounce outside too frequently
  • Needs to trust what he sees

Summary

  • May be steal of the running back class.
  • Can make the big play. Vision to see hole, quickness to get through, power enough to get through traffic in the hole, speed to finish.
  • He is inexperienced as a running back and will need to learn better techniques.
  • Has a lot of upside. He can run inside and outside. Speed with some power
  • Would be a good starting third down back to begin career, with three down capability as he learns
  • For Cowboys he would be a change of pace back and could be a third down back. In a year or two could be the three down starter.
  • I have him rated at the middle of the third. He is a top 75 player

Alex Collins (Arkansas)

Strengths

  • Quick feet. Short, quick steps allows quick change of direction
  • Good spin move. Uses it well
  • Gets low and drives the pile.
  • Good power and drive on inside runs, will be good in short yardage situations
  • Has some patience, though on most runs he sees hole and drives through it
  • Falls forwards and gets you the extra two yards on each play
  • Doesn’t get driven backwards often. Finishes run.
  • Uses hands to catch. Not a body catcher.
  • Decent route runner
  • Runs like an NFL type back. Hits hole, finds space, gets 6 to 8 yards consistently. Breaks it outside when there is a big hole.
  • Will put a thumping on the tackler

Weaknesses

  • Does not have elite speed
  • Not a big homerun type back.
  • At times he needs to be patient and allow blockers to clear hole
  • Only an adequate blocker. Will need work
  • Will fumble

Summary

  • He is a NFL type back. Pound ball in middle and occasionally break it back outside.
  • Needed to run a good 40 and he would have improved draft positioning.
  • He reminds me of a Chris Ivory type back
  • For Cowboys he could be a work horse back that will give you 20 carries a game and average 4.0 yards a game
  • I have him graded as a late third round player. Top 90.

Jordan Howard (Indiana)

Strengths

  • Strong and powerfully built. Possibly the strongest runner in the draft.
  • Good feet for a power back. Shifty is short space. Can jump cut to avoid tacklers
  • Powerful legs and forward lean allow him to take on tacklers and drive them backwards
  • Good vision. Sees the hole and can accelerate quickly
  • Really good patience. Will let blocks set up
  • Not really used in pass game, but does show the understanding of how to set up screens
  • Vision in open field is really good. See angles that tacklers are taking, can make subtle adjustments to avoid tackler
  • Squares up on blitzers. Willing to block.

Weaknesses

  • While willing to block, he does not have great understanding of schemes yet
  • Looks slow on tape. My concern is if he has speed needed at this level.
  • If he is hit before he gathers speed, he is easy to wrap up.
  • Injury prone

Summary

  • Powerful back. Would be a good first and second down back. Will finish yards to create short yardage plays
  • Will be a good short yardage back.
  • Would be rated higher but concerns for speed and durability
  • For Cowboys he could be a first and second down back that will give you 15 carries a game
  • I have him graded as an early fourth round player. Top 100

Kenyan Drake (Alabama)

Strengths

  • Speed and quickness
  • Big play type back
  • Great working in space
  • Good vision
  • A receiver working out of the running back position, runs good routes, has good hands.
  • If he see hole he will be through it quickly and at full speed
  • Will run between tackle if hole is there, will try to finish run
  • Runs better to the outside. Can either get to the corner or hit hole at full speed and cut back
  • Willing blocker

Weaknesses

  • While he is a willing blocker, he does not have great technique or size to do it
  • Runs upright. Gets knocked back quite often. Can’t get the extra yard
  • Needs to run with more strength
  • Can’t pick up the extra yard
  • He is an injury risk

Summary

  • He is a matchup nightmare. Will be homerun threat and third down back in league
  • Never could break in as starter for Alabama. Also had injuries. So he does have questions
  • Would be rated higher but concerns about power and durability
  • For Cowboys he could be a third down and change of pace back that will give you 10-12 touches per game. He would be a big play threat, but would need to limit touches.
  • I have him graded as early fourth. He will be a top 100 -110 player

Jonathan Williams (Arkansas)

Strengths

  • Very good inside runner
  • Runs with quick, short direction changes
  • A mix of speed and quickness. Good initial burst
  • Decent vision but not great.
  • Decent patience. Will let blockers set up and hole develop
  • Looks to have good breakaway speed
  • Will finish run most times.

Weaknesses

  • Runs upright at time
  • Can dance too much while looking for hole
  • Needs to improve his catching skills
  • Coming off injury

Summary

  • Good inside runner. I think he will be good in I formation or running stretch
  • A good mixture of quickness, shiftiness and speed.
  • Need to see more in pass game to see if he can be a three down back
  • For Cowboys he would be a good two down back that can run inside and still be a break away back.
  • I have him as a top 120 player. This is depending on his medical

Paul Perkins (UCLA)

Strengths

  • Acceleration and quickness are his best traits
  • He sets up blocks and has patience to see plays develop
  • If he see hole he will be through it quickly and at full speed
  • Understand routes and how to set them up
  • Is a playmaker, can give you the big play
  • Shifty, good lateral quickness
  • Can create yardage out of nothing. When he is stopped, he can change direction and pick up positive yardage
  • Elusive in space
  • Provides matchup problems for linebackers in coverage

Weaknesses

  • Has had history of injury
  • Does not have size to be an effective blocker
  • Cannot move the pile, he is not a power back
  • Worry about durability

Summary

  • Better on the outside that running inside
  • Played out of the spread and that is the best option for him. Can either get to the corner or hit hole with quick acceleration and can cut back effectively
  • Would be rated higher but lacks the size and power to run between tackles consistently
  • For Cowboys he could be a third down and change of pace back that can give you 10 -12 touches per game. He would be a big play threat, but would need to limit touches.
  • While there is a lot of buzz about him, I do not see him as an every down back early in his career. I have him graded as late fourth round player. He is a top 130 player

Kelvin Taylor (Florida)

Strengths

  • Solid build. Strong legs and thick upper body
  • Quick, shifty with a burst to daylight
  • Will run through traffic, runs with effort
  • Has good lean, always falls forward
  • Good cut back ability
  • Has good vision. Both at first and second level

Weaknesses

  • Size is an issue
  • Has had below average seasons before 2015
  • Average only 4 yards a carry in 2015
  • Can be hesitant at times hitting the hole. Particularly when there is a lot of traffic in front of him
  • Lacks real power. While he runs hard and does fall forward, he cannot move piles or drive tacklers backwards
  • Do not believe he has top end speed
  • Tries to bounce outside

Summary

  • He can run between tackles or bounce it outside. Runs hard and can get lean. Always gets the extra yard.
  • Would be rated higher but lacks the size and power to run between tackles consistently
  • For Cowboys he could be a change of pace back that can give you 8-10 touches per game.
  • I have him graded as a fifth round player. He is a top 150 player

The Cowboys will need a running back. One strategy they could deploy is to trade down in the first and try to get Elliot in the 10-15 range. However, if the Cowboys stay put in the first and draft a DE (or Jalen Ramsey), then they could go after Derrick Henry in the second. I am higher on him that most, but I do have concerns. If the Cowboys have the same concerns, they could move back with their second and land Booker or Dixon, and an extra pick.

Third round options could be Prosise or Collins. An early fourth round option could be Howard and a late 4th round option is Williams. If they want to go with a change of pace back, they could probably nab Perkins or Drake in the fourth.

There are a lot of viable options in this draft, but I suspect the Cowboys will try to draft a running back in the third or fourth round.

In the next article, I will take a look at the receiver position.



Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO. Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country. Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews. For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

Dallas Cowboys

Have the Dallas Cowboys Overcome Their 2nd-Round Curse?

Brian Martin

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Have the Dallas Cowboys Overcome Their 2nd-Round Curse?

You may not be aware or maybe you've simply forgotten, but the Dallas Cowboys have struggled drafting players in the 2nd-round who can come in and contribute. Typically players drafted this highly are not only immediate contributors as a rookie, but are cornerstone players for years to come. That hasn't been the case for the Cowboys.

I don't know where you stand, but I was beginning to think the Dallas Cowboys were cursed with their 2nd-round draft picks. I know this was an area where they would gamble on players for some reason or another, but unfortunately it never really paid off. Hopefully, things are changing for the better.

Let's take a look back at past drafts to see what I'm talking about.

Past 2nd-Round Draft Picks Dating Back to 2006:

2018 Connor Williams
2017 Chidobe Awuzie
2016 Jaylon Smith
2015 Randy Gregory
2014 DeMarcus Lawrence
2013 Gavin Escobar
2012 (no selection) used to trade for Morris Claiborne
2011 Bruce Carter
2010 Sean Lee
2009 (no selection) traded out of 2nd-round
2008 Martellus Bennett
2007 (no selection) used to trade back into 1st for Anthony Spencer
2006 Anthony Fasano

You may be wondering why I decided to start all the way back in 2006. Well, I believe that's when the 2nd-round draft picks curse started for the Dallas Cowboys.

Anthony Fasano ended up having a solid career in the NFL, but he never lived up to his draft status as a former 2nd-round draft pick. The same can be said for Martellus Bennett, Gavin Escobar, and Bruce Carter. Shed a tear for them if you want, but I'd put them in the "bust" category.

Sean Lee

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

The sad truth is, Sean Lee is the only 2nd-round draft pick on this list to ever see a second contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Although, I guess you can include DeMarcus Lawrence since he will be playing under the franchise tag in 2018. But, that's still not a very good hit percentage in the 2nd-round for more than a decade. Luckily, it looks as if things are changing.

DeMarcus Lawrence might end up being another "hit" for the Cowboys. It may have taken him four years to reach his potential, but there's no denying how dominant he was last season. If he can maintain that dominance this season, he could be looking at a big payday from the Cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys took a risk on the next two players they drafted after D-Law. They knew Randy Gregory had his off the field issues, but were willing to take a chance on his talent in the 2nd-round. That has yet to pay off, but Gregory has a chance to rebound now that it looks as if he has his life back in order.

Jaylon Smith

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

The Cowboys took another risk in the following draft when they drafted Jaylon Smith. No one knew if he would ever be able to play again after the devastating knee injury he sustained in his final collegiate game, but it's looking as if he could make a full recovery and return to his pre-injury form. Year 3 will be big for him, but he could end up being an absolute steal.

Fortunately, the Cowboys 2017 and 2018 2nd-round draft picks (Chidobe Awuzie and Connor Williams) look to be cornerstone players for years to come. That's what you're looking for in players drafted this highly.

I say all of this because it's really looking like the Dallas Cowboys have finally broken their 2nd-round curse. Maybe it's a change in draft philosophy or maybe it's because Will McClay's voice carries more weight in the draft room, but it's definitely good news for the future of the franchise. Hopefully it continues.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys 2nd-round curse has ended?



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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Class: How Many Will Be Starters In 2018?

Kevin Brady

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2018 NFL Combine: 3 LBs Who Impressed
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have been showered with praise by most national NFL media outlets for their 2018 NFL Draft class. NFL.com graded the Cowboys as having the 2nd best class in the league, and most other analysts have agreed that the team had a strong showing.

But now, of course, it's time to see what these new players will actually do on the field. Some are hoping the team found 3-5 new starters for the 2018 roster, but history would suggest that is pretty rare.

Dallas' 2016 draft class has been lauded as one of the best in the last decade, especially considering they look to have found their franchise quarterback in round four. That strong class only features four full-time starters heading into 2018, but we have to wonder if that's the outlier and not the norm.

Still, as we look back and examine this 2018 draft class it really appears they have found three day one starters in the first three rounds.

First round pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker this season, with former second round selection Jaylon Smith moving to SAM. Vander Esch wasn't my favorite option at 19, but he is certainly starter-worthy in this Cowboys LB corps.

On day two the Cowboys added OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup, two of my personal favorite picks of their entire class. Williams should be the starting LG week 1 of the season, and Michael Gallup may overtake Allen Hurns as the most productive WR on the roster by year's end.

Cowboys Land Small School WR In Latest PFF Mock Draft

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 1: DUPLICATE***Colorado State Rams wide receiver Michael Gallup (4) picks up a few yards after catch as Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Isaiah Oliver (26) comes in for the tackle during the first quarter on September 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado at Sports Authority Field. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)

What about the rest of the class?

Dorance Armstrong will probably have too much competition to start at defensive end this season, but he should be an interesting rotational pass rusher. TE Dalton Schultz has the chance to surprise some people, but overtaking Geoff Swaim as the "starter" would be unexpected.

After that, the player with the best chance to make the team and contribute early on might be Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a late day-two, early day-three pick to me so snagging him in the sixth round should provide incredible value to this roster. That wide out room is getting very crowded, though, so Wilson has his work cut out for him heading into camp.

How many of the Cowboys' 2018 draft picks will be starters in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.



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NFL Draft

Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?

One of the many winners of the 2018 NFL Draft were, without a doubt, the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they addressed some of the team's most pressing needs, but they managed to draft very talented, capable players beyond the first round.

Cowboys Nation had to feel better about the rookie class the front office walked away with, specially after the second day of the Draft. Just like last year, they managed to find steals in the second and third rounds. In 2017, they did so with Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Now, they stayed put at their original picks and walked away with OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup.

But first things first. In the eyes of many, Leighton Vander Esch wasn't worth the 19th overall pick. While I do agree that Vander Esch was a questionable selection, the Cowboys fixed arguably their most concerning position of all. As much as it pains to admit it, Sean Lee has yet to play an entire NFL season and Jaylon Smith was pretty much the only other capable starter on the roster.

Cowboys en Español: Dallas Selecciona a Vander Esch, ¿Quién Sigue?

Although Vander Esch needs to develop a ton before reaching his full potential. he's a week 1 starter and an early contributor for this defense. Whether it felt like a "reach" or not, the Cowboys took a starter in the Boise State linebacker.

Later, the Cowboys managed to add an arguably first-round talent with pick #50 to plug-and-play along the offensive line. Texas OL Connor Williams was also seen as a tackle prospect, but he'll likely start at guard for Dallas as a rookie.

Since Ron Leary left for Denver, the left guard spot hasn't been as stable. Jonathan Cooper did a decent job filling that spot, but with Williams taking his place, the Cowboys dominance in the trenches will finally return. Playing next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Connor Williams might become the best rookie in this class for the Cowboys.

One can't simply say the team found a "replacement" for Dez Bryant since he's a special player and with a very specific skill set, but Michael Gallup from Colorado State has the potential to become the team's WR1 pretty soon.

In the team's effort to build a Dak-friendly offense, Gallup is a crafty and smooth route-runner who has what it takes to play in any spot of the offense. His skill-set will allow him to play anywhere on the field and become Dak's favorite target in a year in which Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will no longer be lining up on his squad.

Taken in the first three rounds, Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup will be unquestionable starters. The question, however, is who else could become a starter for the Cowboys? Who could line up and start in week 1?

Dallas Cowboys Add Depth on Day 3, Building Future with Young Starters 1

Even though it definitely isn't as certain as the other three rookies, I'm betting on Dalton Schultz to be a more important starter than we imagine. Listen, maybe it's not an ideal scenario to have the TE from Stanford start in week 1, but it could be necessary.

The Rico Gathers Adventure might just be over before it starts and Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin may not be anything special. In college, Schultz was pretty good at run blocking. In the Cowboys' offense, led by one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott, Schultz may be able to find success earlier than expected.

Besides, he has what it takes to catch passes in the NFL and although he certainly won't be the flashiest, he could be enough to give Dak Prescott a reliable tight end.

Dalton Schultz could be the surprise of this Draft for Dallas. He'll probably become a starter at some point in the season and for a fourth-round pick, that's a very good thing to say.

For a front office that's constantly bashed by Cowboys Nation, their job at this year's NFL Draft was a pretty good one. Now it's just a matter of time to find out which picks were as good as we originally thought.

Tell me what you think about "Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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