Whenever younger players can earn starting jobs on a NFL roster, that team is going to improve, and such was the case in a dramatic way following the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 NFL Draft. Now with a fresh haul of players brought in with the 2017 draft, nine young members of America's Team will look to push current members for their jobs.
After already looking at which Cowboys were given a vote of confidence based on Dallas' draft plans, here are a few that need to be ready to finish the fight in proving their worth for the 2017 season.
The world may have very well ended if the Cowboys came away from the 2017 NFL Draft without addressing the defensive end position at all, but dedicating their first round pick to Taco Charlton is bad news for DeMarcus Lawrence entering a contract year.
Charlton, like Lawrence, projects best as a very solid LDE - but the Cowboys seem committed to giving him an opportunity on the right side, another position Lawrence was asked to fill in at during his brief nine games with just one sack in 2016.
Various injuries and a suspension along the way have held DeMarcus Lawrence back from being the cornerstone pass rusher that the Cowboys desperately needed him to be when selecting him in the second round in 2015, appearing in just 32 career games.
D-Law has a lot of ground to make up in a short period of time this season if he is going to prove of any value beyond 2017 for the Cowboys, especially with Taco Charlton bringing fresh blood to his position.
CB Orlando Scandrick
Whether or not veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick's services are even part of the Cowboys plans for a young secondary this season is something discussed by Staff Writer Brian Martin here at Inside The Star, following reports of Dallas' intention to trade Orlando.
Scandrick has proven to be at his best when a fire is lit under him, and if he is here to stay, this fire will spread not only amidst trade talks but via rookies Chidobe Awuzie and slot CB Jourdan Lewis.
I still believe the best version of the Dallas Cowboys defense moving forward included Orlando Scandrick, but they may certainly feel differently when it comes time to actually crunch the numbers on this roster.
S Robert Blanton
Playing in the NFL can be a cruel life for mid-tier players like veteran safety Robert Blanton. A pre-draft addition in free agency, Blanton can certainly bring some toughness and consistency to the position in Dallas, but will now face competition from Xavier Woods along with Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier.
All younger options to replace a player that certainly doesn't bring anything amazing to the back-end of Rod Marinelli's defense, Blanton may have a tough time standing out with limited opportunities. Jeff Heath was already a player I highlighted as one the Cowboys are confident in, and with that confidence should come reps over the summer.
Assuming Woods gets his fair chance as well along with Frazier - who practically redshirted his first season - Robert Blanton could soon be back on the free agent market.
DT Cedric Thornton
Already employing a rotation along their defensive line, Cowboys DT Cedric Thornton's roster status may not be in jeopardy, but his playing time at the 1T position certainly could be.
The Cowboys feel good about their depth on the interior of the line with second-year player Maliek Collins holding down the 3T position, surrounded by contributions from Thornton, David Irving, Tyrone Crawford, and Stephen Paea.
More snaps off may even help Thornton make more plays as a disruptive 1T DT, but not if his role becomes entirely diminished by any combination of Paea, Irving, or seventh round picks Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell.
WR Lucky Whitehead
On a roster as competitive as the Cowboys, Lucky Whitehead's role is incredibly limited - and the gadget player/return man has left the door wide open to be replaced by not only a more dynamic but a more complete one too.
This player could be the 133rd overall pick Ryan Switzer, who served as a do-it-all offensive weapon and dangerous punt returner in the ACC at North Carolina.
Quincy McDuffie was also added from the CFL this offseason as a return option, creating additional competition for Whitehead, but using a fourth round draft pick on a receiver that fits the mold of Lucky's replacement is a telling sign for Whitehead and the rest of the WRs fighting for opportunity in what projects as one of the league's best offenses in Dallas this season.
WR Brice Butler
A look at the way the Cowboys have handled Brice Butler's status on the WR depth chart this offseason is a great example of how the team wants to build the entirety of the roster through competition.
Once an absolutely necessary target to have on the outside in the absence of Dez Bryant, Butler is signed on a new one-year deal only through 2017 and will have to earn his chances against both Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown.
Switzer projects more as a gadget player and slot WR offensively, but the Cowboys' fourth round pick could still take Butler off the field in certain situations - a one-dimensional player at times as is with downfield speed but inconsistent hands.
Noah Brown will be motivated to earn a tough roster spot at receiver thanks to his blocking ability, an elite trait of his that is absolutely valued in Scott Linehan's offense. This too could push Butler to become more consistent and contribute at the top of the depth chart with the likes of Bryant, Williams, and Beasley.
The heat of the upcoming summer months are sure to bring with it plenty of heated competition for roster spots on the Dallas Cowboys through training camp and the preseason. Head Coach Jason Garrett would not have it any other way, and with his front office orchestrating another solid draft, look for some young players to try to continue the youth movement in the silver and blue.
Next Day Rant: Too Many Letdown Games Under Jason Garrett
Yesterday's 23-0 shutout in Indianapolis was one of the ugliest losses the Dallas Cowboys have had during Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach. Even though it probably won't cost them a playoff spot this year, let alone the NFC East title, it still reminds us of a painful history with Garrett's teams.
It takes me back to those 8-8 seasons during Jason's first three years as head coach, when playoff hopes were dashed time and again by that inevitable letdown loss in December.
In 2011, the Cowboys were 8-6 with two games to go. The NFC East was all bunched together, with the division title and playoffs in reach. Dallas fell flat in a 20-7 home loss to the Eagles, then got walloped 31-14 in New York.
2012; Dallas is again 8-6. They lost at home, in overtime, to a Saints team that finished the year 7-9. It robbed them of the chance to make their Week 17 finale against Washington, the eventual division winner, a meaningful game.
2013; Dallas is 7-5 after Thanksgiving. They go 1-3 to finish the year, losing to two teams who finished the year with just 8 wins each.
This loss reminded me of those years, where the team just didn't look hungry or emotionally prepared to play despite having everything to play for. For as much as we've credited Jason Garrett for his work as a motivator and leader, these blemishes can't be ignored.
To be fair, yesterday's game was a recipe for a loss. The Cowboys were riding high on their five-game win streak. They knew that all they needed was one win in their next three games to clinch the NFC East.
Meanwhile, the Colts are part of a cluster of teams vying for the last Wild Card spot in the AFC. One loss could be the difference between playing football in January or preparing for the offseason.
One team was comfortable and maybe a little complacent, and the other was desperate. Throw in home field and having a better quarterback, and Indianapolis was rightly favored to win the game.
But that 3-point spread was one thing, and Dallas losing 23-0 is another.
Other than their upset win over New Orleans, the Cowboys haven't exactly been taking on the cream of the NFL crop during this win streak. Atlanta is 5-9 and the Eagles and Redskins are both just 7-7.
This Colts game was a chance for Dallas to show its mettle against a legitimate playoff contender. They'd failed throughout the year, losing to Carolina, Seattle, Houston, and Tennessee. But that was before they got hot and got Amari Cooper going.
This game needed to be different. But instead, it was very familiar.
Once again, Jason Garrett's Cowboys couldn't seal the deal. They got outclassed by a team which, by all appearances, is equal to them in talent.
Panic mode is silly when it comes to Dallas making the playoffs. If they can't get a win over the next two weeks with the Bucs and Giants on the schedule, they don't deserve to be there anyway.
The Cowboys should still win the NFC East regardless of what happened yesterday, but now the concern is if this team is really ready for the playoffs. Because a legit playoff team just made us look like hot garbage.
In the 2014 and 2016 seasons, we've taken solace in how close those games have been. If the Dez catch had been called correctly, or if Aaron Rodgers hadn't pulled that throw to Jared Cook out of his butt, the Cowboys might have very well advanced to the NFC Championship. They were contenders, and they took those games down to the wire.
But is this Dallas team a contender, or are they going to be the champions of a weak division? Will they compete in January?
That's the scary thought that yesterday's disaster leaves me with. On average, Jason Garrett has these guys motivated to play. Even when you question the X's and O's, the team almost always seems to play hard.
But they didn't in Indianapolis. They appeared to be resting on the laurels of their win streak and seemingly inevitable division title, and that's concerning with playoff games on the horizon.
Maybe this game was exactly the kind of wake-up call that this young roster needed. This isn't 2016 again; you're not rolling into the playoffs as a 13-win juggernaut.
A good coach uses a game like this to help his team learn and grow. It's actually great for them if it eradicates any potential complacency that had set in.
But that means Jason Garrett has to overcome his history. We've been let down too many times already.
Cowboys Nation, It’s Time To Take a Deep Breath
It's difficult to find the words after watching the Dallas Cowboys perform (if you can even call it that) the way they did against the Indianapolis Colts. The team's five-game winning streak came to an end in a disappointing showing in literally every phase of the game. The Cowboys walked away from this game with zero points on the board... zero. It's the first time this franchise is shutout since 2003.
And despite such a bad game, guess what? There's no need to panic. No, the Cowboys' season is not over. No, it's not the end of the world. Even if Cowboys Twitter tries to tell you otherwise. I'm here to ask you to take a deep breath...
The Dallas Cowboys are still one win away from being the 2018 NFC East Champions.
Now, granted, the loss was definitely painful and disappointing. It would've been great to watch Dallas get a statement win on the road against such a hot team. With the defense playing lights out all year, it was odd to watch them get picked apart by Andrew Luck and crushed by Marlon Mack. Tackling was disastrous as was the lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback.
On the other side of the ball, an already concerning unit managed to scare us even more. Play calling remains unbearable to watch, Dak Prescott continues to hold the ball for too long as he refuses to throw it away, and the offensive line's downfall continues With Zack Martin out, Connor Williams didn't really help much as the entire unit got consistently beat by the Colts' defense. Not even Amari Cooper, who had been owning the NFL since week 9, was able to put up a decent showing this time around.
Everything that could have gone wrong, went horribly wrong. And yet, the Cowboys control their own destiny.
They don't depend on the outcomes of any third party as they did in 2017. Sitting at 8-6, abandoning all hope on this team makes no sense. In today's NFL, every football franchise is bound to have a bad game from time to time. That's why the Seattle Seahawks (who currently have a Wild Card spot) fell this week to the 4-10 San Francisco 49ers. That's also why the New England Patriots have suffered losses in back-to-back weeks. Even the Los Angeles Rams, the second seed in the NFC at the moment, were stunned by the Nick Foles-led Philadelphia Eagles!
It's a competitive league. It's as simple as that. If there's one thing we've learned this season is that once January football is on, any given team can beat any other on the Playoffs. The New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers have all proven to be beatable teams.
The Cowboys falling on the road against a very legit threat in the AFC is far from the end of the season. It's high time we learn to avoid recency bias and stop making our final judgments on teams or players based on the last game we saw.
The Dallas Cowboys can still run the football. They have an offense capable of controlling the time of possession. And their defense is still a great unit with a quality pass rush and a great set of linebackers.
So, Cowboys Nation, I invite you to take a deep breath and repeat after me: "The Cowboys are still one win away from the NFC East title and are one pretty good football team." Seriously, the season is far from over.
On to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Indianapolis
In a game we all hoped would clinch the NFC East division, the Dallas Cowboys instead got shut out by the Indianapolis Colts in one of their worst performances of the season. It was a deplorable performance in every aspect of the game and something we hope to never see again.
I knew sooner or later the Dallas Cowboys self-inflicted wounds would catch up to them, and that's exactly what happened against the Colts. They had far too many penalties and mental mistakes once again and it allowed Indianapolis to take over the game. The Cowboys beat themselves plain and simple.
Before I get on a rant about yesterday's game, I better stick to the topic at hand and share with you what I believe to be The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys. As always, please feel free to use the comment section located at the end of the article to share any of your thoughts and opinions on this topic.
In a game where just about everything went wrong for the Dallas Cowboys it sometimes a little difficult to find any kind of silver lining. That was the case this week after the Cowboys were shut out by the Indianapolis Colts. But, the good for me is that Dallas still holds their playoff fate in their hands, despite the embarrassing loss.
Any thoughts of sitting any of the starters for the Cowboys has now gone out the window. They absolutely have to play to win to close out the 2018 regular-season, because they failed to do what needed to be done against the Colts to secure the NFC East division title. Luckily though, it didn't close the door on their playoff aspirations.
With the Buccaneers and Giants left remaining on their schedule, the Cowboys will have to find some way to get back to their winning ways. Hopefully this was just the slap in the face they needed in order to put things in perspective. They simply can't afford another showing like they had against Indianapolis at any point moving forward.
I knew exactly what I was going to put in the section as soon as it happened during the game. The bad this week for the Dallas Cowboys against the Indianapolis Colts for me was without a doubt their banged up, patched together offensive line.
The Cowboys were forced to go with a patchwork offensive line for the majority of the game against the Colts yesterday afternoon after Xavier Su'a-flio left the game after an eye injury, forcing the Cowboys to go with their third string offensive guard Adam Redmond. Su'a-flio immediately had to leave the stadium to have his eye examined by an optometrist, suggesting that it was a pretty significant injury.
Unfortunately, another injury on the OL for the Cowboys leaves them severely thin depth wise at the most inopportune time. Hopefully a week of rest has done Zack Martin's injured knee some good and he will be able to return to the lineup as soon as possible. That would allow Connor Williams to move back to LG and hopefully solidify the offensive line once again.
Maybe I underestimated the Indianapolis Colts offense or maybe I just overrated the Dallas Cowboys defense, but something was clearly off yesterday afternoon on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys. After being so good nearly all season, they were just plain ugly against Indianapolis.
The Cowboys defense didn't have an answer for the Colts offense, especially in the running game. Marlon Mack, a solid runner although not spectacular, completely gashed the Cowboys usually stout run defense. He ran for 139 rushing yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns, something that's been unheard of against Dallas' run D.
I was honestly completely shocked he had so much success. There were far too many missed tackles and blown assignments to my liking and I believe the coaching staff will make sure to focus on clearing that up moving forward. This team can't afford to let opposing offenses control the clock with their rushing attack. That's the Cowboys MO.
What's your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against Indianapolis?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Why is Jerry Jones “keeping a very close eye” on the Kareem Hunt Case?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
David Irving’s Return Could Make Cowboys’ Defense Even Scarier
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Randy Gregory Is Looking Like We Always Thought He Could
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup Making a Huge Impact for Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
Tavon Austin’s Return Should Make Cowboys Offense More Dangerous
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Can Rod Smith Help Lighten Ezekiel Elliott’s Heavy Workload?
Star Blog6 days ago
Time to see What Darius Jackson can do as Zeke’s Backup?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
2018 Rushing Title: Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley in Neck-and-Neck Race