It is no secret that the Dallas Cowboys offense failed in 2017. As much as these struggles were about who wasn't on the field for the Cowboys, the talent still out there could rarely do enough to win games. With an elite offensive line, young quarterback, and Dez Bryant on the outside, this was unacceptable and prompted changes in Dallas.
The biggest move the Cowboys made prior to the 2018 NFL Draft was moving on from Dez Bryant. The 29-year old wide receiver remains unsigned, as the Cowboys were comfortable entering the draft with a glaring need at the position.
Still waiting until the third round to add Colorado State's Michael Gallup, the Cowboys later drafted Cedrick Wilson and Tight End Dalton Schultz. Filling their biggest needs with great value on these picks, the Cowboys also found their left guard of the future in Connor Williams at 50th overall.
Add in developmental Quarterback Mike White and Running Back Bo Scarbrough and the Cowboys have an intriguing rookie class on offense - full of players that will absolutely need to step in right away, and some that are here to provide depth.
As I did with the Cowboys defense earlier in the week, here is my best projection on the roles the Cowboys draft picks on Scott Linehan's side of the ball will play.
Left Guard Connor Williams
This was the Dallas Cowboys best pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Keeping Texas Longhorns prospect Connor Williams close to home, ending his draft-week slide at 50th overall to a roar at AT&T Stadium, is more than just a feel good story.
This is a player that fills the Cowboys need for a long-term starter at left guard perfectly. Considered one of the best tackles in the nation prior to injury, Williams will of course benefit from playing between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
Bringing his own trademark toughness and athleticism to a new interior position will give the Cowboys arguably their best offensive line since 2014. Ezekiel Elliott has to be a fan of the Connor Williams pick already - as you should be too.
Although the Cowboys did add veteran depth at OT this offseason, Williams is of course another emergency option on the roster to kick outside and handle himself at any position but center. Connor Williams will be a noticeably fun player at LG, creating movement through to the second level on a consistent basis.
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup
Scouting Report: "Film Room: WR Michael Gallup Provides Excellent Value In 3rd Round"
Predictions for what first-year Wide Receiver Michael Gallup will have in store for his rookie season in Dallas have been all over the place. While most are understandably skeptical of the Cowboys "relying" on a third round draft pick to become a force in the passing game, Gallup is a high upside player that fits the Cowboys new approach on offense.
Phasing out the need for a true number one receiver, Gallup is the Cowboys newest "Dak-friendly" asset. Perhaps playing under the radar too much at Colorado State, Gallup has all of the traits needed to explode onto the scene in 2018.
A lengthy athlete with effortless vertical ability and soft hands, Gallup will have no problem separating as a big target on the outside for Prescott. Because of this, I expect him to be the closest thing the Cowboys have to a "WR1" this season - lining up primarily at the X position and putting up numbers better than some of the eight receivers drafted before him.
Tight End Dalton Schultz
Scouting Report: "Sean's Scout: TE Dalton Schultz Fits Cowboys Need as Willing Blocker"
The Cowboys have a Jason Witten sized hole to fill inside The Star at Frisco. While just how much on-field production this constitutes is up for debate, the reality is that no player will mean as much to the Cowboys as Witten did for so long anytime soon.
Especially fourth round pick Dalton Schultz, drafted the day after Witten announced his retirement from the NFL. If given a chance to make a name for himself though, the Stanford tight end may rarely come off the field for the Cowboys.
Joining Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin on the roster - two experienced run blockers that are developing as pass catchers - Schultz has plenty of experience playing in Stanford's pro style offense.
Not the most overwhelming blocker, Schultz understands how to control bigger defenders at the line of scrimmage - never shying away from a chance to show his dominance and finish blocks to the ground.
Limited as a route runner and true receiver, Schultz is going to be eased into the Cowboys offense, but will have plenty of opportunities to stand out this summer in training camp and carve out a role in 12 or 13 personnel packages.
Quarterback Mike White
It's refreshing for the Cowboys to have a young quarterback that has stayed remarkably healthy through his first two seasons, as Dak Prescott will have no competition for the starting job in 2018. The real competition at quarterback will be directly behind him.
With Kellen Moore trading in his helmet for a coaching hat, second-year Quarterback Cooper Rush will be joined by fifth round pick Mike White. A touch thrower with pro-ready size and plenty of workable traits, White was one of the better late-round candidates the Cowboys could have added to their QB room.
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Taking 2018 to soak in as much as he can about Scott Linehan's offense, it truly doesn't matter much if Mike White is QB2 or QB3 this season. If he was worth the 171st overall pick, the Cowboys believe in his potential, and will work to push him as far as he can go up the depth chart this offseason.
Wide Receiver Cedrick Wilson
In 2017, the Cowboys entered the draft with a promise to restock their depleted secondary - doing so by drafting starting cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis in the second and third rounds. This year, the wide receiver position felt the same way. Although the Cowboys waited until the sixth round to add their second rookie at WR, Cedrick Wilson is absolutely a player that can make an impact this year and outplay this draft status.
By trading Ryan Switzer at the draft, the Cowboys showed some faith in slot receiver Cole Beasley. Likely not coming off the field much this season, Wilson will have a hard time earning reps on the inside, where he menaces defenders with his length and long speed.
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These are still traits that Cedrick Wilson uses to win on the outside, where every receiver the Cowboys have is going to get a chance. Talented pass catchers are not going to make the final cut on the Cowboys roster, but Cedrick Wilson is one that will earn his spot all summer long.
Look for him to standout in the preseason regardless of who's throwing Wilson the ball, forcing the Cowboys to rotate him into their versatile offense for Prescott to have another big target out wide.
Running Back Bo Scarbrough
Scouting Report: "Film Review: What Bo Scarbrough Brings to the Cowboys Running Game"
Bo Scarbrough has generated plenty of buzz from Cowboys Nation, and mostly because his name is Bo Scarbrough. A recognizable name out of Alabama, Scarbrough became the Cowboys last pick of the 2018 NFL Draft at 236th overall.
For as much as we've discussed the decisions the Cowboys will have to make elsewhere on offense, their faith rests in starter Ezekiel Elliott. Behind Elliott, the Cowboys have a completely new stable of running backs though.
Tavon Austin was acquired during the draft by the Cowboys to fill the void once left (?) by Lance Dunbar, and at least for now it seems like Dallas has big plans for Tavon on offense. Working both Elliott and Austin onto the field won't be a problem for Linehan, but including Rod Smith and Bo Scarbrough very well might be.
With Smith firmly holding his roster spot because of special teams contributions, Scarbrough will have to follow in similar footsteps to secure his spot on America's Team. The idea of the Cowboys keeping a bruising back like Scarbrough to help them finish games is a fun one, but it doesn't feel practical when crunching the roster numbers.
If Scarbrough does make the cut however, he can absolutely spell Elliott in short yardage and goal line situations, running with consistent power and better-than-expected vision.
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The Cowboys have way too much invested into their offense to see it sputter like it did a year ago. Instilling optimism with the injured players they'll welcome back, the Cowboys were not complacent in adding talent at the draft either.
While Connor Williams and Michael Gallup may be the only true "starters" the Cowboys found, I expect both rookies to excel. Contributions from Dalton Schultz and Cedrick Wilson could put this offensive draft class over the top - prepared nicely for the long run while featuring five players with high enough floors to play this season.
Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Red Zone Liability?
Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is arguably as talented as just about any defensive back in the NFL. He still young and has quite a bit he can do to improve his game, but there's no denying his talent. One of the things he may need to work on right now is his awareness and discipline in the red zone.
In back to back games No. 24 has been caught out of position and as a result surrendered points in the end zone. Just this last Sunday he gave up a two point conversion to Minnesota Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph. The week prior he gave up a touchdown catch to New York Giants Wide Receiver Cody Latimer.
Does this make him a liability in the red zone?
I know if I've noticed Chidobe Awuzie getting victimized in back to back weeks in the red zone opposing offensive coordinators around the league have done the same. As a result, they're going to test Awuzie to find out if they can have the same kind of success.
If I'm Kris Richard I'm personally going to be working on making sure Chidobe is fully aware he needs to be more disciplined with his play, especially in the red zone. He's been caught out of position in back to back games and that can't be something that continues from here on out.
I'm sure Awuzie would tell you himself this is something he needs to clean up. He takes pride in his abilities and knows he can still improve. Hopefully he can take it to heart and better prepare for what's to come. Whether that means just executing his assignments better or maybe studying a little more film. It's up to him to figure out what he needs to do.
As far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned though, they may need to start giving him a little more help over the top if this is something that continues. And if worse comes to worse, they can always see if Jourdan Lewis or Anthony Brown can be more consistent. I doubt it would come to that, but it is an option.
I for one am hoping No. 24 will just hunker down and figure out what he needs to do in order to take his game to the next level. If he can do that the Cowboys defense will be much better for it. I don't know about you, but I will be keeping a close eye on him for the rest of the season.
Do you think CB Chidobe Awuzie has become a red zone liability?
Maliek Collins has a Breakout Opportunity Against the Minnesota Vikings
It's been a quiet 2019 for one of the Dallas Cowboys' preseason breakout candidates, Maliek Collins. Heading into training camp, and then the regular season, Collins was the healthiest he'd been at any point in his previous three seasons. That combined with another year in the NFL, led many to believe that Collins could become a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Collins has been good, but perhaps not as productive as many might have predicted.
On the year, Maliek Collins has three sacks, which is third for the Dallas Cowboys behind Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Per Pro Football Focus, Collins is tied for 17th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Tied for 17th might not sound very good, but when the league leader in sacks among interior defensive linemen has just six, Collins isn't far off from threatening for the league lead. In fact, Maliek Collins is tied with All-Pro Defensive Tackles Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones, and Geno Atkins in sacks.
In total pressures, Collins is tied for eighth in the NFL per Pro Football Focus with 27 along with Quentin Jefferson and Vita Vea.
Though he's not racking up a ton of tackle this season, Collins has been excellent as a pass rusher. On Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, he'll have a tremendous opportunity to build on his first-half numbers.
Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, Collins has an enormous opportunity. Among quarterbacks with at least 196 drop backs, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been under pressure at the fourth highest rate in the NFL. His 40.8% pressure rate is only better than Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, and Sam Darnold.
Vikings Guard Pat Elflein has allowed five sacks on the year, which is tied for the third most in the NFL this season among interior offensive linemen and his 20 pressures allowed is tied for eighth. When Maliek Collins gets an opportunity to line up across from Elflein, he's going to have a chance to get home.
With teams having to pay so much attention to DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and newcomer Michael Bennett, Collins should be freed up to face more one-on-one blockers.
Collins hasn't had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn't necessarily been the dominant player we thought he could be after his strong preseason. That perception could change when the Dallas Cowboys play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football. The opportunity is there for Collins, he just has to seize it.
Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Quietly Having a Good Season
The Dallas Cowboys started to get the return on their investment of Jaylon Smith in a major way in 2018. He finished with 121 tackles (six tackles for loss), four sacks, four passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown.
With that type of production comes lofty expectations. Dak Prescott is off to the best start of his career, All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott has found his groove with three consecutive 100-yard performances, and Amari Cooper is on pace for his best season as a pro. However, quietly, Smith is on pace to have the best season of his young career so far.
In the season opener vs the New York Giants, the Cowboys completely dominated the game virtually from the start defensively. After a touchdown on their first possession, the Giants were shut down and only scored 10 points the rest of the game. Smith would register only six tackles for the game but the Cowboys were up as much as 25 points so it wasn't really necessary for him to ball out in this contest.
Week 2 vs the Washington Redskins on the road was another solid effort defensively for the Cowboys. They held the Redskins in check behind Smith's team-leading 11 tackles as the Cowboys only allowed 255 yards of offense and two conversions on nine third downs.
The Miami Dolphins came to town in Week 3 as the Cowboys looked to improve to 3-0. The Dolphins offense never got on track as they only managed 283 total yards, went a pedestrian three of 15 on third down, gave up three sacks, and scored six points. Smith once again led the team in tackles with 10 and also forced a fumble in the red zone that was recovered by All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence when the Dolphins were driving to take the lead before halftime. Very productive game for Smith in this one.
Week 4 was a defensive battle between the Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. The Saints came out on top 12-10 giving the Cowboys their first loss but one of the bright spots was the play of Smith. All around it was one of his better performances of the season with nine tackles (two tackles for loss), one quarterback hit, and a sack. This performance gave him 30 tackles over a three-game span which is his best stretch of the 2019 season.
The Green Bay Packers arrived at AT&T Stadium in Week 5 having won three consecutive games there, and it was quickly apparent they would win their fourth straight. The Cowboys had two turnovers on their first three possessions that led to two touchdowns for the Packers and the Cowboys never recovered. Despite holding Aaron Rodgers to zero touchdowns the Cowboys gave up a career day to Aaron Jones with 182 all-purpose yards (107 rushing, 75 receiving) and lost 34-24. Smith finished with nine tackles (tied Leighton Vander Esch for the team lead), one quarterback hit, one pass defended, and a sack. In a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated Smith was one of the few bright spots for Dallas.
The Cowboys entered Metlife Stadium for their Week 6 matchup with the New York Jets completely spiraling and it wouldn't get any better. Defensively, the Cowboys started flat by allowing 21 points in the first half. Even though they only allowed three points in the second half, Sam Darnold had a career-high 338 yards and the Jets handed the Cowboys their third consecutive loss. This would be Smith's most underwhelming performance of the season with a pedestrian four tackles. None of the impactful plays we saw from the previous three games showed up in this one.
Before the bye week, the Cowboys hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in a battle for first place in the NFC East. Smith wasted no time making an impact in this game as he forced a fumble by Tight End Dallas Goedert on the Eagles first possession near midfield which set up the Cowboys first touchdown. This set the tone for the entire defense as they held the Eagles to 283 yards total yards, only allowed 10 points and forced four turnovers. Smith tied Sean Lee and Jeff Heath for the team lead with seven tackles while also registering a pass defended and a forced fumble. Just the type of performance you'd hope for from Smith after his worst game of the season.
This past Monday night saw the Cowboys return to Metlife Stadium but this time they would take on the arch-rival New York Giants. Smith spearheaded a dominant performance by the Cowboys defense as they held the Giants to 271 total yards, five out of 16 on third down, and forced three turnovers. He finished tied with Lee for the team lead with 12 tackles while also adding a half-sack and a quarterback hit. With the Eagles on the Cowboys heels for the division lead, they needed their best players to perform vs the Giants and Smith definitely delivered on his end.
Jaylon Smith is currently on pace for 136 tackles and five sacks which would both be career highs. In five of the Cowboys eight games, he's either led or been tied for the team lead in tackles. He has continued to show that he's worth every penny of the five-year 64 million dollar extension with 35.5 million in guarantees he signed in August. His "Clear Eye View" has him playing the best football of his career in 2019.
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