Making nine selections in the 2018 NFL Draft, and trading away one sixth round pick for Tavon Austin, the Cowboys have completely revamped their stagnant offense from 2017. The additions of LG Connor Williams, WR Michael Gallup, TE Dalton Schultz, WR Cedrick Wilson, and RB Bo Scarbrough give the Cowboys at least two new starters – with the depth now to deal with backbreaking injuries that forced Dallas out of the playoff picture last season.
Even without cornerstone players in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the Cowboys young core just got even more versatile. This is a stacked offense with countless ways to attack opposing defenses.
Cowboys Nation entered the draft hopeful that just Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott for a full season would be enough to return to form. Perhaps the best part about both third-year players is that Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan has proven he knows how to play to their strengths. This Cowboys draft class, featuring mostly “high floor” prospects, strengthened the team’s identity on offense even further.
Let’s start with Colorado State’s Michael Gallup. The Cowboys waited until the 81st overall pick in the draft to address their need at wide receiver, but came away from the weekend with an impressively deep group of pass catchers. Gallup will headline this group as one of the more “Dak-friendly” targets in the entire draft.
Perhaps that is the easy part, although Linehan and new receivers coach Sanjay Lal will have plenty of difficult decisions to make on which WRs make the final Cowboys roster. Michael Gallup is here, and I expect him to be a major contributor all over the field.
With a third round grade on Cedrick Wilson, the sixth round steal out of Boise State should also prove himself nicely in training camp, but it remains to be seen where Wilson can find a role in the Cowboys new-look passing game.
That brings us to the ‘bread and butter’ of this football team.
A rushing attack led by Ezekiel Elliott was made even more potent when Connor Williams slid to the hometown Cowboys at 50th overall in the second round.
After modeling his game at Texas after Cowboys Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Williams easily played his way into first round consideration in 2016 before an injury kept him in college for an extra season. Still a top prospect for some, Williams became the fifth guard drafted when the Cowboys made his dream come true.
Dallas is of course a perfect landing spot for the Cowboys new starter between Smith and Center Travis Frederick. Williams carries this team’s patented toughness and athleticism up front, and should excel in his transition to guard in opening up running lanes for not only Elliott but Tavon Austin and Bo Scarbrough as well.
This is where Scott Linehan again enters the picture. For the ten games he had Elliott in 2017, Linehan was criticized for not working the Cowboys bell cow RB enough. Particularly in a week 16 loss to the Seahawks, Elliott returned from suspension to touch the ball only 24 times, failing to get much of a rhythm going as the Cowboys faith was sealed inside AT&T Stadium.
Now, a coach even further on the hot seat must balance the Cowboys running game with Elliott and Austin. The Cowboys are excited about what Tavon Austin can do as a runner, as well as a gadget player for Prescott to hit in the spread looks expected to be used more.
From these looks in the passing game, there will also be enough mouths for Linehan to feed. This is a coach the Cowboys will look to for stability on offense (where the majority of their cap space is allocated), shaking things up beneath Linehan by hiring a new OL, WR, and TE coach for 2018.
All three of these units feature at least one new starter, as Dalton Shultz of Stanford should be expected to see the field right away. The Cowboys 137th overall pick can at least provide value early on in his career as a tough run blocker.
Being absolutely stacked on offense is a terrific “problem” for the Cowboys to have, and it feels likely the moves the Cowboys made to achieve this offensive prowess will motivate Linehan to great things in 2018.
The Cowboys have been a prime example of how the NFL changes from year to year though. Another season short of heightened expectations — at the hands of sub par coaching — likely causes Linehan to drag other Cowboys staffers with him.
As mentioned, the Cowboys draft class features ready-made players for a team looking to win now. Dallas is of course also building towards the future with such a young roster, as the likes of Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson have high ceilings to go with their present traits.
Whether or not the Cowboys drive back towards the playoffs will be powered by their machine-like offense is up to the man with the keys – play caller Scott Linehan. When discussing the training camp battles to anticipate this summer for starting spots on offense, Linehan’s decision making needs to remain something the Cowboys evaluate through to week 1 of the regular season.