The Dallas Cowboys are going to be faced with a difficult decision when it comes to evaluating the running back position and deciding who's in and who's out.
One of the most surprising selections for the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL Draft was when the organization decided to draft Eastern Michigan's Darius Jackson in the six round, especially after making running back Ezekiel Elliott the 4th overall pick.
If you would have asked me before the draft what position the Cowboys were most likely to double dip in I would've probably answered either defensive end or cornerback, but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought the Cowboys would use two of their nine draft picks on running backs.
The running back position will be one to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the off-season and it will be interesting to see what the Cowboys ultimately decide to do with all of these RBs.
Let's take a look at the depth chart and try to predict who stays and who goes.
Current RB depth chart: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, Ben Malena, Darius Jackson, Rod Smith
Ezekiel Elliott will more than likely sit atop the depth chart and be the number one running back for the Cowboys heading into the season.
Not only is Elliott the most talented RB on the Cowboys roster, but because he is already so well-versed as a pass protector, he will be able to step in day one and contribute as a three down player.
The fact that he was drafted so highly doesn't guarantee him the starting spot in my mind, but the fact that he is already better than the majority of RBs in the league and on the Cowboys roster should be a telling endorsement.
Chance of staying: High. Elliott is definitely not going anywhere and should be with the Cowboys for years to come.
Darren McFadden probably sits second on the depth chart, but I think that is mostly due to the fact that he had a relatively productive season 2015.
In 2015, McFadden rushed for 1089 yards on 239 carries, but only managed to score 3 rushing touchdowns. Although those are respectable numbers, especially concerning the fact that he was only named the starter about midway through the season, McFadden may be on the outside looking in.
I can see the Cowboys moving on from McFadden at some point the off-season. He's not the best fit in a zone blocking scheme and is getting up there in age. The Cowboys could decide to go younger and cheaper.
Chance of staying: Low to moderate. The Cowboys could value his veteran experience and decide to keep him around to mentor Elliott, but Alfred Morris could possibly make him expendable.
Alfred Morris was one of the few free agents the Cowboys decided to sign during the off-season and at the time the signing was looked upon as if he would become the featured back in 2016.
The Cowboys may very well have to decide between keeping Morris who is a better fit to run in the zone blocking scheme, or McFadden who they are already familiar with.
Training camp and off-season workouts will be important for Morris to prove himself with the Cowboys and hopefully earn the trust of the organization. The battle between Morris and McFadden will be an interesting storyline to follow for the remainder of the off-season.
Chance of staying: Moderate to high. I think if the Cowboys have to choose between Morris and McFadden, they will choose Morris because he is a better fit to run in the zone blocking scheme.
Lance Dunbar seems to have finally found his role with the team and has earned a lot of fans both inside and outside the organization.
Dunbar is a good change of pace back and proved in 2015 that he is a major threat out of the backfield as a receiver. However, Dunbar's time with the organization has also proven that he has had a hard time staying healthy.
He will most likely start of the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and have to miss the first six weeks of the season. His health will ultimately decide his status with the team.
Chance of staying: Moderate to high. Dunbar's health is a concern, but the Cowboys are really high on him.
Darius Jackson is an intriguing prospect and the fact that the Cowboys decided to draft him with the 216th pick overall says something about the way they feel about him.
Jackson set a school record with 16 touchdowns last year and ran for 1110 yards on 207 carries. What I think the Cowboys like most about him was the fact that he also had 21 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
With the uncertainty of Lance Dunbar's health, the Cowboys will be looking for a pass receiving RB and that could earn Jackson a roster spot in 2016.
Chance of staying: Moderate. Even though he was a draft pick, it doesn't guarantee him a roster spot. His best bet might be to make the practice squad, but he will be given a chance to prove himself and earn playing time.
Rod Smith joined the Cowboys last year after he was cut by the Seattle Seahawks. He found a role for himself on special teams, but didn't contribute much to the running game.
It will be a longshot to say that Smith is able to lock down a roster spot. It will ultimately come down to how many running backs the Cowboys decide to keep.
Do they keep three running backs or do they decide to keep more than usual?
Smith's future with the Cowboys may come down to special teams once again. Will he prove to be more valuable than Darius Jackson?
Chance of staying: Low. I really just can't see a scenario where they keep more than three running backs and that means Smith is probably looking from the outside in.
Ben Malena has been part of the Cowboys on two separate occasions, but as of yet not been able to contribute in the running game.
I wouldn't be surprised if he is cut before training camp because the Cowboys should already be pretty familiar with the type of player he is and what he has to offer.
With the depth that the Cowboys have at the running back position it is highly unlikely that Malena would even get very many repetitions in practice and his best bet might be to try to prove himself with a different organization.
Chance of staying: Low. I can't see a scenario where he makes the team, much less brought to training camp.
Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco
When the Dallas Cowboys opened their world-class headquarters in Frisco, affectionately named The Star, the possibilities were endless for the franchise that embraces football being bigger than life in a state where that's certainly the case.
Not only have the Cowboys hosted more football than ever with AT&T Stadium serving as their home and the Ford Center at The Star being a shared practice space with local high schools, but they became the first team to host the NFL Draft from their stadium in April.
Just as the draft has become a spectacle for fans and media alike, the all-important Scouting Combine that leads up to the draft each year is a fully televised event now. Held in Indianapolis since 1987, the Cowboys will have to prove they're well prepared to handle the burden of a Scouting Combine while disrupting the continuity that Lucas Oil Stadium has provided.
The biggest advantage that Indianapolis has held through years of the Combine's development is their stadium's proximity to local hospitals. Any scout or draft analyst will tell you that the most important thing draft prospects go through during the Combine is their medical checks, something they can now do at The Star without setback.
Across the street from The Star is now the Baylor, Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research center, a brand new medical facility that spans 300,000 square feet. The Cowboys will even have their time to work out the kinks of potentially hosting the Combine, with Indianapolis still under contract to host the event through 2020.
The Combine also serves as a key point in the NFL offseason where executives and coaches from every team are together, often leading to trade talks that impact the following draft. Imagination can run wild with the Cowboys hosting the Combine on campus at The Star, and rival head coaches meeting in a Sushi Marquee, Cow Tipping Creamery, or Luxe Eyewear.
These are merely three of the hundreds of auxiliary features in place at The Star, ready to take the Combine to the next level, as Dallas already did with this year's NFL Draft.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and Left Guard Connor Williams became the first players to be drafted in the stadium they'll call home. Within a few years, prospects fortunate enough to get the call from America's Team may feel an even deeper connection to the Cowboys, going through their job interview that is the Combine at the team's headquarters.
Jerry Jones has stated that The Star was never designed with the thought of hosting a Combine in mind, but this does not mean preparations will not take place for the Cowboys to be ready following two more years in Indianapolis.
How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?
Every year, NFL Network releases a "Top 100" list of all the players in the league. What's special about this list is that the voters are actually fellow NFL players. We have tons of rankings from analysts and scouts all year long, so it's fun to see what the persons who actually put on shoulders and helmets week after week have to say about their peers.
However, that's precisely what makes it very controversial among fans. Year after year, we see players getting underrated and players getting ranked way ahead than they should.
Take Dak Prescott in 2017, for example. The young quarterback put on a show as a fourth-round rookie that no one could have expected from him. As impressive as he was, it's hard to defend him being ranked as the fourteenth best player in the NFL, which is how he was ranked in the NFL 100 last year.
This Monday, the 2018 Top 10 will be announced on NFL Network at 7 PM CT, but no Cowboys' name will be mentioned.
So, without getting frustrated about this year's results, let's take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys fared this time around.
#71: RG Zack Martin
2017 Ranking: #58.
I'm pretty sure that Zack Martin doesn't even care about the NFL 100 list, especially after he became the highest-paid guard in NFL history just days ago. For the Cowboys, even with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the same offensive line, Zack Martin might be the best lineman on the roster. At the very least, there's an argument to be made.
It's not very surprising to see Martin all the way at #71. Offensive guard is a very overlooked position by many, so it does make a tiny bit of sense for him to be ranked where he is.
What is surprising though, is the fact that Pittsburgh Steeler David DeCastro is ranked at #44. Both players are great guards, but Martin is widely acknowledged as the best at his position. Maybe playoff success came into account?
#54: RB Ezekiel Elliott
2017 Ranking: 7.
Ezekiel Elliott stumbled quite a bit this year, which is completely understandable. First of all, the 2016 season was electric. The narrative of two rookies taking the league by storm and earning the #1 seed in the NFC was unique.
Things changed for the superstar running back in 2017, though. Elliott had to deal with tons of off-field drama while fighting a six-game suspension that ended up being upheld and Zeke had to miss some time.
This is undoubtedly what made Elliott, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL, fall all the way out of the top 50. Despite having had pretty good years, I can assure you that Kareem Hunt (ranked at 33) and Mark Ingram (43) are not even in the same tier as Zeke.
#39: LT Tyron Smith
2017 Ranking: 18.
I'm not going to lie, I'm not complaining about this one. Just like the rest of the offensive linemen, Tyron may be undervalued here. However, he is the best tackle on the list, so it's certainly tough to be mad about this.
Besides, don't forget Tyron didn't play the entire season after being out for three games. Not saying that makes him a worse player or anything, but it helps make sense of his spot on the list.
With former Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas enjoying retirement, it's easier to see Smith as the clear-cut best tackle in the NFL today. He's a beast. If he finds a way to play 16 games next season, I'm sure he will climb the rankings in 2019.
#34: DE DeMarcus Lawrence
2017 Ranking: Unranked.
Last but not least is the Cowboys' breakout player of the year. Lawrence finally proved his worth getting to the opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times on the year. Not to mention, his game against the run was pretty remarkable and he helped take the defense to another level.
This was the first season in D-Law's career in which he remained completely healthy all along and it showed on the field. Thanks to his performance, the team handed him the franchise tag and hopefully he'll get a big, juicy contract once he continues dominating this year.
Six defensive ends were ranked ahead of him, so we will have to wait and see if he keeps it up in 2018 after being named a second team All-Pro in 2017.
The Snub: C Travis Frederick
The one thing that is outrageous from this year's list is the absence of Travis Frederick. I understand there aren't any other centers on the list, but they should at least include the best at his position, right?
Frederick is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players on the Cowboys' roster and a player that through five years in the league, has been to the Pro Bowl four times. One of the NFL's finest, he definitely deserves to be on that list.
But hey, as previously mentioned, this list is meant to be fun. It's cool to hear what the players (teammates and rivals) have to say about one another during this series. Instead of taking it as an official ranking or anything of the sort, it's better to see it as a fun piece of content by NFL Network.
Let me know what your thoughts on these rankings are on the comments section below or tweet me @PepoR99 to talk some football!
5 Winners from Dallas Cowboys OTAs and Minicamp
The Dallas Cowboys have completed the offseason part of their practices and are now eyeing the start of training camp in Oxnard, California on July 26th. The offseason stuff doesn't necessarily show what a team thinks about a player near as much as training camp, so I won't look at any losers because these practices have varying personnel at times.
That being said, there certainly were some winners during the offseason.
1. Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Every day removed from his injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl is another day closer to potentially seeing the All-American linebacker that would have been a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
With the knee injury, there's always been some doubt about Jaylon returning to that level of play, but as offseason practices wore on it was becoming clear that he's much healthier and much more mobile than he was in 2017.
Both of those things are strong signs in the right direction for the third year pro.
After sitting out his rookie season to rehab and then having some good moments and some really bad moments in 2017, it sounds like he's making progress to be a difference maker in 2018.
During OTAs and minicamp sessions that were open to the media, Jaylon was seen running with the first-team defense every time they took the field. Now, some of that is due to the Cowboys limiting the snaps of veteran All-Pro Sean Lee and rookie first round pick Leighton Vander Esch, who came up with a sprained ankle, but the fact that Smith's snaps weren't limited should only be seen as a good sign.
We still have a long way to go until the Dallas Cowboys strap it on for their week one matchup with the Carolina Panthers, but Jaylon Smith is on an excellent trajectory.
Anyone with a Clear, Eye, View can see that.
2. Anthony Brown, Cornerback
One of the bigger surprises during the offseason practices so far has to be Anthony Brown, and not Jourdan Lewis, running with the first team nickel defense.
Jourdan Lewis proved he was a really good corner in his rookie year, both in the slot and on the outside, while Anthony Brown struggled at times. Knowing that new Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard prefers his corners to be tall, long, and strong has led to some speculation that Lewis may not be a fit in Richard's scheme.
That's certainly a possibility. The more realistic possibility is that Brown, with more seniority, was getting the opportunities first as is often the case with Jason Garrett coached teams during the offseason.
While Brown is a pretty good slot cornerback in his own right, this might only be temporary.
3. Michael Gallup, Wide Receiver
As I read reports from OTAs and minicamp practices, one thing that stood out is that Michael Gallup was winning and winning a lot.
When asked in a mailbag who had been building the best rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott, Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com had this to say:
"Bryan: That’s a great question. The guys that come to mind for this [sic] me are Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin. Those guys have found ways to generate space and have been reliable catching the ball when it’s thrown in their direction."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Just a few days earlier Broaddus stated that Cole Beasley and Gallup were the only ones getting open with any consistency.
Now, it's still early and it's padless practice, but that's an encouraging sign for the third round pick out of Colorado State.
Typically it takes a year for wide receivers to adjust to the NFL game, especially with how much press coverage is played by NFL defensive backs. One of the byproducts of Kris Richard's existence as the defensive backs coach is that they're playing more press coverage. He's teaching his DB's to be more aggressive and more physical at the line of scrimmage.
For Gallup and the rest of the wide receiver group, that can only help them as they get ready to face opposing defenses. One way to disrupt timing-based routes or an offense that relies on separation and yards after the catch is to disrupt the receiver at the snap. Every practice, these guys are working to beat the press.
As a rookie wide receiver, this can only benefit Gallup -- in particular -- as that will be a big transition from college where defenses are playing off the line of scrimmage against the countless number of spread offenses that exist.
The fact that he's already winning reps during practices against some pretty good corners is a great sign for the Dallas Cowboys.
He may not be a starter in this offense right away, but I doubt it takes long before he's cemented himself in three and four wide receiver personnel groupings.
4. Chaz Green, Guard
I'm sure you aren't a fan of seeing Chaz Green's name anywhere near a "winners" list. As bad as the Atlanta Falcons game was for him, we can't ignore the fact that Green got a lot of first team repetitions during OTAs and minicamp while Zack Martin negotiated his contract extension.
Either that means the Dallas Cowboys haven't given up on their third round pick from 2015 or they're trying to get as many practice snaps out of him as possible to be able to make a clearer decision regarding his future with the team.
Getting to play with the ones is encouraging, but he still has a lot to prove during training camp to keep a spot on the roster. Green's going to get a long leash as a former premium draft pick. We'll see if he takes advantage of it.
5. Jihad Ward, Defensive Tackle
Maliek Collins hurt his foot -- again -- and David Irving was dealing with off the field stuff -- again -- leaving Jihad Ward with a lot of opportunities to play against the first team offensive line as the three-technique defensive tackle.
On June 4th, I asked Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com who his biggest surprises on offense and defense were during OTAs:
Cedrick Wilson and Jihad Ward https://t.co/kgcgJkTj3U
If Broaddus is encouraged by Ward's progress, I am too.
He's going to have a lot of opportunity to get a strangle hold on the 3T defensive tackle spot with Maliek Collins not set to be back until late in training camp, and David Irving suspended the first four games of the 2018 season.
The Dallas Cowboys liked Ward coming out of college and had him just behind Maliek Collins on their 2016 NFL Draft Big Board.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
There's still a lot of practice reps that have yet to take place, but the Dallas Cowboys have gotten some encouraging contributions from these players. As we look to training camp, who will you be watching to see if the stand-out and can make the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster?
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