I realize the Dallas Cowboys are currently involved in their last mini-camp, but it really means next to nothing to me. The real action is still nearly a month away when the Cowboys training camp gets underway. That is when we will see how the coaching staff decides to put this team together for the 2018 season.
A lot of people want to focus on the "big name" players and how they are progressing, but I like to see how the underrated one's play. We usually classify these players as "camp standouts", but sometimes they are actually able to carry that momentum into the season, which is what happened last year with running back Rod Smith.
These are the kind of players I want to talk about. Who is going to be this year's Rod Smith? If he wouldn't have played well in the Cowboys training camp last year, he never would have received the opportunity to prove himself in an actual NFL game. Below is a list of underrated players I think could shine in training camp this year like Smith.
Tight End, Blake Jarwin
All eyes will be on the tight end position throughout the Dallas Cowboys training camp and rightfully so. Someone is going to have to replace Jason Witten's production now, but there really isn't anyone who is standing out from the rest so far. But, Blake Jarwin has supposedly looked pretty good already in these early offseason practices.
Blake Jarwin is still flying under the radar and is kind of an afterthought behind Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, and Dalton Schultz, but I don't think that will last long. Jarwin has a little bit of game experience since he was called up from the practice squad last season, but making the jump from backup to starter would be quite a feat to accomplish.
I believe Jarwin has a chance to become the "complete" TE the Dallas Cowboys are looking for. He has all of the intangibles you look for in a starting TE. He is more than capable of being a reliable in-line blocker and has the athletic ability to be a threat in the passing game. I think he could possibly start to separate himself from the other TEs on the roster once training camp gets underway.
Wide Receivers, Lance Lenoir & Noah Brown
The majority of the talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver position usually focuses on the new additions to the group (Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson). It's only natural to be curious about how these new WRs will fit in Dallas, but it also means current players tend to get overlooked. I believe that is exactly what is happening with Lance Lenoir and Noah Brown.
Lance Lenoir isn't quite as known as Noah Brown, but I put them together because they could be competing for the last WR spot on the 53-man roster. Both are entering their second-year in the NFL, but only Brown has played in a meaningful game. He was mostly utilized as an extra blocker and performed really well in that role.
From what I've been hearing, both players have taken advantage of the offseason and are ready to take the next step in their development. Each has a different skill set they would bring to the offense, but only one likely makes the final roster. Don't be shocked if you hear their names mentioned quite a bit once a Cowboys training camp gets underway.
Running Back, Darius Jackson
As things stand right now, it looks as if Rod Smith will be Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup when the 2018 season gets underway, but recently reacquired RB Darius Jackson could challenge for that honor. Smith has the advantage of being with the Cowboys for several years now and actually performing really well in a game, but Jackson is a freakishly athletic player.
Darius Jackson really hasn't been able to show what he can do in a meaningful game. He showed flashes as a rookie with the Cowboys, which kept him on the active roster for most of the season before eventually being cut. He was then picked up off waivers by the Cleveland Browns, but an unfortunate injury never allowed him to show what he can do. Now back in Dallas, he may get that chance.
We all know Zeke is going to handle the majority of the workload, so any scraps left over will be few and far between. The Cowboys will without a doubt give the backup RBs plenty of opportunities in training camp and preseason in order to keep Zeke fresh, but who takes advantage of the opportunity has yet to be determined. I think we could see a real battle between Rod Smith and Darius Jackson, but I believe it's Jackson who could really shine in training camp.
Defensive Tackles, Datone Jones & Jihad Ward
The Dallas Cowboys are currently more deep along the defensive line then I can personally remember. They are completely stacked at defensive tackle and defensive end, which is going to make it a little difficult to stand out once these practices get a little more serious when the pads come on. But, I think Datone Jones and Jihad Ward can do just that.
Ward has already caught the eye of the coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) while he has been filling in for David Irving at the three-technique. His arrow was already trending upwards, but a lot of Cowboys fans don't really know who he is. All they know is that he is who the Cowboys acquired in the Ryan Switzer trade with the Oakland Raiders.
Datone Jones is another underrated DT who the Cowboys signed late in the 2017 season. He ended up playing in the final four games and proved more than capable of being a disruptive force at the one-technique. It is a position the Cowboys could use an upgrade and Jones could be that player despite being a little undersized.
Linebacker, Justin March-Lillard
There may not be a more underrated linebacker on the Dallas Cowboys roster than Justin March-Lillard. I don't expect him to compete to be the starter in 2018 or anything like that, but I think we will hear his name mentioned quite a bit throughout the Cowboys training camp.
March-Lillard will probably get a lot of opportunities to prove what he can do once training camp gets underway. The Cowboys coaching staff will without a doubt put Sean Lee on some kind of practice pitch count in order to keep him as healthy as possible, which is good news for roster bubble LBs like March-Lillard.
All eyes will undoubtedly be on Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch because of their immense upside, but March-Lillard is someone who could make a lot of plays in training camp and preseason because of his ability to play sideline to sideline. I'm expecting him to make a name for himself. Just remember that you heard it here first.
What underrated players do you think shine at the Cowboys training camp?
Maliek Collins on the Verge of a Breakout Season
Maliek Collins has never lacked any ability on the field just the ability to stay on it. Foot and knee injuries have always seemed to get in the way when he's been on the brink of reaching his potential.
2019 is a contract year for Collins which means it's the most critical season of his young career. He hasn't wasted any time, though, showing what he's capable of when he doesn't have any physical limitations.
Maliek Collins beats Connor William's with a swim move in 2v2s https://t.co/prL9GsG1rY
In the first video above, Collins gets a great burst off the line of scrimmage while he simultaneously gets his hands on Connor Williams first. He controls and pushes him right into Dak Prescott's face, forcing a throw out of bounds. On the next video, he again explodes off the ball and uses a great swim move to beat Williams again in 2 on 2 drills.
His dominance hasn't been limited to training camp practice, however, as evident in his performance this past Saturday in albeit a short amount of action.
These next two plays stand out for me specifically. In the first, he uses a very physical spin move that knocks the left guard off balance and puts him right in the quarterback's face. In a league that focuses on quarterbacks getting the ball out quickly, the sooner you can provide pressure from the interior the harder it is for a quarterback to stay in the pocket and throw effectively. In the next play, he utilizes a swim move after a quick jump off the line and is right in the face of the runner as he and Jaylon Smith combine for a TFL (tackle for loss).
Beautiful TFL for Maliek Collins. Swims inside the LG on the zone concept to get penetration. Quickly flattens, latches onto Henderson's jersey and drags him to the ground. Outstanding grip strength #Cowboys. https://t.co/6ZnpKSVsRv
Collins performing at a high level in 2019 doesn't just benefit him but also rookie Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill. While he's still acquiring the tools needed for the pro level under the guidance of Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli he can watch and learn from Collins as he'll be right behind him as the team's backup 3-technique defensive tackle. Hill is probably still a year away from being a big contributor with Collins looking so refreshed and healthy so this is a great time to gain all the knowledge he can from a veteran. If that learning process comes along quickly, the Cowboys will have a very solid one-two punch alongside Antwaun Woods, the starter at the 1-technique.
Health, at least so far, seems to be on the side of Maliek Collins heading into the 2019 season, which is all he's ever lacked. Motivated by the opportunity to maximize his dollars for 2020, and a rookie being drafted at the same position, I look for Collins to not only have a breakout year but one that could garner a pro bowl nod, or at least be heavy in the conversation, which would mean great things for the Cowboys defensive front.
Cowboys Nation Mailbag: What about Taco Charlton and Ezekiel Elliott?
The 2019 regular season is now less than three weeks away and now is the time when we start getting down to the nitty-gritty. The "dress rehearsal" game is coming this Saturday as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Houston Texans and a lot of the 53-man roster will likely be decided after that game.
As we inch closer to the regular season, the contract status for the Dallas Cowboys' newest version of the triplets and the construction of the 53-man roster will have even greater emphasis in the news.
Thanks for your questions this week. Let's did into this week's Cowboys Nation Mailbag.
How long until all of cowboys twitter completely turns on Zeke? Like immediately after pollards first long td run or????
— E.D.I.T.H. (@cashfeen) August 19, 2019
I guess it depends on what segment of Cowboys Twitter you're talking about.
Contract situations and hold outs always create some tension within the fanbase. They expect players to show up for work as they do. You hear people talk about Elliott fulfilling the agreement of his contract. But what people don't understand is that rookie contracts and the rookie salary scale was negotiated by players already in the league to avoid rookies making Sam Bradford type money. The veterans and to some extent the owners didn't like the idea that rookies could hold out of training camp to negotiate their first contract.
So, when Ezekiel Elliott was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was locked into a contract length (including a team option for a fifth season) and a salary and bonus for the length of that contract.
The other thing to consider is that Elliott is doing exactly what the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do. Though the Dallas Cowboys can fine him, Elliott is permitted by the CBA to seek a contract extension after the third season of his rookie contract, just like you saw Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints do earlier this summer.
I get that fans are frustrated by the idea of a player "not honoring his contract," but in the NFL, that's the way football goes. The owners don't always honor the contracts they've agreed to, cutting a player with guaranteed money left on his deal because his play might have dropped off or simply because he doesn't warrant the cap hit.
But as Mike Leslie of WFAA recently pointed out on Twitter, our jobs aren't like NFL jobs.
There are a lot of folks that understand that there is a business side to all of this. The players, the coaches, and a large segment of Cowboys Nation all understand where Ezekiel Elliott is coming from. Even the "running backs don't matter" truthers aren't throwing Ezekiel Elliott under the bus for holding out for a new contract.
As I've said before, don't get mad at Ezekiel Elliott or even the Dallas Cowboys for the current state of his contract negotiations. Get mad at the Los Angeles Rams for setting a precedent that Ezekiel Elliott is attempting to take advantage of.
Ezekiel Elliott is only doing what's permitted by the CBA. Though the negotiations continue to drag on, there's still three weeks left till the start of the regular season, which is plenty of time to get a deal done.
Until this holdout lasts until the regular season, you shouldn't worry.
Actually John, I do have a question. I haven't reviewed film from Saturday yet (that's my Tuesday deal each week of the season), but your take on Taco? I thought he had maybe his best preseason game in some time. Enough to secure a spot?
— Marlon C Taylor (@MarlonCTaylor) August 19, 2019
Taco Charlton has done some nice things in the preseason thus far. He's been able to create pressure, and by Bobby Belt's splash metric, Taco Charlton is leading the team.
Cowboys leaders in disruptions (sack, TFL, QB hit, INT, PD, FF) through two preseason games:
1. Taco Charlton - 4
2. Donovan Olumba - 3
t3. Ricky Walker - 2
t3. Kerry Hyder - 2
t3. Trysten Hill - 2
t3. Joe Jackson - 2
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) August 19, 2019
Obviously, this isn't the only way to evaluate talent, but it does give an indication that Taco Charlton has been good this preseason. I've long believed that Taco was going to make the 53-man roster for the sheer fact that he was a first-round draft pick. That may not be a good enough reason for some, but he's a player that the Dallas Cowboys won't give up on lightly. He's doing enough at this point in the preseason to warrant another year.
Cutting Taco Charlton in 2019 actually costs you money. It would cost the Dallas Cowboys roughly $3.5 million in 2019, but they could save $1.3 million in 2020. It's not likely that the Cowboys will pick up his fifth-year rookie option, which would be for 2021. Financially, the only move that would make sense is a trade, which would cost the Dallas Cowboys only $1.3 million in dead money.
While I think Taco Charlton is a player that is destined for the 53-man roster, with reports that DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are about to be activated from the physically unable to perform (P.U.P) list, it may come down to a numbers game at defensive end.
Players like Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Kerry Hyder, and even Jalen Jelks may have something to say about Taco Charlton's spot on the 53-man roster, but I believe they give him another year to prove he's worth retaining.
PFF Ranks Dak Prescott As Tier 3, 17th Overall Quarterback
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the subject of constant debate around the football world. Now that it's getting time to pay him, those debates are even hotter.
As I discussed last week, Prescott has been much better than he's often given credit for, though the narrative continues to be that he is carried by his offensive line and rushing attack.
Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 starting quarterbacks heading into the 2019 season, placing them both in tiers, and in traditional order as well. Prescott clocked in at 17th overall on their list, listed as a tier 3 NFL starting quarterback.
"Tier 3: Volatile or conservative quarterbacks whose production will rely even more heavily on supporting cast and play calling. Tier 3 quarterbacks can post top-10 production in any given year in the right situation."
The other quarterbacks listed in Prescott's tier include Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton, all ranked in front of him. Prescott is ahead of a couple of tier 3 passers as well, though, including Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr.
"Even with his added rushing ability, Prescott has settled in as a mid-tier quarterback whose production is more dependent on his supporting cast, and this will be a big year to see if he can get back to his rookie levels of efficiency."
Personally, I'd rank Prescott ahead of a decent number of those tier 3 quarterbacks, such as Stafford and Cousins. Overall, though, it's tough to have too big an issue with their assessment of Prescott and the Cowboys offense. He has been somewhat up-and-down during his time as the Cowboys starter, and saw a big spike in his play when given Amari Cooper as a weapon in the passing game a year ago.
While the entire fanbase is hopeful that he will improve on his mechanics and decision making under new leadership on offense, we can't bank on that happening just yet.
Still, Dak Prescott has looked excellent this preseason, and should be poised for a career year in 2019. I think there's a good chance he finds himself closer to Wentz and Watson on these types of rankings than Carr and Stafford by this time next season.
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