Through the years of covering the Cowboys' drafts, there have always been players who were either helped or hurt by the next crop of talent. Today, I thought we'd take a look at some of the immediate winners and losers from the 2018 draft class.
I remember cornerback Mike Jenkins throwing a fit in 2012 after Dallas traded up to take Morris Claiborne. He wasn't wrong; Jenkins got buried on the depth chart that year before going into free agency.
On the other hand, new talent at some position can lift everyone around them. The Cowboys offensive line was good, but not considered truly elite, until Zach Martin arrived in 2014. Or how about the impact that Ezekiel Elliott had on the entire offense in 2016?
2018 will be no different as some players were positively and negatively impacted by what happened over the weekend. Here's a look at those winners and losers.
S Xavier Woods & Kavon Frazier
The Cowboys could have traded up in the first round to select Florida State's Derwin James. They could have traded a pick to get veteran Earl Thomas. They might have taken another safety in any of the later rounds.
But no, Dallas did none of those things. Instead, they appear ready to ride with young studs Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier as starters and key pieces in the defensive backfield.
Jeff Heath is still in the mix and may remain a starter. But Frazier and Woods have flashed potential and upside that new defensive backs coach (and DC in waiting) Kris Richard has already expressed excitement with.
Dallas' declined opportunity to go get a prospect like Derwin James says a lot on how they feel about their current talent. Despite being sixth-round picks entering just their second and third seasons, Woods and Frazier have quickly earned a lot of respect from their coaches.
There's still a lot of offseason left and Dallas may still make a move for Earl Thomas. But it's guys like Kavon and Xavier who've given them leverage, allowing the Cowboys to not feel desperate enough to meet Seattle's asking price.
No matter what happens there, Frazier and Woods will be competing with Heath for a starting role next year.
TE Geoff Swaim
The news of Jason Witten's potential retirement, which came between the first and second rounds on Friday, sent a shockwave through Cowboys Nation. Many thought it would lead to Dallas taking a tight end as soon as their very next pick.
But the Cowboys waited until the late in the fourth round, using one of their compensatory picks on Standford's Dalton Schultz. While the rookie will certainly compete for a big role in 2018, he may have a hard time against a fourth-year veteran like Geoff Swaim.
If Witten's truly gone, Swaim becomes the most tenured tight end on the roster. James Hanna's surprising retirement just two weeks ago leaves just Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin, neither with any real NFL experience, as the remaining options.
Swaim's game fits what this Cowboys offense needs from its starting tight end. He's a proficient blocker with some solid receiving skills. Being stuck behind Witten, like any other Cowboys TE has experienced for the last 15 years, has limited his chances to shine.
Maybe Jason returns for one last season, but right now the door is wide open for Geoff Swaim to get a shot as the team's starter in the final year of his rookie contract.
DT Richard Ash & Brian Price
Before the draft, it appeared likely that Dallas would be targeting a run-stuffing defensive tackle for their base defensive scheme. Some that it could happen as early as the first round. But the Cowboys didn't draft a single DT, meaning returning players like Richard Ash and Brian Price may have a shot at competing for a starting role.
After Terrell McClain left a vacancy last year, the spot was filled by switching Maliek Collins over into the "1-technique" role and also utilizing young prospects. Brian Price was getting early work, and performing well, before a knee injury ended his season early. Richard Ash came on later in the year and was starting get noticed for his solid work by the final games.
While Dallas did pick up third-year DT Jihad Ward in a trade, he projects as more of a DT/DE hybrid like we have in David Irving or Tyrone Crawford. The Cowboys would likely also prefer to get Maliek Collins back in the 3-tech spot, where he was so much more effective as a rookie.
That opens the door for Ash, Price, or maybe some other dark horse to make a big climb up the depth chart.
WR Deonte Thompson
A free agent signing in March, the veteran Thompson may have already lost his roster spot after last weekend's activity. Dallas drafted Michael Gallup in the third round and then picked up the Rams' Tavon Austin via trade.
The Cowboys could go with six guys, but even still you're potentially losing a younger talent like sophomore Noah Brown or rookie sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson. With plenty of experience in Hurns, Beasley, Williams, and Austin, Dallas might decide they don't need Thompson after all.
Despite being a newly signed player, Deonte's contract doesn't offer much protection. It's a one-year deal counting $1.8 million against the salary cap with $1 million guaranteed.
While he's only recently become a known entity in the NFL, Thompson is a 29-year-old late bloomer. He was brought in as cheap veteran insurance, and Dallas may now have enough now to cancel the policy.
QB Cooper Rush
Dallas drafted Mike White out of Western Kentucky in the fifth round, which brings some real competition to the backup position held by Cooper Rush most of last year. Can Rush, in just his second season, fight White off for the job?
Cooper already surprised us when he ousted Kellen Moore from the number-two spot and the roster itself last season. He had an outstanding preseason and, if he builds on the rookie success, has a great shot at keeping his place on the team.
But last season speaks to the danger for Rush; Dallas likes to keep just two quarterbacks if they can. With Dak Prescott's durability, the Cowboys can save a roster spot by just keeping one backup and then someone else on the practice squad.
Mike White has been considered a steal by many as a fifth-round pick, with some thinking he could've been drafted on Friday. He may be harder to get to the practice squad than Rush, who went undrafted in 2017.
Ideally for Cooper, he'll beat White for the backup job and force Dallas to keep three QBs this season. But his job security definitely took a hit with this new addition to the roster.
OL Cam Fleming, Joe Looney, Marcus Martin
The opening at left guard before the draft was a major topic. Dallas used their second-round pick to address it, taking Connor Williams out of Texas. That put a major kibosh on the idea of one of the team's veteran journeymen getting a chance at joining the starting five next season.
Dallas signed free agents Cam Fleming and Marcus Martin as backups at tackle and guard, respectively, last March. They also re-signed Joe Looney, whose been a reserve center and guard the last two seasons.
If a new talent hadn't been added in the draft, one of these players was likely going to start next year. Looney or Martin obviously had the inside track as experienced guards. But if Dallas could have also elected to move La'el Collins back to LG and start Fleming at right tackle, if that was the way to get the five best players on the field.
Of course, there's no guarantee that Connor Williams will be able to start as a rookie. He was considered a first-round talent by some, though, and a high value pick for where he was taken. One of the veterans may be used to at least start the season.
Still, the Cowboys have been all about the youth movement the last few years. Connor will get every opportunity to become the fifth starter, giving the veterans way more competition than they had before.
Don’t Forget Special Teams Value in Cowboys Roster Decisions
Building a 53-man roster in the NFL is a complex formula, requiring balance between numerous positions on each side of the ball. But what often gets overlooked in our analysis as outsiders is special teams, and that's a huge factor for many of the Dallas Cowboys players hoping to make it past final cuts.
Some players have survived in the league by being just good enough at their listed positions but excelling in special teams roles. You may think of former Dallas safety Bill Bates, who was personally responsible for a special teams player being made part of the annual Pro Bowl roster. A more recent example would be Keith Davis, who was an adequate safety but a special teams ace for several seasons.
To be sure, someone is going to be on this 2019 Cowboys more for their special teams value than their actual offensive or defensive ability. Who might he, or they, be?
One candidate is veteran Cornerback C.J. Goodwin. He is considered an exceptional talent in coverage on punts, which is probably the only reason he's still in the NFL today. At age 29, Goodwin has never really emerged as a consistent contributor on defense.
Young players like Donovan Olumba or rookie Michael Jackson, if not already superior cornerbacks to Goodwin, have far more upside to keep on the roster. But
considering how little they may get on the field anyway as the fifth or sixth corners, you can see why special teams value becomes so important. It may be the only time you actually see them in the game.
If the Cowboys don't want to lose a young prospect but can't let go of Goodwin's special teams ability, it may prompt them to go long at the CB position. But that means taking a roster spot from some other position, and thus the balancing act continues.
Another player to watch in this discussion is second-year an Running Back Jordan Chunn. He doesn't have Alfred Morris' experience or maybe Mike Weber or Darius Jackson's rushing talent, but he has been showing up on the special teams units.
Yesterday, Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus called Chunn "a better Rod Smith" in analyzing his chances of making the roster. If you don't recall, Jaylon's older brother was a solid RB but a standout special teams player in his few years with Dallas.
As we just mentioned with the 5th/6th CB slots, the third running back is not a guy you expect to see much on offense. That will be especially true this year as Dallas will be struggling just to give rookie Tony Pollard the touches he deserves as the number-two RB.
Given that, special teams play becomes vital for the value of whoever is behind Zeke and Pollard on the depth chart. If Jordan Chunn is superior to his competition in that regard, it could negate whatever he lacks as an actual running back.
This same conversation can be had throughout the roster. It's why Noah Brown might make the team over more traditionally gifted receivers, or why a certain linebacker or safety might be more valued than others.
We make the common mistake of referring to "both sides of the ball" when we talk about football teams. There are three sides; special teams can't be underestimated. It will certainly play a part in how the Dallas Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster this season and in years to come.
Cowboys Preseason: Wide Receivers Power Rankings
When cut-down day arrives for the Dallas Cowboys, the team's decision making ability will really be put to the test once they get to the wide receiver position. The Cowboys have plenty of young talent there and choosing the players that will make the 53-man roster won't be easy. Unfortunately, you can't keep them all.
With the Cowboys offense set to take the next step in 2019 under Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore, the team has to get WR right. Since the offseason, we've seen many things from the team's wide receivers that make us wonder who's better than who and who should wear the Star once September comes around.
Today, I share with you my power rankings for the Dallas Cowboys' wide receivers.
1.-3. The Absolute Locks
It's really not necessary to discuss the Cowboys' top three wide receivers. We know there is absolutely no way they fail to make the roster. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb are expected to be the team's starters. Cooper proved he can be a big-time threat as the Cowboys WR1 after many questioned his future following his struggles as an Oakland Raider.
Gallup has had an impressive offseason and preseason, building on his very solid playoff work from last January. This guy is poised for a breakout season and has even shown flashes of having WR1 talent. For now, though, he should be a great number two for Dak Prescott.
As far as Randall Cobb is concerned, he should be more than a decent slot receiver for Dallas replacing Cole Beasley.
Don't worry about the three starting wide receivers. They should be a very good unit.
4. Cedrick Wilson
I might be high on Cedrick Wilson, but I really believe he can be special for the Cowboys. I put him at number four because I believe he's the most balanced player among the other wide receivers. Before going down injured versus the San Francisco 49ers in preseason, he was having himself quite a performance, shadowing undrafted rookie Jon'Vea Johnson, who was supposed to steal the show at WR.
I liked him as a prospect coming out of Boise State last year and I still do. I believe he'll make the roster. He's also shown he could have a role as a returner on special teams.
5. Tavon Austin
Austin didn't have a chance to prove his worth in 2018 after being out most of the season due to injury. With him returning and being in the thick of the WR battles, he'll likely have a spot on the roster. He has potential to play in the slot and steal a few snaps from Cobb while also being a threat for opposing defenses in the deep game thanks to his speed. Not to mention, he's expected to be a contributor on special teams.
6. Noah Brown
Often, I'm surprised by how many in Cowboys Nation feel about Noah Brown. However you may feel about the team's 23-year old receiver, don't expect him to be cut from the team.
We know the coaching staff values his blocking skills very much. Plus, he has upside as a receiver and could develop into a more serious weapon on offense. With the Cowboys set to carry only three tight ends, Brown is an important player for this football team.
7. Devin Smith
I expect the Cowboys to carry six receivers on their roster, so this would be where I expect the front office to start making cuts. Devin Smith has shined lately, specially against the Los Angeles Rams last Saturday when he hauled in a TD pass from Cooper Rush.
He has a chance to make the roster if he keeps turning heads, but right now, I have him in the outside looking in.
8. Jon'Vea Johnson
The undrafted rookie from Toledo was having a very strong offseason but his stock has been falling since preseason began. Unfortunately, Johnson's route running and ability to create separation aren't enough if his drop issues continue.
Hopefully, the Cowboys can keep him for the practice squad and continue to develop him because he really seems to be a special player. Right now, though, there are other guys the team should get on the team.
9. Jalen Guyton
Another undrafted rookie that made plenty of noise in the offseason. Sadly, we didn't see much from Guyton in preseason. This is another guy who could make the practice squad, but his chances of making the 53-man roster seem almost nonexistent right now.
10. Reggie Davis
Davis' chances of making the team took a huge hit when he muffed fumbled a punt versus the Rams last week. When you're fighting for those final spots, you can't make those mistakes on special teams.
Cowboys S Donovan Wilson’s Stock Continues to Rise
It's been no secret that the safety position for the Dallas Cowboys has been one of frustration in recent years. They've locked down the free safety spot with rising star Xavier Woods, however, the strong safety role hasn't found it's true ruler as of yet. Jeff Heath has started 31 of 32 games the last two seasons at strong safety but continues to be a liability in coverage and making tackles in the open field. Veteran George Iloka was brought in during free agency but still hasn't surpassed Heath as the number one. But the best attempt to shore up this particular position was made when the Cowboys took rookie Donovan Wilson in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
In the Cowboys first preseason game against the 49ers, Wilson got his first interception on the pro level. If you watch the video below, he does a fantastic job of reading the eyes of the quarterback and doesn't allow himself to be fooled when he tries to look him off. He sits on the route perfectly and creates the turnover. This is the kind of discipline you want to see from a rookie defensive back.
Rookie Donovan Wilson with the INT for the #Cowboys! Makes it a lot easier when the QB (C.J. Beathard) throws it right to you https://t.co/EIcACB6TSR
According to Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News, Heath missed last weeks game against the Rams due to a neck stinger. This made his participation in practice limited for a few days and allowed Wilson to get some work with the first-team defense this week. He also split reps with Xavier Woods as the down safety in the box. A box safety's responsibility is to give support in the run game as well as jamming receivers/tight ends off the line, blitzing the quarterback and providing coverage in the flat.
Another added dimension for Wilson is that he had two years of nickel corner experience at Texas A&M. Anthony Brown is the starter at the position currently but having another guy with this skill set provides the Cowboys with the all-important position flex.
Wilson had 8 interceptions in college so he has some ball skills. His 21.5 tackles for loss at proves how effective he was in run support in the box safety role. With the help of Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, who developed top talents like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, Wilson could see himself with a huge role on this defense fairly quickly. So much so that I wouldn't be surprised if by seasons end he's the permanent starter at strong safety.
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