When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a position or role on a team or when they're fighting for survival.
Today, we're going to look at how secure the Cowboys' players should feel in 2018. This not only applies to if they make the final roster, but also their position as a starter or key roleplayer.
We will start with the offensive players.
Tier 1 - The Untouchables
As pictured above, the core trio on the offensive line is arguably the team's most secure players overall. Frederick and Martin are arguably the best in the NFL at their positions, and Tyron is always an elite tackle as long he remains healthy. Thankfully, it sounds like he's getting back to good health in 2018.
Despite his sophomore struggles, Dak Prescott is the starting quarterback in 2018. Even with the drop in his numbers from his historic rookie season, Dak remains in the top half of NFL passers and his potential is enormous. We may be having a different conversation next season if the problems continue, but this year he's their guy.
While there is a lot of intrigue behind Ezekiel Elliott on the running back depth chart, he is unchallenged as the team's starting RB and primary offensive weapon.The potential for Elliott to get a career-high workload, and threaten 2,000 rushing yards, is out there this season.
I also included La'el Collins in the top tier, though with an asterisk. There is no question that Collins will be a 2018 starter, but there is still a little uncertainty as to whether he will play guard or tackle. The team appears committed to keeping him at right tackle, but the option of moving him back to left guard remains out there if an injury or some other occurrence forces their hand.
Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable
FB Jamize Olawale, WR Allen Hurns, WR Cole Beasley, OT Cam Fleming
Dallas traded a fifth-round pick to get veteran Fullback Jamize Olawale from Oakland. They had Olawale in training camp and on the practice squad back in 2012. Clearly, the Cowboys targeted him as the FB they wanted this year and there's little reason to think that will change.
Similarly, Dallas went out and signed free agent Allen Hurns to a deal that indicates he will have a starting role this year. With any new player, there's always a little room for uncertainty if he doesn't take to the offense well. But Hurns should step into the role vacated by Dez Bryant's release, and will hopefully forge better chemistry with Dak Prescott.
Cole Beasley was Dak's favorite target in 2016, and defenses figured that out and keyed on him last season. His effectiveness waned, and it's now up to Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to find ways to get Beasley open again. Whether it's a starting spot or as the slot receiver, Beasley's major role in the offense is sure to continue.
Veteran Offensive Tackle Cam Fleming was signed to be the swing man behind Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, and that is almost assuredly where he stays. Fleming really only has room to move up, perhaps into a starting role should Collins wind up back at guard. Either way, Fleming is locked in as a key member of the offensive line.
Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?
QB Cooper Rush, QB Mike White, RB Rod Smith, RB Tavon Austin, WR Terrance Williams, WR Michael Gallup, G Connor Williams, TE Geoff Swaim, TE Dalton Schultz
You could argue that Cooper Rush and Mike White are both bubble players, perhaps fighting for the same roster spot, but it depends on the Cowboys' current philosophy about quarterback depth. I think they've changed from the day of keeping just two, moving to more of a pipeline model and wanting to keep talent when they find it. As such, I think both Rush and White are on the 2018 roster.
Rod Smith's experience with the team, fullback versatility, and special teams play should keep him around this year. He will have challenges to his playing time at running back from some of the new faces, but Smith offers too much value and is the only proven reserve they have.
Speaking of Austin, the speedster is sure to be here in 2018 in some capacity. Dallas didn't just give up a draft pick, even a sixth-rounder, lightly to acquire him. At worst, he should be the team's return specialist. But it appears that the Cowboys are going to find creative ways to work him into the offense and add a new element to their attack.
Despite his recent arrest, Terrance Williams should be around next year. There's no salary cap value in cutting Williams so the Cowboys will get what they can out of him in 2018, then likely move on next year. How much playing time he gets will be the question, thanks largely to exciting rookie Michael Gallup.
Second-round pick Connor Williams is a roster lock, but will he be a starter? Dallas will be asking the rookie to convert to left guard and it could be more than he can handle in his first year. At worst, Williams should be a versatile reserve option this season. But the Cowboys are hoping for much more.
The only tight ends that I would guarantee spots for are veteran Geoff Swaim and rookie Dalton Schultz. Given his experience, albeit limited, Swaim is the pack leader to replace Jason Witten as the starter. And Schultz, a fourth-round pick, will make the team in some capacity. While Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin aren't far behind, I could still see potential for them to not make the squad.
Tier 4 - Bubble Players
RB Bo Scarbrough, WR Noah Brown, WR Deonte Thompson, WR Cedrick Wilson, TE Rico Gathers, TE Blake Jarwin, G/C Joe Looney, G/C Marcus Martin, OL Chaz Green
You can make cases for any of these guys to be on the 2018 roster, but also see potential for them to be cut. In a few cases, one may have to fall for the other to survive.
Running Back Bo Scarbrough seems like a steal as a seventh-round pick. The rookie's power running will work well behind an offensive line that makes lanes for him to pick up speed. He's hardly guaranteed a roster spot, though, and could now be threatened by the return of a previous late-round RB in Darius Jackson.
There is a logjam of intriguing receivers, meaning not everyone will make the roster. Veteran Deonte Thompson was signed to a minimal deal that doesn't secure his spot on the team. He is up against the youth and potential of guys like Noah Brown, rookie Cedrick Wilson, or perhaps dark horse Lance Lenoir. The bottom of the WR depth chart will be one of the most interesting topics leading up to final cuts.
At tight end, Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin could both easily make the team. But Dallas may not need to keep four tight ends anymore with the move to more of a spread offense. What's more, fullback Jamize Olawale has the size to play the position in certain looks. It's possible that Gathers and Jarwin will be competing for just one available roster spot.
Before last week, I'd have considered Joe Looney and Marcus Martin as locks to make the team. But then Chaz Green got the first-team reps in practice at right guard, and now you have to consider Green as a challenger. Dallas may have room for all three guys to make the team, depending on how many total offensive linemen they wish to keep. But it's possible that there are only two spots for three players.
Tier 5 - Longshots
Almost every year there's a surprise or two for who makes the team. Players who felt like afterthoughts before training camp push their way into the conversation, and sometimes right onto the roster.
Take, for example, Receiver Lance Lenoir. Not only does he have some flash on offense, but his ability as a return specialist could make him hard to cut. While Tavon Austin will likely fill that role, Lenoir could win that job and a roster spot if he's clearly better than the veteran.
Or what about Running Back Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick just two years ago, who the Cowboys brought back when he hit free agency? Jackson's 4.4 speed and one-cut style suit this offense well, giving him more home run potential than Rod Smith or Bo Scarbrough. Perhaps the second time around goes better for the young RB.
Those are just a couple of the guys that you may already be considering, and there's potential for others to come out of total obscurity. Tight End David Wells may not have to do much to move up the depth chart with that position in such a state of flux. Or perhaps a young guard or tackle prospect pushes a veteran like Joe Looney or Marcus Martin off the team.
Sure, the odds are against these guys. But the door is never closed until cut day.
Cowboys 2018 Preview: Which Offensive Starting Jobs Are Open?
We're still about a month away from the start of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Training Camp. However, even now, we have a good sense of what starting jobs are open and which ones have already been decided for the upcoming season.
Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that appear to already set. Barring injuries or some other unpredictable occurrence, here are the guys who you can bet on starting this season:
- QB - Dak Prescott
- RB - Ezekiel Elliott
- FB - Jamize Olawale
- WR - Allen Hurns
- OT - Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- G - Zack Martin
- C - Travis Frederick
Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.
For example, Allen Hurns may be the team's highest-paid receiver and the assumed replacement to Dez Bryant. But he's still brand new to this team, so chemistry with Dak Prescott and system familiarity make him a little risky early one.
La'el Collins will be a starter, but are we sure it's at right tackle? If nobody impresses at left guard, Dallas could still elect to move Collins back inside and start veteran Cam Fleming at tackle.
Still, these aren't likely. So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 12 players who are safe bets to start. What about the other 10 spots? What's are the possibilities and probabilities there?
Today, we'll focus on the offense.
Given his previous success and chemistry with Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley could seem an easy bet for the WR2 position. But there are several factors to consider.
Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is more of an all-around receiver and his play already in OTAs and minicamp has impressed. He also gives the Cowboys a young WR to form a new trio with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; an offensive nucleus they would hope to build on for years to come.
If Gallup keeps excelling, Dallas won't hesitate to give him a starting job. Beasley is a free agent next year and the rookie is locked up for four seasons.
There's also Terrance Williams to consider, all of his recent personal shenanigans aside. He offers system familiarity and exceptional run blocking, which is good for a starting role. You want Williams on the field when the ball is going to Ezekiel Elliott on early downs.
This speaks to the reality that being the starter may not necessarily lead to getting the most targets. Beasley could be the slot receiver and still easily get more passes than the WR2 by the end of the season.
The good news is that the Cowboys have options, which should also mean depth once things shake out.
Arguably the most wide open position on the whole roster, tight end is a massive crater in the offense with the impact of Jason Witten's retirement. Who will fill the void?
While veteran Geoff Swaim is getting the early deference, he's hardly locked in as the starter. Swaim's nine career catches give him hardly any cache over rookie Dalton Schultz or prospects Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.
It truly is a four-man race for the starting role, which makes things fun but also tense for the next two months. The reality that none of these guys will likely be able to perform on Jason Witten's level is also scary.
Thankfully, though, they may not have to. Dallas appears to be moving to more of a spread offense better suited to Dak Prescott's style, which may reduce the expectations of the TE position from the last 15 years of Witten.
As we mentioned before with Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim is a proficient run blocker. Couple that with his experience and he's the best bet to start, but we could see a steady rotation throughout the year as Dallas tried to figure out which guy is best suited for the long term.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will get the first crack at being the new starter at left guard, but rookies rarely have a guarantee when it comes to any first-year role. Throw in that he'll be transitioning from tackle to guard, and Connor has some clear question marks.
As mentioned already, Dallas could decide to flip La'el Collins back to LG and start someone else at right tackle. Ironically, that could also be Connor Williams. The Cowboys might decide that the rookie is better at his college position. It could also be the aforementioned Cam Fleming.
Also competing for the job at guard will be veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin. Both have position flex as centers or guards, meaning one could start and the other could be your top interior reserve. That versatility is nice for them and for the Cowboys, allowing the best man to win.
Chaz Green is also still hanging around, and surprisingly got first-team reps ecently when Zack Martin was missing camp. The Cowboys have invested a lot in Green and are understandably desperate to still get something for their trouble. He may get more of a chance to compete here than we'd have guessed.
But still, this should be Connor Williams' job to lose. A second-round pick is no small thing, especially for a guy expected to play interior line. Those picks are made with the goal of finding a starter, and Williams will get every chance to prove if he can handle it or not.
~ ~ ~
As you can see, there's going to be some real turnover in the Cowboys offense this year. But this is only half the roster, and there's even more opportunity on the other side of the ball.
Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the open starting jobs on defense.
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!
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