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Dallas Cowboys: Is There A Player Development Problem?

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Cowboys Blog - Is There A Player Development Problem?

Think about all of the players the Cowboys have drafted over the past few years... Sure, there have been plenty of players that have turned out to be really good. There have also been quite a few that have fallen flat.

It seems like there is one of two extremes: a player either comes in and just gets it immediately, or the player needs development and never finds it.

If we go back to 2010, it is alarming how awful the Cowboys have been at developing players that they draft after the third round. The only players that have turned out to be impactful have come from the top three rounds really.

Dez Bryant (1st), Sean Lee (2nd), Tyron Smith (1st), DeMarco Murray (3rd), Tyrone Crawford (3rd), Travis Frederick (1st), Zack Martin (1st), and DeMarcus Lawrence (2nd) have been the big players from the Cowboys drafts since 2010. I didn't include anyone from 2015 because it is a bit harsh to judge them so rapidly. You can make arguments for other players, but that is the real core.

Cowboys Blog - Is There A Player Development Problem? 4

Then you look at some other players that were either drafted early and failed, or were mid-round projects that they haven't been able to make work.

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (4th), Bruce Carter (2nd), David Arkin (4th), Josh Thomas (5th), Dwayne Harris (6th), Kyle Wilber (4th), Danny Coale (5th), Gavin Escobar (2nd), JJ Wilcox (3rd), B.W. Webb (4th), Devin Street (5th), Ben Gardner (7th), Ken Bishop (7th), and Terrance Mitchell (7th).

The list is much larger than that, but those are some of the mid-round talents that I thought showed potential. The Cowboys haven't really gotten much from them. Some players like Carter, Wilber, Wilcox, and Street have a ton of talent, but they haven't been able to refine their weaknesses to become great players.

Is this a drafting problem or a player development problem?

It used to be a pretty good skill for the Cowboys to take mid-late round players, or even undrafted players, and make them into viable starters. For instance, your starting quarterback went undrafted.

If you look around the league, you HAVE to hit on some mid-late prospects or undrafted talents. Chris Harris Jr. went undrafted. Richard Sherman was a 5th round pick a couple picks before the Cowboys selected Josh Thomas. Josh Norman was also a 5th round pick.

JJ Wilcox was a running back turned safety in his final season in college. There is a ton of talent in the player, but he can't grip the mental side of the game. He often looks lost and has the worst understanding of angles I have seen.

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JJ Wilcox was a running back at Georgia Southern until his final season

Bruce Carter is an athletic freak. He has the makings of one of the best linebackers in football, but he also can't grip the mental side of the game. He often is at the wrong spot at the wrong time and loses in coverage. His drops in zone were bad and his coverage in man was awful.

Gavin Escobar is a long tight end with amazing hands, yet the Cowboys could never figure out how to get him heavily involved through the passing game, even with the loss of Dez Bryant.

Cowboys Blog - Is There A Player Development Problem? 6

Gavin Escobar's career highlight, flipping into the end zone against the Eagles

Kyle Wilber has shown signs, but he seems to be a man without a position for the Cowboys. Something that hurts when there was potential for him to be an impact player.

Devin Street was advanced in route-running for a kid coming out of college, yet the Cowboys haven't gotten much of anything out of him.

Dwayne Harris isn't really considered a bust, but the Cowboys never used him as anything other than a gadget player and a special teams player. In one season with the Giants, we saw him used far more as a wide receiver with some decent results.

If you add undrafted signees into the mix, this looks even worse for the team. They have signed some really talented projects after the draft, but most fail to make the team or have little impact. You can't really include La'el Collins in this, because that was a special circumstance.

If the Cowboys want to take steps forward, they need to hit somewhere other than the top of the draft. While it is great that they have hit on so many great prospects early, it is hard to have any depth when your team adds one to two players every year through the draft. The team must draft better in the middle and back end of the draft, sign the right players afterward, and have a plan to develop these players.



I've been blogging about sports and music for almost eight years now. I also work in media relations for a New York sports team, so I understand the bridge between the outlets writing about a team and the team monitoring content. I hope to bring something new to Inside The Star, getting deep into draft work, breakdowns and I always come with a strong and passionate opinion. I'm very active on Twitter, so ask questions, comment on stuff, etc. and I will almost definitely respond to you in some sort of debate!

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. James Howerton

    January 22, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    It seems to me to be more of a coaching problem than draft-talent problem. Ex-Cowboy's players are all over the NFL. Just one example is Danny Amendola. We drafted him, released him and NE has utilized his skills very well. Every Sunday I'd see an opponent's player making a play and many times that player was a former Cowboy. I know prior to 2010 we had a terrible problem with judging talent. Much of that had to do with Jerry's ego, IMO. He wants to win SB so bad (and get all the credit for it) that Dallas used to reach for players consistently. He finally wised up a bit and surrounded himself with Player-Personnel people and that has helped quite a bit. It's like when he and Jimmy couldn't fit their heads into the same locker room. If Jerry had contented himself with taking home Lobardi Trophies and kept Johnson around, there's no telling how many they could have won together. And Jerry would have waltzed into the HOF as an Owner. But Jimmy went to Miami and failed and Jerry stayed in Dallas and failed. Jerry's a great owner but a terrible GM. I do think he's improved as a GM lately, like hiring Marinelli as DC. That is a great defensive coordinator. As was stated in the article, the top 3 players drafted each year are usually pretty good players. But GREAT teams hit on at least one or two of their 4-7 picks each year. I also believe that Dallas lets some players go too quickly instead of keeping them and developing them. I know Jerry was considered too faithful to aging stars so he's started letting them go. But sometimes, you NEED to keep older players around. IMO, letting Ware go was a mistake. You have to do player's evaluation and the decision to release/retain a player on a case-by-case basis. DeWare had a great history of avoiding injuries. He still has a few good years left in him and we wouldn't really have a big pass rush problem if we had kept him AND added a few more like Gregory, whom I think will be pretty good. Ware would have been a much better mentor and model for him than the Cracked-in.

  2. cowboysdude

    January 23, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Is there a problem? Hell yes there's a problem. I could write a story longer than this one with the problems but I'll keep it short… The puppet "HC" and ALL the position coaches are nothing more than yes men. The owner "GM" likes them and they say what he wants to hear so they keep them. The players are not complaining and why would they? There's NO accountability in this organization and there's no one to blame but the owner.

  3. R Bell

    January 23, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Where do I start? How in the hell do you let your offensive line coach go (Bill Callahan,) and keep that no good for nothing quarterbacks coach (Wade Wilson)? The organisation is a complete joke from top to bottom. The o-line suffered without Callahan, and Wade Wilson couldn't coach a pee wee team. How badly did the qb position suffer when Romo went down because Wilson couldn't do his job preparing any of the multitude of back-ups? Brandon Weeden sucked in Dallas, but played pretty good in Houston. Coincidence? Don't get me started on the secondary coach… Year after year, one of the biggest needs in the draft is Safety, and/or Cornerback. Every Fricken Year! If the Cowboys had a good secondary coach, they wouldn't go into the NFL Draft needing secondary help. I could go on and on about how stupid the front office is. (Jerry and Stephen Jones… How nice is it that your father owns an NFL team, automatically gets you a vip position.) A team CANNOT go 4-12 and everybody keeps their job, that's just STUPID! Keep Garrett, Marinelli and Linehan, but fire the hell out of somebody! You have to look at every position coach and ask them, Did you do your JOB? OB's, hell to the no! must be Fired! WR's, okay to keep. RB's, okay to keep. OL, not good, but keep. DL, not really must make a change LB's, not bad. keep. S/CB's hell no! must be fired! GM, Must be fired! Jerry Jones himself said last year, "As the owner of the team, if he had another GM, he would have fired him by now" What does that say about Jerry Jones the GM? You stink as an owner, and you stink as a general manager! No offence.

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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Smiley N. Pool / The Dallas Morning News

Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?

Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.

Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli Should Be On The Hot Seat

Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli

El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.

Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.

Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.

Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.

En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.

Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Dallas Cowboys OC Scott Linehan (Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports)

Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan

Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.

Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.

A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.

Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.

Jerry Jones Delivers Vote of Confidence in "Real Deal" Jason Garrett

Head Coach Jason Garrett

El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.

Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.

Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.

Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.

Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Star Blog

2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch

Kevin Brady

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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies

As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.

It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.

Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.

No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.

Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.

There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.

Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.

Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.



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Star Blog

What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?

Kevin Brady

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.

Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.

They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?

Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.

Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.

Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.

Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.

Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.

This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.

The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.



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