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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.

Cowboys Blog - Is There A Player Development Problem? 5

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
  • James Howerton

    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.

  • http://www.dallascowboyschat.com cowboysdude

    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.

  • R Bell

    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.

Star Blog

How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?

Sean Martin

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How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary?
(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.

Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.

It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.

Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.

How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary? 2

Dallas Cowboys S Kavon Frazier (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Safety Kavon Frazier

Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.

This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense.  Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.

The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.

Safety Xavier Woods

Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana State. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.

The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.

Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.

Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.

How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary? 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Anthony Brown, S Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath

Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.

There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.

Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.

With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.

Tell us what you think about "How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys' Pass Rush: Who Will Be QB Sack Leader In 2017?
Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports

For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.

On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself  by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.

However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving. 

First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.

We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.

For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.

Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear.  In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.

Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.

The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.

However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.

Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.

We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.

Tell me what you think about "No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?

Brian Martin

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Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?

The Dallas Cowboys are extremely thin at the safety position. Fact. They haven't really brought in anyone to upgrade the position from last season. Fact. I just wanted to point that out because there's a lot of discussion as to whether or not the Cowboys need to add another safety before training camp.

I don't know where you stand on this debate or how I feel about it personally, but it's definitely something that needs to be discussed from the Cowboys end. It is the one position where there is a lot of unknown and inexperienced. If one of their current safeties were to go down with an injury and miss any time, the whole defense would suffer.

As things stand right now, Jeff Heath is the only one who will reprise his starting role on the backend of the Cowboys defense. Behind him are Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier, but knowing exactly how they fit in at this moment is completely up in the air.

Unfortunately, that's the top three safeties for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2018 season. What's even more bothersome is their fourth might be an undrafted rookie, Tyree Robinson. I don't know about you, but I find that very concerning. But, maybe Kris Richard, the defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, knows something we don't.

Kris Richard

Dallas Cowboys DB Coach Kris Richard

Fortunately, Kris Richard was recently asked if he had any concerns about the safety position on the "Doomsday Podcast" with Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. He said he had "none".

"I'm confident. I feel really good at this point in time and it's because the level of character of our guys," he said. "We're going to get better. That's the deal because our guys are young, focused, I think the hunger's there. I love the look in their eyes. I love how everyone is buying in, is focused and paying attention to detail. It makes a difference when guys care. It makes a difference when each one wants to teach one. We're trying to build something special. We want to be tribe-like. We want to be more than a team."

It certainly sounds like Kris Richard is excited about the Dallas Cowboys current safeties. Of course, he would never just come out and say that this group is terrible or he wished they'd add Earl Thomas another available safety. That's just not how things work. He's here to coach up the guys on the roster and not worry about personnel moves.

I don't know about you, but I know I would feel a lot better if they had one more experienced safety who could come in and compete for a starting job. Maybe someone like Tre Boston or Kenny Vaccaro, who are still unsigned. Maybe make that trade for Earl Thomas? That's a dream that just won't die.

Regardless, the Dallas Cowboys need to do something to address their depth at the safety position. I don't know what their plans are moving forward, but hopefully they have a contingency plan in place. It's just smart business.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys need to add a safety before training camp?



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