The Dallas Cowboys open training camp on July 24th, just a few weeks away. Inspired by the NFL’s recent Top 100 list, I thought it would be interesting to try rank just the Cowboys players against one another. This should also give us a sense of who will make up the majority of the 53-man roster after final cuts.
The players are ranked based on a variety of factors. Overall talent and performance, legacy with the franchise, and the importance of their position (e.g. left tackle vs. guard/center) were all considered. I also looked at their projected role in 2017.
Today we will look at the players ranked #11-20. Now we're getting into that upper tier; starters and key rotation players who will have a heavy hand in how the Cowboys fare in 2017.
20. Jaylon Smith, LB
Is this too high for a guy who's never taken a NFL snap? Maybe, but that's where expectations are for Smith as he makes his delayed professional debut. Considered an elite, top-five talent in the 2016 draft class, Jaylon fell to the early second because of a major knee injury late into his college career. Dallas sat through his rehab period and are now hoping to have a dynamic playmaker added to their defense.
The ceiling for a healthy Jaylon Smith is about as high as it gets. He can make plays in coverage as well as he can blitz the quarterback. The Cowboys are hoping that pairing Smith with Sean Lee will give them perhaps the most dangerous linebacker combination in the NFL, particularly in their nickel scheme.
Of course, major injuries sometimes need more than one year for the player to get fully right. It takes time to build confidence in your body again, even if it's structurally okay. Jaylon in 2017 is not only getting used to NFL football but also his repaired and rehabbed knee. It may take time for him to meet the lofty expectations.
19. David Irving, DE/DT
Speaking of expectations, Irving brought on plenty with his late-season play in 2016. The versatile physical specimen, who can play either end or tackle, had three sacks in the Cowboys Week 15 and 16 games. He turns just 24 in August, leaving fans very excited about his long-term potential.
At 6'7", Irving can be a matchup problem for any blocker. He should be a big part of the defensive line rotation this year, especially with his versatility. Irving may not be starting in the base defense, but you can expect to see him in on critical passing downs and in many other packages.
Irving's rise hit a speed bump this offseason with a suspension for PED use. He will miss the Cowboys' first four games on 2017. Despite this setback, David should still be a major factor this season.
18. Terrance Williams, WR
Many were surprised when Dallas re-signed Terrance to a four-year, $17 million contract this offseason. Nevertheless, the move brings continuity to the offense for the Cowboys' young quarterback and keeps a solid player in the mix.
The greatest complaint against Williams is that he can't fill Dez Bryant's shoes as a go-to receiver when Bryant misses time. Otherwise, Terrance performs adequately and sometimes makes very athletic plays. He is also a very good run blocker, which is important for a team looking to lean on Ezekiel Elliott.
Because of Cole Beasley and Jason Witten, Williams is never going put up the numbers that one typically thinks of from the other starting receiver. This does lead to some unfair criticism. Clearly, the Cowboys valued Terrance enough to keep him in town.
17. Benson Mayowa, DE
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Mayowa has almost been forgotten in all of the talk about who can help the Cowboys' pass rush. Considering he was the team leader in sacks last year, Benson deserves far more attention.
As the linked article covers in more detail, Mayowa came on strong as the season progressed and was averaging nearly a sack each game in December. This is a player who got little use in Oakland as a 3-4 pass rusher before joining Dallas and converting to the new scheme. If last year was just the beginning of his development, Mayowa could be a major player in the 2017 defense.
Most of Dallas' defensive ends are better suited to play on the strong side. Mayowa is more of the prototypical weak side rusher, suited for going up against NFL left tackles. If he can prove himself against Tyron Smith in training camp, Benson will certainly earn the coaches' confidence to take on the rest of the NFL's top blockers.
16. L.P. Ladouceur, LS
Nobody on the Cowboys roster can claim absolute perfection at their profession except for Louis-Philippe Ladouceur. The team's long snapper since 2005, Ladouceur hasn't had a bad snap in his entire professional career. At 36-years-old, he returns to keep making life easier for Dan Bailey and Chris Jones.
Consider the gravity of just one bad snap on special teams. Picture the ball soaring over a punter's head, or not having a clean snap on a critical game-winning field goal. These single moments can win or lose games, and Ladouceur has spent 12 seasons making sure nobody can blame the long snapper.
Every year, the Cowboys bring in a young prospect to to give their veteran some rest. Zach Wood was here last camp and returns in 2017. If a younger player can earn the team's trust, Dallas might finally make a switch to prepare for the future. You can't top perfection, though, so it's always difficult for anyone to push Ladouceur out the door.
15. Anthony Brown, CB
From a 2016 sixth-round pick to a likely starter in his second year, Brown has had a stunning start to his NFL career. Injuries to Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick led to Brown starting nine games as a rookie, and early on the young corner showed little drop-off from his veteran teammates.
Even if the Cowboys go with veteran Scandrick and Nolan Carroll as the base defense starters in 2017, Brown will see plenty of time in the nickel and other packages. At the least, he should be starting for whatever amount of time Carroll gets suspended for his recent DWI arrest.
Personally, I think Anthony will be a full-time starter and am very excited his second year. The work he will get this offseason higher up on the depth chart, going against the starting offense, will be invaluable for his development. After whiffing on a big money free agent and a first-round pick at corner, how ironic would it be for Dallas' next great CB to be a late-round gem?
14. La'el Collins, OT
All indications are that Collins, who has played left guard for the last two years, will move to right tackle to replace the retired Doug Free. The move has been met with mixed reaction, though most are confident that Collins can at least do a solid at the position.
The knock on the move, and this is the way I lean, is that Collins had superstar potential at guard and probably not the same upside at tackle. At times, La'el flashed things at guard that reminded you of Larry Allen. But injuries took him off the field last year and now circumstances have made right tackle the greater concern.
Collins was still a first-round prospect in the 2015 draft after playing tackle at LSU, so there's reason to think he can still be an exceptional player at his "new" position. If he can match Doug Free's run-blocking prowess while also cleaning up a few of pass protection and penalty issues, it will least be an upgrade that should keep the Cowboys' offensive line as one of the league's top units.
13. Orlando Scandrick, CB
The veteran leader at cornerback now, Scandrick will hope to finally have a healthy season after two tough years. He missed all of 2015 with two ligament tears in his knee and was playing through injury for much of last year, missing four games and being limited in several others.
While he's been the slot corner for some time, Scandrick may have to move outside to make up for the losses of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Much of this upcoming camp will no doubt be used to decide where Orlando, Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll, and perhaps the two rookies are best suited in the nickel scheme.
Turning 30 last February, Scandrick needs to have a strong year to avoid be swept away by the youth movement on defense. The Cowboys can terminate his contract next year for some cap relief. However, his veteran presence and a strong performance in 2017 could easily keep him around.
12. Maliek Collins, DT
While Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott were the shining stars of the 2016 draft class, Collins was one of the surprising steals who have helped make it a special crop of young talent. The third-round pick quickly emerged as the most consistent player on the line, playing more total snaps than any other defensive tackle.
With the athleticism to play as the three-technique tackle but also the size to play as the one-tech, Maliek will be pivotal to the Cowboys' defensive schemes this year. He could wind up playing spot depending where Dallas wants to fit in other players, opening up various potential matchups. The idea of Collins and David Irving working together in the middle already has me excited.
With five sacks as a rookie, Collins could also become part of the remedy to the Cowboys' pass-rushing issues. If he can develop into a consistent interior threat, things will get easier for all of the defensive ends trying to attack the quarterback. It's just another reason why Maliek deserves the recognition as a key player in 2017.
11. Byron Jones, S
Now entering his third year and firmly entrenched at safety, Byron Jones is ready to take his reputation to the next level. At times he was one of the top-rated safeties in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, but the Cowboys need Jones to leave no doubt in 2017 that he's one of the best in the business.
That mainstream notice generally comes from big plays, and that's an area where Byron has struggled so far. He didn't get his first interception until Week 15 of his sophomore season, and Dallas needs more that one turnover every 30 games from a starting safety. Jeff Heath has done better in limited reserve duty.
Outside of the interceptions, Jones has been solid-to-exceptional in all other areas. He had made the highlight reel with athletic pass deflections and also been good in run support. His ability to play man coverage on tight ends and even receivers helps the Cowboys be more creative in their blitz formations. With just a few picks, Byron can get the national recognition that the rest of his game deserves.
5 Winners from Dallas Cowboys OTAs and Minicamp
The Dallas Cowboys have completed the offseason part of their practices and are now eyeing the start of training camp in Oxnard, California on July 26th. The offseason stuff doesn't necessarily show what a team thinks about a player near as much as training camp, so I won't look at any losers because these practices have varying personnel at times.
That being said, there certainly were some winners during the offseason.
1. Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Every day removed from his injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl is another day closer to potentially seeing the All-American linebacker that would have been a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
With the knee injury, there's always been some doubt about Jaylon returning to that level of play, but as offseason practices wore on it was becoming clear that he's much healthier and much more mobile than he was in 2017.
Both of those things are strong signs in the right direction for the third year pro.
After sitting out his rookie season to rehab and then having some good moments and some really bad moments in 2017, it sounds like he's making progress to be a difference maker in 2018.
During OTAs and minicamp sessions that were open to the media, Jaylon was seen running with the first-team defense every time they took the field. Now, some of that is due to the Cowboys limiting the snaps of veteran All-Pro Sean Lee and rookie first round pick Leighton Vander Esch, who came up with a sprained ankle, but the fact that Smith's snaps weren't limited should only be seen as a good sign.
We still have a long way to go until the Dallas Cowboys strap it on for their week one matchup with the Carolina Panthers, but Jaylon Smith is on an excellent trajectory.
Anyone with a Clear, Eye, View can see that.
2. Anthony Brown, Cornerback
One of the bigger surprises during the offseason practices so far has to be Anthony Brown, and not Jourdan Lewis, running with the first team nickel defense.
Jourdan Lewis proved he was a really good corner in his rookie year, both in the slot and on the outside, while Anthony Brown struggled at times. Knowing that new Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard prefers his corners to be tall, long, and strong has led to some speculation that Lewis may not be a fit in Richard's scheme.
That's certainly a possibility. The more realistic possibility is that Brown, with more seniority, was getting the opportunities first as is often the case with Jason Garrett coached teams during the offseason.
While Brown is a pretty good slot cornerback in his own right, this might only be temporary.
3. Michael Gallup, Wide Receiver
As I read reports from OTAs and minicamp practices, one thing that stood out is that Michael Gallup was winning and winning a lot.
When asked in a mailbag who had been building the best rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott, Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com had this to say:
"Bryan: That’s a great question. The guys that come to mind for this [sic] me are Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin. Those guys have found ways to generate space and have been reliable catching the ball when it’s thrown in their direction."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Just a few days earlier Broaddus stated that Cole Beasley and Gallup were the only ones getting open with any consistency.
Now, it's still early and it's padless practice, but that's an encouraging sign for the third round pick out of Colorado State.
Typically it takes a year for wide receivers to adjust to the NFL game, especially with how much press coverage is played by NFL defensive backs. One of the byproducts of Kris Richard's existence as the defensive backs coach is that they're playing more press coverage. He's teaching his DB's to be more aggressive and more physical at the line of scrimmage.
For Gallup and the rest of the wide receiver group, that can only help them as they get ready to face opposing defenses. One way to disrupt timing-based routes or an offense that relies on separation and yards after the catch is to disrupt the receiver at the snap. Every practice, these guys are working to beat the press.
As a rookie wide receiver, this can only benefit Gallup -- in particular -- as that will be a big transition from college where defenses are playing off the line of scrimmage against the countless number of spread offenses that exist.
The fact that he's already winning reps during practices against some pretty good corners is a great sign for the Dallas Cowboys.
He may not be a starter in this offense right away, but I doubt it takes long before he's cemented himself in three and four wide receiver personnel groupings.
4. Chaz Green, Guard
I'm sure you aren't a fan of seeing Chaz Green's name anywhere near a "winners" list. As bad as the Atlanta Falcons game was for him, we can't ignore the fact that Green got a lot of first team repetitions during OTAs and minicamp while Zack Martin negotiated his contract extension.
Either that means the Dallas Cowboys haven't given up on their third round pick from 2015 or they're trying to get as many practice snaps out of him as possible to be able to make a clearer decision regarding his future with the team.
Getting to play with the ones is encouraging, but he still has a lot to prove during training camp to keep a spot on the roster. Green's going to get a long leash as a former premium draft pick. We'll see if he takes advantage of it.
5. Jihad Ward, Defensive Tackle
Maliek Collins hurt his foot -- again -- and David Irving was dealing with off the field stuff -- again -- leaving Jihad Ward with a lot of opportunities to play against the first team offensive line as the three-technique defensive tackle.
On June 4th, I asked Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com who his biggest surprises on offense and defense were during OTAs:
Cedrick Wilson and Jihad Ward https://t.co/kgcgJkTj3U
If Broaddus is encouraged by Ward's progress, I am too.
He's going to have a lot of opportunity to get a strangle hold on the 3T defensive tackle spot with Maliek Collins not set to be back until late in training camp, and David Irving suspended the first four games of the 2018 season.
The Dallas Cowboys liked Ward coming out of college and had him just behind Maliek Collins on their 2016 NFL Draft Big Board.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
There's still a lot of practice reps that have yet to take place, but the Dallas Cowboys have gotten some encouraging contributions from these players. As we look to training camp, who will you be watching to see if the stand-out and can make the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster?
Cowboys Roster: Who Are the “Best” Players on the Bubble?
It may still seem very far away, but the days of NFL clubs holding 90 players on their roster are numbered. By September 1st, each team will cut down to 53 players, thinning the roster following training camp. For the Dallas Cowboys, this is surely going to leave some talented players off the 2018 squad, as the team is once again entering Oxnard with a deep group.
We all have our "pet cats" that we'll root for to make the roster however possible. Be it a wide receiver like Noah Brown, now stuck behind a wave of new pass catchers, or a cornerback like Marquez White, the roster crunch for the Cowboys will come at a cost to some.
Forecasting exactly where the team will "go long" and where they'll be short on numbers is hard to predict without the team back on the field, but here is my initial look at some players that Cowboys Nation may have to move on from.
Cornerback Marquez White
Previously in this offseason, I wrote about how Cornerback Anthony Brown may be one of the Cowboys better all-around players to miss this year's cut. With a strong showing in front of new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard at OTAs and mini camp, Brown feels well on his way to earning a spot with the Cowboys, leaving Marquez White in a precarious situation.
White spent his rookie season in Dallas on the practice squad, a sixth round pick out of Florida State. Sliding in the draft because of his rawness as a prospect, White has the ideal size and length to play anywhere in Richard's defense if given the chance.
Getting this chance may come difficult to White though, as Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie are slotted to start on the boundary for the Cowboys at cornerback. Not as well suited to compete in the slot against both Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Duke Thomas, White's time with the Cowboys could be limited.
Moving on from White would be an important vote of confidence in the rest of the secondary for the Cowboys. Teams around the league would waste no time recalling their initial draft grades on White to potentially add the CB to their roster.
Defensive End Charles Tapper
The Cowboys have very much so built their roster with a "what have you done for me lately?" type approach, and for Charles Tapper this answer is disappointing. Constantly dealing with injuries since entering the league in 2016, Tapper has appeared in two games and recorded one sack.
Tapper couldn't escape this year's offseason program without another setback, suffering a concussion that kept him out of workouts. Even without assuming that the Cowboys add a reinstated Randy Gregory to their roster, the team is prepared with more proven options at right defensive end.
Rookie Dorance Armstrong, FA signing Kony Ealy, and last year's first-round pick Taco Charlton are all capable of playing this spot. Doing so with more availability than Tapper may be all this group needs to earn their spot over the third-year draft pick out of Oklahoma.
Guard Marcus Martin
Yesterday here at Inside The Star, I wrote about how the Cowboys potentially keeping more offensive linemen compared to recent years could be bad news for the team's tight ends. Logically, this also means that some of the Cowboys embarrassment of riches on the OL will be looking for a new job.
With starting experience as a member of the 49ers, Marcus Martin was brought in as insurance for the departed Jonathan Cooper, prior to the Cowboys drafting Connor Williams. With Williams expected to start immediately at left guard, Martin has a long way to go in holding his spot over the likes of Kadeem Edwards and Damien Mama.
The Cowboys value Edward's swing ability, although Martin is capable of lining up at center along with guard. At any interior position, he may have more experience and skill than Mama, but if the Cowboys feel certain about their five starters they can afford to keep a cheaper player like Mama compared to Martin.
A free agent signing like Martin not making the Cowboys roster would only solidify the team's status as the best OL in the game, with Offensive Tackle Cam Fleming being their other veteran FA signing.
Running Back Bo Scarbrough
Bo Scarbrough and the Dallas Cowboys is a fun concept, but it may be just that as the roster trims in Dallas. The star running back out of Alabama fell all the way to the Cowboys final pick in the seventh round at this year's draft, joining Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and now Darius Jackson in a loaded backfield.
Scarbrough stands out as a back with true power and finishing ability, but he'll have to do so on special teams to justify a roster spot. Simply playing as a short yardage back won't be enough for Scarbrough to survive in a RB room full of complete play makers, yet still reliant on a true workhorse back.
Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson
When the Cowboys drafted both Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson, they created a logjam at wide receiver. Through competition, the team is hoping their best five/six receivers for Dak Prescott to throw to will reshape this offense.
The latest signing as an outside receiver with over-the-top speed, Deonte Thompson was brought in by the Cowboys in free agency via the Buffalo Bills.
Thompson's ability to impact a game with this speed is enough for him to secure a spot in Scott Linehan's offense. Without a strong showing in camp and the preseason though, its realistic to see Thompson losing out on this spot. The Cowboys have already seen what players like Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir can do, which fills up their depth chart at WR when adding Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By taking a look at where the Cowboys have depth to spare -- prior to any actual roster battles taking place next month -- it's easier to understand the types of decisions that lie ahead for this team.
All of the players listed above will have their opportunity to prove me wrong and earn their spot with the team, capable of helping in a big way. Regardless of how this list was constructed, going from 90 players down to 53 will be as difficult as ever for Dallas in 2018.
Report: QB Dak Prescott Signs Multi-Year Deal With Campbell’s Chunky Soup
Being the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback comes with its challenges, but it certainly comes with its perks as well. One of those perks is the opportunity for endorsement deals, and income outside of his football salary.
Dak Prescott is embracing those perks now, reportedly signing a multi-year deal with Campbell's Chunky Soup through 2020. Prescott will continue to endorse Chunky MAXX, Campbell's protein soup line.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has re-signed a new multi-year deal with Campbell's Chunky Soup through 2020. This is the first QB multi-year deal for Chunky Soup since Donovan McNabb in 2001. He'll continue to promote Chunky MAXX, the protein-packed line of soups, this year, per Edelman
Campbell's Soup has had some legendary football related commercials throughout the years, none more memorable than those with former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and his mother.
In fact, Dak Prescott is the first NFL quarterback to sign a multi-year deal with Campbell's Chunky Soup since those McNabb commercials.
Hopefully, Dak Prescott can continue to "prove it" on the field and still be the Cowboys starting quarterback throughout this entire Campbell's deal.
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Should Cowboys DT Jihad Ward Be Getting More Attention?
Star Blog4 days ago
Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
Star Blog1 day ago
ESPN Proposes Trade Offer To Bring Earl Thomas To Dallas
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Could Connor Williams Actually Define the Cowboys’ Season?
Star Blog3 days ago
Tavon Austin, the Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?
Player News2 weeks ago
Report: Cowboys Sign OL Zack Martin To 6 Year Deal
Star Blog6 days ago
Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
4 Reasons Terrance Williams Won’t Be a Cowboy