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Dallas Cowboys Top 50 Players of 2017 (11-20)

Jess Haynie

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Orlando Scandrick

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.

Jaylon Smith

LB Jaylon Smith

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.

Benson Mayowa

DE Benson Mayowa

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.

L.P. Ladouceur

Long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur in his natural position. (AP Photo/James D Smith)

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.

Anthony Brown

CB Anthony Brown

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?

La'el Collins

OT La'el Collins

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.

Orlando Scandrick

CB Orlando Scandrick

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.

Maliek Collins

DT Maliek Collins

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.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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1 Comment
  • John Williams

    You know this is a talented team when Maliek Collins and Byron Jones are sitting outside the top ten.

    I probably wouldn’t put Jaylon that high, but his expectations are certainly as high as a top ten talent on the team.

    I’m not as low on Terrance Williams as a lot of people in Cowboys Nation seem to be, so I respect where you have him there. He is a winning piece on the team and his intangibles help for sure.

    I’m really looking forward to what we are going to see out of Anthony Brown in year two. Hopefully the Chidobe and Lewis additions lit a fire under him as well as Scandrick. I love that for the first time in what seems like forever, the defensive backfield looks like a strength and not a weakness.

Game Notes

Byron Jones Has Been The Cowboys’ Best Player, And Here’s Why

Kevin Brady

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Byron Jones
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For a former first round pick, Byron Jones has had to prove himself to the Cowboys fan base quite a few times.

As a rookie Jones was impressive, flashing just how high a ceiling he had. Jones split some time between cornerback and safety due to injury and inconsistencies of his secondary mates, but he excelled in both roles.

As his career continued, Byron Jones continued to do what he does best. Jones became the Cowboys' tight end eraser, matching up with some of the best in the league and downright shutting them down. Over time, however, the coaching staff began to misuse Jones a bit. Moving him to safety full time but still wanting him to use those tight end coverage skills, Dallas started to move Jones into the box more often.

That, especially in 2017, is where Byron Jones struggled the most. Being utilized as a box safety put Jones' weaknesses as a physical tackler on full display, and left him open for fans' criticism.

Luckily for both Jones and the Cowboys, new passing game coordinator Kris Richard values him as a cornerback, where he will spend the rest of his career in Dallas. And, thus far, the returns on that move have been fantastic.

PFF DAL Cowboys on Twitter

After 3 weeks, Byron Jones has the highest season defensive grade among CBs with a 91.0. Jones is tied for the 7th highest defense grade among all defensive players with at least 50 snaps. #CowboysNation Be a PFF ELITE member to check out stats and more: https://t.co/qEKU85c6bI

Pro Football Focus has graded Byron Jones out as the league's best cornerback through three games, and the 7th best defensive player overall. Against the Seahawks last week, Jones allowed just 3 catches for 10 yards when he was the primary defender. He also came away with two pass breakups against veteran wide out Brandon Marshall, and was one of the few positives from the horrible loss.

dalvssea2018 byron jones first

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

On the Seahawks' opening drive they faced a third down and five deep in their own territory. Seattle has a bunch formation to the right with Marshall locked up in man coverage at the bottom of the screen.

The Cowboys bring a blitz, leaving Jones on an island against Marshall. Russell Wilson initially looks towards the bunch side of the formation, but quickly works back to Marshall on a shallow crosser. Byron stays sticky in coverage on his backside hip, and deflects the ball away at the catch point.

Even if Marshall were to catch this, Jones was right there to stop him short of the sticks.

dalvssea2018 byron jones

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Later in the game the Seahawks tried to allow Marshall to beat Jones with his size. Marshall tries to get physical with Jones here, and wants to body him on a back shoulder fade. Jones shows no backdown, trading blows with Marshall at the line of scrimmage and effecting his get-off.

Still, Marshall is bigger than Jones and is able to create some separation towards the sideline. Jones does a nice job of recovering from this physicality, however, and gets himself back into a position to make a play on the ball. Even though he was initially boxed out, Jones's awareness to get a hand on the ball shines through here.

This goes down as Jones' first of two pass breakups on the day.

dalvssea2018 byron jones 2

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Here's the second one, once again on a back shoulder fade. Byron Jones uses his length to jam Marshall off the line, and quickly turns his hips to keep up in coverage. Once he reads Marshall's eyes, Byron gets his head around and is able to deflect the pass away.

This is textbook coverage of the back shoulder fade, and Jones' athletic traits and length aid him greatly in covering the larger Marshall on this route.

dalvssea2018 byron jones odell

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

You may be thinking to yourself, "sure, Byron Jones was great against Brandon Marshall, but what about an elite receiver like Odell Beckham?" Well do I have some news for you.

Jones did an excellent job against Beckham during their week two match-up, as did the entire Cowboys secondary. On this play, Jones is locked up in man coverage with Beckham at the top of the screen. He allows Beckham to get a clean outside release, but trusts his hips and speed to recover in coverage with inside leverage.

Jones shows off just how fluid an athlete he is running stride for stride with Beckham down the sideline. Eli Manning puts the ball on Beckham's shoulder, giving him a shot at the 50/50 ball. Jones uses his length and ball skills to get up and deflect the pass away, even against the talented Beckham.

Byron Jones has done a nice job covering this route, using the sideline as an extra defender and minimizing the available area for the receiver. His arm length also help him shrink the catch point in the air.

dalvssea2018 byron jones odell 2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Here we see Byron Jones in man coverage with Beckham again, this time at the bottom of the screen. The Giants are looking to utilize play action to take a deep shot to Beckham, anticipating he will defeat Jones' coverage and find a soft spot over Awuzie's head.

Instead, Jones runs step for step with Beckham across the middle, and stays sticky to his backside hip. Manning is forced to hold the ball longer than he expected to due to Jones's coverage, and ends up taking a sack for a big loss.

There's no question that Byron Jones has been a bit of a controversial figure among Cowboys Nation throughout his young career. But, since moving to cornerback full time this season, he has been flat-out awesome.

Byron Jones looks like the shutdown corner the Cowboys have been looking for since trading up for Morris Claiborne back in 2012.



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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Coaches Should Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Doug Pederson's Success Will Make Jason Garrett's Seat Hotter 1
Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports

A loss in week in week 3 is subject to overreactions from NFL fans everywhere, something we should always be careful with. But as the Dallas Cowboys head to work after another terrible offensive performance, it's tough to imagine the conversation going on in Cowboys Nation is an overreaction. I imagine I'm not alone in wishing that's what it was. But it isn't.

The Dallas Cowboys have opened their 2018 NFL season with a 1-2 record, and even though other teams (such as the New England Patriots) unexpectedly have the same record, or that other crazy stuff is going on around the league, the Jason Garrett-led Cowboys haven't given us much reason to believe they can turn the offense around.

Without further ado, let's get to another Takeaway Tuesday. As always, feel free to share your takeaways from last Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!

Coaches Must Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat

OK, it's high time we have this conversation. Dak Prescott and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys' offense has been struggling. Although the defense has been playing surprisingly well, there are simply no excuses for the way Scott Linehan's unit has been playing.

There has been trouble at every single aspect of the offensive side of the ball, which was supposed to be this team's strength heading into the season. As much as the future at the quarterback position is uncertain, the biggest problem is coaching. Sure, Prescott isn't living up to the expectations so far, having terrible stats in the first three weeks of the season but the coaches could definitely be putting him in better positions to succeed.

Playing to his strengths. Prescott is at his best when the team runs play-action plays or lets him throw on the run or use his legs to hurt opposing defenses on the ground as well. Prescott could thrive on RPOs and read option runs, but that's not how they're utilizing him.

Jake Kemp on Twitter

per @PFF, Dak Prescott play action percentages by week. week 1 - 17.9% week 2 - 44.0% week 3 - 12.5%

As much as it pains me to say it, it honestly feels like the Cowboys are stuck with Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett at the wheel. Although there aren't big names in the pass-catchers positions, the offense is talented enough to keep the ball moving. Even still, they aren't.

Right now, it's not even about the offense not being the best unit for the team, but a unit that is costing them games and will continue to do so unless some drastic changes are made.

Not that the coaches are the only ones that should be accountable, just about every player should be, including QB Dak Prescott, who might be playing for his job the rest of the year. But if this mediocre performances continue into week 8, for instance, it might just be time to move on from the current coaching staff. What will change in the next seasons that can makes us believe Garrett and Linehan are the answer for the franchise's future?

And yet, no changes will be made as far as the Cowboys' play-caller is. Right now, it's tough to imagine where this season is headed. But two things might be for sure. 1) It won't be good. 2) We'll see some RB screens on third and long and three tight end sets on first downs.

Wish List for Dallas Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

Defense Might Just Be Fine With Vander Esch Filling in for Sean Lee

Sean Lee hurt his other hamstring playing in Seattle last Sunday, which usually would have us freaking out about the linebacker position. However, as we've discussed since the preseason, Jaylon Smith is looking pretty amazing and healthy. But now, it's not only Smith that's been showing off his football skills.

It's first round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch who's having a pretty nice start to his career. At least, it's been way better than what some expected (myself included) from his rookie season.

In just three weeks and limited snaps, Vander Esch has had 18 tackles and a tackle for loss. He's been around the football a lot, just like Lee when healthy. If the Boise State product continues to play this week, one has to wonder about Sean Lee's future in Dallas.

The Jury is Still Out on K Brett Maher

Kicker Brett Maher kicked a 50-yard field goal last Sunday as Cowboys' fans at home breathed a huge sigh of relief. After letting Dan Bailey go, it was time for something positive to say about the kicker position in Dallas.

Maher was pretty good on the field last week, but there's no denying his kicks were sort of scary and not perfect attempts right down the middle. Cowboys Nation should be more comfortable with the cut of Dan Bailey, but the jury should still be out on his replacement.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Coaches Should Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat" 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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Game Notes

LB Leighton Vander Esch Rare Bright Spot In Cowboys’ Disappointing Loss

Kevin Brady

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LB Leighton Vander Esch Rare Bright Spot In Cowboys Disappointing Loss

Sunday in Seattle didn't go nearly as well as anticipated for the Cowboys, as they fell to the Seahawks in embarrassing fashion, 24-13. While the final score looked close, the fact of the matter is that Dallas was dominated for much of the game.

Offensively they looked lost, unable to create any downfield passing threat or sustain scoring drives. Defensively they played okay, but not up to the standard they had established the first two games of the season. With the offense being as pedestrian as it has been, though, there is a ton of extra pressure placed upon the young defense's shoulders.

One of the youngest members of that young unit shouldered the pressure just fine on Sunday, however. Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had himself a heck of a day, leading the team in tackles with 11 including 9 solo ones and a tackle for loss. He flashed his speed, pursuit, tackling ability, and overall athleticism as he worked laterally to make plays and contain the Seahawks running game on the edge.

Wish List for Dallas Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

His performance built upon an impressive first two games, including a solid home opener against the New York Giants where he tallied 7 tackles in just 28 defensive snaps. Vander Esch hadn't seen the snaps that Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee saw prior to Sunday, but when Lee was forced to miss chunks of the game with injuries, Vander Esch shined.

A key knock placed on Vander Esch's game during the draft process was that he wasn't physical enough as a player. He tended to struggle when taking on blocks and wasn't as sure a tackler when things got muddied up as you'd like to see from a first round pick.

While these were legitimate concerns from his college tape, Leighton Vander Esch looked as comfortable and refined as you can expect from a rookie against the Seahawks. He was a top 3 player on the Cowboys' defense on Sunday, and the Cowboys should be ecstatic about his progress moving forward.

On Monday it was announced the the veteran Sean Lee is expected to miss a few weeks with yet another injury, allowing for Vander Esch to likely be the starter. Lee has been unreliable when it comes to his injury history, and you have to wonder if Vander Esch could supplant him as the full time starter earlier than anyone expected due to those injuries.

I, like many, questioned the Cowboys' selection of Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last year's draft. The lack of comparative position value combined with the questions about Vander Esch's game made me value a pass rusher like Harold Landry much higher than Vander Esch at 19.

So far, though, Leighton Vander Esch is proving the Cowboys right in their selection, and looks to be the starting WILL and three-down backer of the future in Dallas. With Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch playing how they have with limited experience, that future looks very bright defensively.



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