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Dallas Cowboys Top 50 Players of 2017 (21-30)

Jess Haynie

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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 move on to the players ranked #21-30. At this point, we’re looking at players who will all significant roles with the team and will likely get credited with some starts, depending on the packages they’re involved in.

Jonathan Cooper

G Jonathan Cooper

30. Jonathan Cooper, G

Just four years ago, Cooper was the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Injuries marred his first three seasons in Arizona, leading to him being a thrown-in piece of the Cardinals’ trade with New England for Chandler Jones. Last season, another injury caused him to miss time and fall out of the Patriots’ plans. He then spent a couple of months with Cleveland, starting a few games but not finding a lasting home.

Immediately after being waived by the Brown in late December, Jonathan Cooper was signed by the Cowboys for an extended audition. He now enters the 2017 season as a front-runner for the starting spot at left guard, vacated by Ronald Leary’s free agent departure and La’el Collins moving to right tackle.

Dallas reportedly coveted Cooper during the 2013 draft. He’s still just 27 and has plenty of career ahead of him if he can finally stay healthy. It wasn’t long ago that the Cowboys had another offensive line reclamation project in Marc Colombo, pulling him off the NFL discard pile and getting six seasons of solid play. Will Jonathan Cooper be another success story?

Anthony Hitchens

LB Anthony Hitchens (AP Photo/Scott Boehm)

29. Anthony Hitchens, LB

I recently wrote a more extensive breakdown of Hitchens’ status with the Cowboys in 2017. I discussed how, through Sean Lee’s major 2014 injury and the various tribulations of Rolando McClain, Hitchens has proven to be a valuable and versatile player. Recent events for the Cowboys just may prove it again.

With the news this week of Damien Wilson’s arrest on assault charges, Hitchens may once again be asked to take on a starting role. He may take over as the SAM linebacker, provided he can hold up having to player closer to the line of scrimmage. There’s also the possibility of Jaylon Smith playing SAM, leaving Hitchens where he has the most experience in the middle.

The situation just reminds us of how steady and reliable, as well as versatile, Anthony Hitchens is. While it’s not under great circumstances for the team, the opportunities for more playing time certainly have to be welcome for Hitchens as he prepares for 2018 free agency.

Chris Jones

P Chris Jones (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

28. Chris Jones, P

Over the last few years Jones has developed into a very solid punter.  He doesn’t get the recognition of guys with big distance, but Jones is arguably more valuable because of how well he can aim kicks for the sideline. Not allowing teams to return punts on you is a major boon to the field position battle.

Chris Jones turns 28 in just a few weeks and is in the final year of his current contract. Another solid season should earn him an extension. However, the Cowboys typically bring in at least one young leg in training camp to give their veterans some breaks. There is always the possibility that the young guy impresses the team enough that they might make a switch, especially if the veteran is on an expiring contract.

Damien Wilson

LB Damien Wilson (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

27. Damien Wilson, LB

Until we know more about Wilson’s legal situation and subsequent league discipline, all we can do is look at where he stood going into the season. It actually reinforces what a potentially big loss this is for the Cowboys, and for Damien, as he was starting to look like a breakout player.

Last year, Wilson emerged as a solid and sometimes flashy player as the starting SAM linebacker. He was headed into his third year fairly certain to retain that role and hopefully shine even more.

Now, it’s almost assured that Damien will be suspended for some portion of 2017. It’s impossible to know now how this will affect his starting role or even his contract with the Cowboys once all the dust settles. For now, we can only bemoan another promising player who the Dallas defense will have to do without.

Tyrone Crawford

DE/DT Tyrone Crawford (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

26. Tyrone Crawford, DE/DT

With arguably the worst contract on the team right now, Crawford has become an afterthought on the Cowboys defensive line. He has been surpassed at tackle by Maliek Collins and isn’t seen as a difference maker on the outside. Still, Crawford counts $9.1 million against the 2017 salary cap.

The ability to play multiple positions gives Crawford some sustained value.  However, Dallas was expecting him to be a breakout star as the three-tech DT in Rod Marinelli’s scheme, getting close to double-digit sacks each year. He’s never lived up to that expectation or the contract that came with it.

Next year, Dallas can clear roughly $6 million in cap space by releasing Crawford. Barring a major upswing in his performance in 2017, this will probably be his last season with the Cowboys. He will get plenty of playing time, though, so the opportunity is there to change things.

Jourdan Lewis

CB Jourdan Lewis

25. Jourdan Lewis, CB

If not for an ongoing legal issue, Lewis might have gone in the late first round of last April’s NFL Draft. Instead he slipped to the third round and corner-needy Cowboys snatched him up.

The waters are murky at the CB position right now. Veterans Orlando Scandrick and Nolan Carroll will be competing with Lewis, Anthony Brown, and fellow rookie Chidobe Awuzie for playing time. If Dallas’ recent history with CB injuries is any indication, all will probably have to play some significant snaps at some point this year.

What is clear, though, is that Lewis’ talent should keep him around for some time. He may quickly pass Awuzie, taken one round ahead, on the depth chart. If he’s a quick learner, Jourdan could have a big role much sooner than you think.

Chidobe Awuzie

CB Chidobe Awuzie

24. Chidobe Awuzie, CB

Nobody was surprised when Dallas took a defensive back in the second round last April. The real question was if they’d go with a cornerback or safety, and in Awuzie they found a guy who might be able to play either spot.

For now, Chidobe is expected to play at CB and could be playing a lot early. Nolan Carroll’s DWI arrest in May will likely cost him a few games at the start of the year, putting pressure on Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis to be ready for Week One.

The long-term view on Awuzie is that he could become a tremendous slot corner and eventually replace Orlando Scandrick there. This year, personnel may dictate that Scandrick has to play outside and Chidobe could find himself in the slot role immediately. Clearly, these young cornerbacks in Dallas aren’t going to be waiting long for their opportunities.

23. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Lawrence is in a contract year and the situation couldn’t be more unsure. After a season marred by back issues and a four-game suspension, DeMarcus watched the team draft his possible replacement and could already be out of their future plans.

That said, this is still a 25-year-old who has displayed his pass-rushing talent more than once. Whether it was his big plays in the 2014 playoff game against the Detroit Lions, or his eight sacks in 2015, Lawrence has kept hope alive that he might finally push through for a true breakout season. It would appear to be now or never, at least as far as the Cowboys are concerned.

Even with Taco Charlton and Charles Tapper in the mix now, Lawrence can still make his case. The Cowboys are going to go with the hot hand and, as we saw in 2015, DeMarcus can put together a consistent streak when healthy. Whether it’s to extend his Dallas career or get a good deal elsewhere, Lawrence will have no motivation problems this season.

Jeff Heath

S Jeff Heath

22. Jeff Heath, S

The Cowboys did not sign or draft any major contenders at safety this year, which was a clear vote of confidence in Heath’s ability to handle the job. Rising up the depth chart with Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox both moving to Florida, one of the Cowboys’ cult heroes will now get to prove just how great he really is.

All “G.O.A.T.” jokes aside, nobody expects Heath to be Darren Woodson. Ho doesn’t have to be, though, to improve on what Dallas has had at the position. Church was a solid player but never exceptional. He was especially lacking with turnovers, getting just five interceptions in seven seasons.  Heath already has four picks despite his limited playing time in four years.

All it takes is a few big plays to become a star in the secondary. Heath has already experienced a taste of that, and now he will get a full-time opportunity to do even more.

Taco Charlton

DE Taco Charlton

21. Taco Charlton, DE

The Cowboys addressed their biggest need by drafting the 6’6″ Charlton. That always comes with the pressure of being expected to solve that need, and Taco will have a tough road to satisfy the expectations of the sack-starved Dallas fans. Whether you grew up with Randy White, Charles Haley, or DeMarcus Ware, Dallas fans long to have another dominant pass rusher emerge.

There will be plenty of contenders in 2017. Charlton will be joined by the aforementioned DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, and Charles Tapper at defensive end. David Irving and Tyrone Crawford may also get time outside and even Damontre Moore could be a factor. The rotation may be good for the line but it could limit individual players’ ability to really build their own reputation.

All that being true, being a first-round pick comes with the perk of coaches and scouts wanting you to prove them right. If Charlton can at least match his veteran teammates, he will get extra opportunities based on the hope of further growth and upside.

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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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Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Cowboys have just one more game to get through without their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve been able to fill in out of the backfield for Zeke Elliott. Throughout the time Elliott has missed though, the Cowboys have lacked the explosive plays on offense that he can provide – until Rod Smith was given an opportunity last week at the Giants.

Smith complimented Morris exceptionally well, running with quickness and power to prove his case for more of a role on offense behind Elliott moving forward. It was the Ohio State product’s consecutive touchdowns of 81 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground that sealed the game for the Cowboys in week 14.

Here is a closer look at Rod Smith’s performance from last week in this latest Sean’s Scout.

Smith3 – Streamable

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

 

The Cowboys offensive line was dominant as always against a tough New York defensive front, and this first play is a great look at their execution in space and on the move. Rod Smith’s decisiveness when hitting the hole with speed and balance was the first thing I noticed on the game tape.

The best thing Smith does on this play comes at the second level, where running backs can truly make a difference in Dallas. As RG Zack Martin rides his man out of the play entirely, he gets in front of Smith who is seeing the play develop straight ahead. With his long strides, Smith is able to smoothly get through traffic and continue accelerating up field through arm tackles for a big gain.

Smith2 – Streamable

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These same traits are seen with Rod Smith as a pass catcher – something he does effortlessly to also help fill the void left by Elliott. Watch how quickly Smith commits to his angle up the field after catching this dump pass from Dak Prescott, attacking a defender that has the angle on him after the catch.

Rod subtly leans to the right just enough to make the defender hesitate long enough to allow his burst to evade him and gain extra yards falling forward.

Smith4 – Streamable

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Smith essentially does the same thing without the ball in his hands here, on his 81 yard catch and run for a touchdown. Setting up the safety out of the slot to be beat across his face, Smith separates from him at the stem and then does a great job getting depth on his route into the vacated middle of the field. With blockers to help him reach the end zone, Smith turns this busted coverage by the Giants into the game’s biggest play.

Smith1 – Streamable

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

 

This last play I chose to show is probably the least well-blocked attempt for Smith out of the ones in this Sean’s Scout, but there is still a lot to like about what Rod does here with the ball in his hands.

The Giants might be a two-win football team, but they still have marquee players up front, particularly DE Olivier Vernon. Smith does well here to keep his feet moving as he cuts this play to the backside. Vernon does well to limit the potential gain on this play by staying away from the block of Jason Witten, as Smith is taken down by Darian Thompson.

The numbers the Giants had to commit to stopping the run was still a huge reason why Prescott had a career day throwing the football, and Rod Smith’s readiness to step in at RB was a deciding factor in getting Dallas to 7-6.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Proving to be one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable players, considering his cost (under contract through 2018), and ability to contribute on special teams and offense, Rod Smith is the perfect RB3 for this team.

Smith is not elite in any one area, and is not a prototypical RB from a physical standpoint, but his contributions as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker could remain critical to the Cowboys’ hopes of reaching the playoffs behind this offense – even when Ezekiel Elliott is back in the fold.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who’s The Cowboys Real RB1?

Brian Martin

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Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who's Cowboys' Real RB1?

The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from welcoming back their talented Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, but until then they still have a game to play against the Oakland Raiders. That means we will have one more week of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith handling the workload, but which RB is sitting at the top of the Cowboys depth chart?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of decision that can end up winning or losing a game. Both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have had their moments during Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, but neither one of them have really distanced themselves from the other. So, should Rod Smith or Alfred Morris receive the majority of the workload against the Raiders Sunday?

A Case for Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith and QB Dak PrescottRod Smith might just have had is coming out party last week against the New York Giants. Against their divisional rival, in what was a must win game for the Cowboys, Smith rushed for 47 yards on six carries and added another 113 yards through the air on five catches. He also found himself in the end zone twice, once on a rushing touchdown and the other on a receiving touchdown.

You may or may not agree, but I believe that “Lightning” Rod Smith was largely responsible for igniting the Cowboys offense and helping them pull away from the Giants last Sunday. He accounted for over 160 total yards and two touchdowns by himself and didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later in the game.

Rod Smith certainly has traits that make him a more desirable RB over Alfred Morris. First off, he is a more complete back. He is better in pass protection and at catching the ball out of the backfield. But, he is also starting to show up in the running game and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season. His size (6’3″, 235) also makes him a better short yardage back, although I wish he would deliver more of a blow at the end of his runs.

A Case for Alfred Morris

RB Alfred MorrisAlthough there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about Alfred Morris, he has proven time and time again he is more than capable of carrying the workload. He has received the majority of the workload during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and has performed pretty well. In fact, he is averaging 5 yards a carry this season, which is better than any other RB on the Cowboys roster, including Elliott.

Alfred Morris has looked pretty good this season and is playing with more of a spring in his step than I have seen from him in probably his entire career. Last Sunday against the Giants he received the the majority of the workload and finished the game with 19 carries for 62 yards. Not particularly spectacular, but the week prior he did rush for 127 yards on 27 carries in the victory over the Washington Redskins.

Like I mentioned earlier, Morris is a tried-and-true RB in the NFL and is at his best when he can continue to pound the rock and wear down opposing defenses. That is what he did against the Redskins, but he has his limitations as well. Despite his years in the league, he still struggles in pass protection and is limited in what he can do in the passing game. But, he does seem to have the trust of the Cowboys coaching staff.

✭✭✭✭✭

Personally, I would like to see more of Rod Smith this coming Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. I really like what I’ve seen from him in both the running game and in the passing game. I just think he is a more dangerous and versatile weapon then Alfred Morris. His presence on the field really opens up what the Cowboys can do offensively.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Alfred Morris at all. I just think that Rod Smith has proven he is a more dangerous offensive weapon of the two. I don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will agree or not, but I truly believe Rod Smith could once again be the X factor against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, both Rod Smith and Alfred Morris will have to take the back seat once Ezekiel Elliott returns. So, this discussion really only has any credibility for this week in yet another must win situation against the Oakland Raiders.

Who do you like better… Rod Smith or Alfred Morris?

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La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin

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La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?

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