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 #31-40. We'll see some key backups as well as players who may be contending for starting jobs.
40. Cedric Thornton, DT
The Cowboys gave Thornton a four-year, $17 million contract to join the team in last year's free agency. That kind of money tell you they expected him to have a significant role, likely starting, on the 2016 defense.
However, Dallas didn't know that Terrell McClain was finally going to have a healthy and productive season. They also didn't know that they'd be drafting Maliek Collins and that he'd turn out to be a third-round steal. Thornton fell to the bottom of the depth chart, but that had more to do with the talent in front of him than any failings on his part.
The 2017 situation isn't much different. Collins is going to be the focal point at DT and there's still Tyrone Crawford to consider. Dallas also signed veteran Stephen Paea, a former Rod Marinelli player in Chicago. Thornton will still make the team with no cap relief available from shedding his contract, but his role may not increase much from last year.
39. Joe Looney, OL
While much of the offensive line is being shaken up, Looney should be a stable presence and resume his role as backup center. If he gets a shot at the left guard starting job, "Jumbo Joe" could be competitive. He was used as a sixth blocker in limited packages last year.
The veteran's versatility as an interior line reserve will make him hard to cut. That's a good thing for Looney, because his contract makes it very easy. He is only guaranteed $50k of the $850k in 2017.
The backup center role is where Looney's real security comes in. Dallas may give Jonathan Cooper a look there, but Looney is trusted and experienced. His biggest concern will be younger center prospects like Ross Burbank or Ruben Carter emerging during camp.
38. Charles Tapper, DE
While Jaylon Smith is the debuting player everyone is most interested in, Tapper may not be too far behind. A fourth-round pick last year, Charles hopes to meet the high bar set by his classmates from the 2016 draft.
Tapper missed his rookie year due to a spine defect that was discovered during the offseason. He had corrective surgery and is reportedly good to go for 2017. After the contributions that Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown made on defense last year, it's no wonder that fans are anxious to see what Tapper can do.
Many feel Tapper played out of position at Oklahoma, not getting to rush the passer as much as his skills would suggest. He will have no such issue in Dallas; the Cowboys are going to be looking for him to get to the quarterback as much as he can. If Tapper can show up early during training camp, he could carve out a big role quickly.
37. Geoff Swaim, TE
Before the 2016 season began, Swaim had risen to the number-two spot on the depth chart after James Hanna's injury and Gavin Escobar's fall from grace. He showed a little spark on offense early, having a catch for over 20 yards in each of the first two games.
There should be open competition for that second TE spot now between Swaim, Hanna, and perhaps even Rico Gathers. Both Swaim and Hanna are known as solid blockers with some receiving ability, so it's hard to give one the nod over another right now.
Swaim is four years younger and would be much cheaper next year, so Dallas would love for him to win the job. They could release Hanna for close to $3 million cap relief in 2018.
36. Kellen Moore, QB
The Cowboys clearly trust Moore to be their backup quarterback, adding no real competition for him in free agency or the draft. Barring injury, he a virtual lock to be the second QB and will probably be the only reserve passer that Dallas keeps in on the 2017 roster.
Moore's football intellect has been praised more than once by Cowboys coaches and others throughout his career. That is a handy trait to have in the QB room, making him an asset to Dak Prescott and the coaches as they work out gameplans. It's clear that Scott Linehan values Moore's presence, having brought him over from Detroit and likely being a key reason he was re-signed this year.
On just a one-year contract, Moore's contributions will hopefully all be behind the scenes. He can earn new deal with Dallas by being a resource to the offense. If Kellen does have to play, hopefully time in the system will allow him to perform better than in 2015.
35. James Hanna, TE
In last year's free agency, Dallas gave Hanna a three-year deal worth close to $3 million per season. They clearly liked what he offered and he was expected to be Jason Witten's primary backup. However, a knee injury cost Hanna all of 2016.
As we just discussed with Geoff Swaim, Hanna will have competition for that job now. He and Swaim are arguably neck-and-neck and the younger guy might get the tiebreaker because of age and upside.
Where Hanna could outshine Swaim is in the passing attack. He has tremendous athleticism for his size and could be a dangerous new wrinkle. The big problem for Hanna has been staying healthy. though, and that could sink him quickly with Swaim and Rico Gathers right on his heels.
34. Keith Smith, FB
While not a full-time starter because of the various formations used, Keith Smith has emerged as a trusted lead blocker for the Cowboys rushing attack. He graded out as one of the league's top fullbacks in 2016.
Smith not only gives you a backfield blocker but also plays a key role on special teams. He can even serve as an emergency linebacker, having played that position from 2014-2015 and in college.
With Rod Smith returning to halfback, Keith should go unchallenged for the fullback spot this year. The only threat would be Dallas using tight ends in the backfield, which they've done in past seasons, but all signs point to Smith returning to help clear paths for Ezekiel Elliott.
33. Chaz Green, OL
If he's not the starting left guard than he'll likely be the swing tackle, making Green an important figure in the upcoming training camp. The former third-round pick needs a healthy season to keep himself in the team's long-term plans.
Green has missed most of his first two years with a foot injury in 2015 and a back injury last year. He had surgery last December and should be a full participant going forward. Chaz is expected fight with veteran Jonathan Cooper at left guard, but he has the versatility to play different spots on the line.
It's possible that Green could still compete at right tackle. If he has a great camp, Dallas might decide to cancel plans on moving La'el Collins there and feel good about starting Green on the outside. That might be the ideal scenario, allowing Collins to stay at guard where many feel he has elite potental.
32. Nolan Carroll, CB
Signed to a three-year, $10 million contract last March, Carroll was expected to be one of the team's top three corners in 2017. That was before the draft, though, where Dallas spent their second and third-round picks on Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Carroll's job security may have taken a very quick and unexpected hit. The addition of young talent, plus his DWI arrest last month, may have rendered Nolan expendable. He will likely suspended at least two games to start the season.
It is doubtful that Carroll will be released, but Dallas will have to get their young guys ready to play during the weeks that he'll be suspended. This could wind up in them keeping those spots on the depth chart, pushing Carroll down to the bottom.
Of course, it's too soon to know what the rookies will do. Carroll could easily return and be a primary piece in the secondary. The Cowboys certainly paid him enough to suggest that. How the veteran performs over Awuzie and Lewis will be one of the more interesting stories to follow during camp.
31. Darren McFadden, RB
Dallas re-signed McFadden last March, comfortable with him as the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott. Even though he turns 30 in August, McFadden still showed the wheels last year to be effective and has a better running style for our scheme than Alfred Morris.
Where McFadden is especially good for Dallas is in his receiving and blocking skills, making him a perfect third-down back. He should be able to compliment Elliott well throughout the year and allow the Cowboys to get Zeke rest when needed.
That said, McFadden only got a one-year contract to come back. What's more, he only got $80k in guaranteed money. Dallas clearly has reservations about his age and injury history and are leaving their options open. The job is certainly McFadden's to lose, but the Cowboys are ready to have to change plans if needed.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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