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'll begin with players #41-50. The rest of list will be unveiled daily throughout the week. By all means, use the comments section to chime in and tell me why I'm an idiot for not giving your favorite player more credit.
50. Alfred Morris, RB
This may seem low for a player with Morris' name recognition, but it's indicative of where I feel he is right now with the Cowboys. In fact, I highly doubt that he's even on the team in 2017.
After failing to impress as the backup running back last year, Morris lost the job to Darren McFadden immediately when DMC was activated from the Non-Football Injury list. He wasn't heard from again until the meaningless Week 17 game.
With Dallas re-signing McFadden this offseason, Morris will be fighting off younger players for the number-three spot. Rod Smith is expected to compete, providing additional value on special teams and as a backup fullback. Undrafted rookie Jahad Thomas offers a skill set similar to the departed Lance Dunbar and could find work.
Still just 28-years-old, Morris could be of interest to other NFL teams. Dallas may look to trade him before final cuts. Regardless of how it happens, I do not expect Alfred to be a Cowboy this season. They save $1.6 million in cap space if he's not on the 2017 roster.
49. Kavon Frazier, S
One of the team's four draft picks from the sixth round of the 2016 Draft, Frazier didn't get much playing time in his rookie season. He only dress for nine games and was almost never seen on defense, getting mostly special teams work when active.
The exits of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox seemed to open the door for Frazier to have a larger role in 2017, but competition soon arrived with the signing of veteran Robert Blanton and the drafting of Xavier Woods. Dallas was reportedly high on Woods, having a mid-round grade on him. However, Stephen Jones once said the same about Frazier.
Having a year in the Cowboys system already, Kavon should have an advantage over Blanton and Woods. He should at least make the team this year, but where he is on the depth chart remains to be seen.
48. Rod Smith, RB
After making the 53-man roster initially to compete for the fullback job, Rod eventually lost out to Keith Smith and was reduced to a special teams role. He was released after seven games and finished the year on the practice squad.
Smith returns to the Cowboys and the halfback position in 2017. He is an intriguing physical prospect at 6'3" and over 230 pounds but still having some quickness and receiving skills. ESPN's Todd Archer recently reported that Rod was getting more work in recent summer practices than veteran Alfred Morris, but that may have just been due to Morris' age and status.
As already mentioned, I think Rod Smith makes the team as the third RB over Morris. He offers more value with the different roles he can play and more upside as a younger player.
47. Lucky Whitehead, WR
With the drafting of Ryan Switzer last April, the writing seems to be on the wall for Whitehead. However, as Ric Flair has so often reminded us, "To be the man, you've gotta' beat the man."
Fighting for his job with the Cowboys this summer, Lucky should be highly motivated. Dallas isn't just going to hand everything to Switzer; the rookie still has to take them from Whitehead. And it's not like Lucky, who is just 25 and entering his third year, isn't also learning new things in the early stage of his career.
We've seen Whitehead used on offense in specific packages and his occasional spark in the return game. There's no questioning his athletic ability, but he will need to stay on the coaches' good side during training camp. He was benched for a game last season for being late to a team meeting.
46. Rico Gathers, TE
The intrigue is swirling around this basketball-turned-football player, but Rico is still the low man on the TE depth chart. He will need to have a big camp and preseason and to move past James Hanna or Geoff Swaim.
At 6'8", Gathers is a natural matchup problem for any defense. If he's picked up enough technique to use the physical gifts, Rico can be a unique weapon for the Cowboys offense. He will get every opportunity to prove himself, but the transition from Baylor basketball to Cowboys Football may be more than just one year can accomplish.
Dallas was willing to let Gathers sit on the practice squad last season, making him open to other team to sign away. Given that, it's possible that the hype around Gathers isn't quite the same within the organization. They're certainly intrigued, but he may not be as close to a roster spot as many fans assume.
45. Ryan Switzer, WR
As we discussed with Lucky Whitehead, Switzer has arrived with a lot of expectations already for a fourth-round pick. Many have penciled him in as the primary return specialist and expect him to take offensive touches away from Lucky Whitehead and perhaps even Brice Butler.
In 2006, Dallas spent a fourth-round pick on a smaller return specialist named Skyler Green out of LSU. Green didn't have quite the same hype as Swizter coming in, but he went from a mid-round pick to not even making the Week One roster.
I bring Green up just to try to help everyone stay a little balanced here. Switzer has a lot of people excited, and rightly so, but the leap from college to the NFL is a tough one. Ryan should certainly make the team and perhaps have a strong impact for a rookie, but nothing is guaranteed.
44. Byron Bell, OL
Signed to a minimal one-year deal last March, Bell brings 72 career starts and position flexibility to the Cowboys offensive line. While currently projected as a backup, his tremendous experience edge over teammates could help Bell compete for the open starting job at left guard.
Bell has played both guard and tackle for the Panthers and Titans. He is coming off a major lower-leg injury last summer that cost him all of 2016. Still just 28, Bell is in prime age for an offensive lineman and has reportedly hit his weight incentives so far in his new Cowboys contract.
Even with his solid resume, making the roster won't be easy for Bell. He's up against a lot of competition with Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary, and Joe Looney all vying for positions along the offensive line. Experience will help, but it will need to show up in his performance for Bell to have a shot.
43. Kyle Wilber, LB
Now entering his sixth year with the Cowboys, Wilber is a trusted veteran in a fairly young group of linebackers. Only he and Sean Lee have played more than three seasons. While never flashy, Wilber is a solid depth option who also plays on special teams.
The youth movement could be a problem for Wilber in 2017. Along with Lee, Jaylon Smith and either Anthony Hitchens or Damien Wilson should take up the starting spots. One of Wilson or Hitchens will then be a primary backup, either capable of playing the SAM position that Wilber is suited for.
If younger guys like Mark Nzeocha and John Lotulelei also show up this year, Dallas might lean on upside and let Wilber go. They can save about $1.25 million in cap space if he's released.
42. Stephen Paea, DT
With Terrell McClain leaving in free agency, Rod Marinelli brought in one of his former Bears players in Paea. The veteran powerhouse will compete to play the one-tech role on the defensive line and be a big part of Marinelli's rotation.
While he shouldn't have trouble making the roster, Paea will have to fight for playing time. Expectations are high for second-year stud Maliek Collins. Veterans Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton are also in the DT mix. The primary battle will be between Paea and Thornton; Dallas signed Thornton for a larger role last year but he got beat by McClain in the offseason.
There is no question that certain packages and schemes will get Stephen Paea on the field in 2017. How often, though, will depend on how the next two months go.
41. Brice Butler, WR
Many were surprised when Dallas re-signed Butler in free agency. Getting just a one-year deal for a little over $1 million, it is a "prove it" year for the 27-year-old receiver. Opportunities may be tough to come by, though, as Brice will have new competition in the Cowboys offense.
We've already talked about Ryan Switzer and his expectations. Also in the conversation are rookie Noah Brown and second-year prospect Andy Jones. If these young guys have good camps and preseasons, it's very possible that Butler will not make final cuts. He only got $300k in guaranteed money from Dallas, making him an easy cut and little more than an insurance policy.
That said, Butler has the talent to rise above the pack. He may get more chances to be a vertical threat if Dak Prescott's playbook gets opened up more. With plenty of options for the short and mid-range passing attack, Dallas may be able to make better use of Butler than last season if Dak gets more aggressive.
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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