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Dallas Cowboys: Is More Youth Behind Ezekiel Elliott Needed?

Brian Martin

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Do Cowboys Need More Youth Behind Ezekiel Elliott?

The Dallas Cowboys are already deep at the running back position and carrying more RBs on their 53-man roster than they normally do, but I think an influx of youth behind Ezekiel Elliott is needed.

Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris have noticeably lost a step, but are expected to carry the workload if Ezekiel Elliott has to serve a suspension or goes down with an injury at some point during the season. Neither is a bad option, but both players aren't spring chickens anymore.

Darren McFadden has had a long list of injuries throughout his NFL career and I don't know about you, but every time he takes a big hit I cringe. Plus, it's doubtful he returns after the 2017 season, which means the Cowboys will need to find another backup RB.

Alfred Morris is likely only on the roster still because of the uncertainty still surrounding Ezekiel Elliott. Morris would likely have been a roster cut, and like McFadden, he doesn't have a future with the Cowboys.

Now, I know what you're probably thinking. The Dallas Cowboys still have Rod Smith on the roster, but if they were comfortable with him as Elliott's backup, they likely wouldn't have kept Alfred Morris around.

Keeping all of that in mind, I think there are two current free agent running backs that the Dallas Cowboys should seriously consider bringing in for not only the 2017 season, but for the future as well.

RB Jonathan Williams

RB Jonathan Williams

Jonathan Williams

Just about everybody thought that Jonathan Williams would be the RB2 behind LeSean McCoy, but the Buffalo Bills obviously thought otherwise. Williams ended up being one of the Bills roster cuts so that they could get down to their final 53-man roster. It was a surprising move to many, but it could work out in the Cowboys favor.

Williams was a 2016 fifth-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills. He played collegiately at Arkansas and had a pretty good, although injury plagued collegiate career. He played in 11 games last season in Buffalo and ended the year with 27 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown.

I believe Williams would make a good backup RB behind Ezekiel Elliott. He has good size for the position (6'0", 223) and the skill set to be a three down back in the NFL. He has loose hips and nimble feet to go along with outstanding lateral movement to sidestep defenders. Despite what his size would suggest, he is a good slashing back and is a dependable receiver out of the backfield.

Jonathan Williams could be an upgrade behind Elliott and would help stabilize the position for years to come. If I'm the Dallas Cowboys I would at least have him in for a workout and kick the tires so to speak.

*Update: Jonathan Williams signed to the Denver Broncos practice squad

RB Jeremy Langford

RB Jeremy Langford

Jeremy Langford

It wasn't long ago that Jeremy Langford looked to be the starting RB of the future for the Chicago Bears. But, after an injury plagued 2016 season, he found himself among the Bears final roster cuts. He is now a free agent just waiting for his phone to ring. Could the Dallas Cowboys be on the other end of the phone?

I personally think Langford would be best served as a backup RB in the NFL and that is exactly what he would be as a member of the Cowboys. The former fourth-round draft pick by Chicago still possesses some intriguing tools to entice the Cowboys to possibly bring him aboard.

Langford was a WR before converting to running back in college and he does possess breakaway speed (4.42 40 yard dash). He's not the most physical runner, but he doesn't shy away from contact either. He is solid in pass protection, and as you can imagine, he has natural receiving ability.

Jeremy Langford could be the third down/receiving type RB the Cowboys currently don't have on the roster. I think he would be an upgrade as a backup RB and be a solid starter if he was thrust into action. But, who knows if the Dallas Cowboys feel the same way.

*Update: Jeremy Langford signed to the Baltimore Ravens practice

Do you think the Cowboys need youth at the backup RB position?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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7 Comments
  • DoubleCraven

    I think its a little early to be talking about more youth. This is probably Morris last season here, but he’s looked really good in the preseason. Dmac has one year left on his contract. Don’t forget we had Ronnie Hillman too. He was only 25. So I don’t think youthing the position is a priority right now for the staff. Seems to me they are taking a wait and see approach with the Zeke suspension first. I’m pretty confident the three Rbs we have can be effective. Having said that, I think they will look to the late rounds next draft to add someone.

    • Brian Martin

      McFadden and Morris didn’t look terribly bad in the preseason, but neither looked all that explosive. The Cowboys currently don’t have that element behind Elliott at the RB position. Hillman could have been that player, but he didn’t really receive very many opportunities. It’s doubtful that anything changes, but they could use a younger player with fresher legs to back up Elliott IMO.

  • Randy Martin

    Both McFadden and Morris are on the last year of their contracts and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of them gone after this year. So obviously there will be additions through the draft and perhaps even a FA move. Jonathan Williams was on his rookie contract and it seems very odd that Buffalo just cast him off…but it is Buffalo. He only rushed for 94 yards on 27 carries his rookie year so a lot to be desired. He has cleared waivers but I don’t see them doing anything this year. I want to see what we really have in Rod Smith. He runs angry and I like what I’ve seen. A guy I was interested in, thought again the timing isn’t right was Alex Collins, but like Langford both have been picked up and on practice squads. Something will happen next year.

    • Brian Martin

      I completely agree with you. Nothing will probably happen this year, but like you said McFadden and Morris are longshots to return next season. I also really like Rod Smith and would like to see more of him. Maybe he gets a shot next off-season. I was high on Alex Collins as well. Both Collins and Langford are on the ravens practice squad right now and can be poached away at any time. The future of the backup RB position is really what concerns me the most, not so much their current situation.

  • Will

    Mc and Mo can handle the backup job this season. Both are gone in 2018, and a cheap vet and low round rookie/undrafted free agent will occupy those spots

    • Brian Martin

      That is the likely scenario, but I wouldn’t mind going ahead and getting a head start if there is an upgrade available.

  • Javier Enrique Zetina Pinelo

    tenemos como agente libre a alvin kamara le daria otra dimencion a la ofensiva

Star Blog

Linebacker Group Key to Cowboys’ Defensive Success in 2018

John Williams

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Less Is More For Sean Lee And Cowboys' LBs?

In 2017, it was evident just how much the Dallas Cowboys were hurt by their lack of linebacker depth. When Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens were injured, especially Lee, the defense struggled. Look to the games against the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams and it's easy to see just how ineffective the defense was without their top two linebackers.

With more and more teams employing RPO and read-option concepts, more is expected of linebackers as they read the quarterback.

With teams like the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans all on the 2018 schedule, the Dallas Cowboys' linebacker corp is going to have their hands full each and every week defending quarterbacks who are really good at utilizing these concepts.

While the edge defenders are instrumental in containing the run concepts in the read-option and RPO, the linebackers are the next line of defense against the run and their discipline in the run-pass action is monumental to defending the passing concept of the RPO.

Jeff Ratcliffe from Pro Football Focus broke down who the best and worst teams using RPOs were in 2017 by quarterback yards per attempt and quarterback yards per carry.

The Philadelphia Eagles ran the most RPOs and, as Ratcliffe described in his article, "For Doug Pederson, no run concept could not have an RPO attached to it."

The Kansas City Chiefs were second in the NFL in the amount of RPOs utilized with quarterback Alex Smith, now with the Washington Redskins, under center. Speaking of the Redskins, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they accrued the highest yards per attempt of any team in the NFL when throwing out of an RPO.

So, if you do the math, you can bet that the Washington Redskins will utilize a lot of RPO and read-option concepts in their offensive game plan.

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, the Cowboys' week one opponent, ran RPOs the fourth most of any team in the NFL and had 5.5 yards per carry when Cam Newton kept the ball himself. Cam is one of the best running quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Newton is the only quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to rush for double-digit rushing touchdowns twice in his career. Before he did it in 2011, no quarterback had accomplished the feat since Daunte Culpepper in 2002. The Dallas Cowboys and their front seven will have their hands full containing Newton in week one.

Also according to PFF's Ratcliffe, the New York Giants were the fifth best team in 2017 when the quarterback decided to keep the ball and run as they averaged 5.5 yards per carry out of RPOs. That has to be the most shocking element of his post. When you think of Eli Manning, you don't think of a running quarterback.

That just shows you how effective the RPO and read-option can be in the NFL.

With the speed of the game light years faster than it was 20 or 30 years ago, teams are having to use more and more misdirection to gain an edge in the run and pass game.

Another team on the Dallas Cowboys schedule was very effective throwing out of RPOs: the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the AFC Championship Game, they made a lot of headway against the New England Patriots using this concept.

Mike Renner on Twitter

Will be interesting to see how the Pats gameplan for the Eagles RPOs. Jaguars shredded them with same RPO 4 times in first half last week https://t.co/gYJWIPYIjj

In 2017, the Jaguars averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, the fifth best number in the NFL, just 0.3 yards per attempt behind the Philadelphia Eagles, who were fourth in the league when throwing out of RPOs.

This note from Jeff, I found particularly interesting:

"When the quarterback did pull, league-wide last year, the average yards per attempt was 6.52 and there was a 78.8 completion percentage. Once again, easy money."

Jeff Ratcliffe - Pro Football Focus

Most of the NFL is beginning to employ more and more RPO and read-option concepts into their offensive game plans, making the defense's job a lot more challenging. Especially at the linebacker level.

No longer can the linebacker just simply read run or pass based on the way the quarterback drops or turns to hand off, but they have to determine:

  • Is the quarterback giving the ball to the runner?
  • If the quarterback kept it, is he looking to run?
  • If he's going to pass, where's the ball going?

All of that has to be decided within one to two seconds of the play. A linebacker is taught to read and react to the play as quickly as possible, which can create a significant advantage for the offense if the linebacker reads wrong.

The whole point of the read-option and the RPO is to create a lose-lose situation for the defense.

No matter what they do, it's a wrong choice.

If they read pass and drop into coverage, the ball carrier gets an advantage as he begins to go downhill. If the linebacker reads run and begins to attack the line of scrimmage, the QB pulls it and throws it to the spot vacated by the linebacker.

Having linebackers with elite athleticism, range, and coverage ability, like the Dallas Cowboys do in Sean Lee and potentially Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, will help them minimize the damage potential as they face increasing RPO usage.

Even if we talk about standard run and pass play calls, the defense was a much better unit when Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens were in the game. Points per game, rushing yards per game, and passing yards per game were all lower when those two were available. When the team had to rely on Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson as their top two linebackers, they were lit up like a pinball machine.

The Cowboys hope Jaylon Smith can return to the All-American type of player he was with Notre Dame, but if he doesn't, Vander Esch is a good insurance policy for 2019.

The Boise State product is good in the run game, but he excels in the passing game when he drops into coverage.

Having three linebackers that can play the run and pass like these three potentially can will be a huge key to the Dallas Cowboys success on defense in 2018. They will make life a lot easier for the rest of the defense if they are able to maintain play discipline against the read-option and the run-pass option.

Having these three linebackers and their dual-threat ability in the run and pass game will help the Dallas Cowboys be in far less lose-lose situations than they might otherwise be. And for the Dallas Cowboys to achieve the goals the hope to achieve, namely a sixth Lombardi Trophy, these three will be the key to that success.



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Star Blog

Can TE Rico Gathers be More Than a Just Receiving Threat?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

Rico Gathers is trying to follow in the footsteps of Tony Gonzales, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham as someone who has successfully made the transition from college basketball player to tight end in the NFL. Unfortunately, that transition hasn't gone quite as smoothly as he probably would've hoped.

To date, Gathers really hasn't been able to put a lot on tape. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad with the Dallas Cowboys, but did gain some valuable experience working with Tony Romo. Last year he was just beginning to show what kind of threat he could be in the passing game when he unfortunately sustained a concussion in practice, pretty much ending his season.

As you can imagine, Rico Gathers still has a lot to prove heading into the 2018 season. In no way is his roster spot guaranteed right now. He may still be the most talented and physically gifted TE on the Cowboys roster, but that will only get him so far.

I for one think Gathers can be a tremendous threat in the passing game. I think the flashes we saw in preseason a year ago are exactly the kind of weapon he can turn into for Dak Prescott. He is even working a route running guru, David Robinson, to become even better in the passing game. But, we all know the Cowboys coaching staff demands a lot more from their tight ends.

Rico Gathers, Dalton Schultz

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

In the Cowboys offensive scheme, the tight end is an important position. They have to be able to block in several different areas depending on the formation, especially at the point of attack as an in-line blocker, sometimes being left one on one against a defensive end. That means they have to be assignment sound pre and post snap, with the ability to make the right adjustments in a split second.

For Rico Gathers, this is the area of his game holding him back the most right now. We all know what kind of threat he can be in the passing game, but the Cowboys coaching staff wants someone they can trust to leave on the field down after down. This is where Gathers will have to prove himself the remainder of the offseason.

The Dallas Cowboys knew Rico Gathers was a developmental prospect when they drafted him in the sixth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft. They didn't know how long it would take for him to be be able to contribute, but that time may be running out. Year 3 could be his last chance to prove himself in Dallas.

Gathers is a mismatch player in the passing game against smaller defensive backs, but that might not be enough for the Cowboys coaching staff to keep him around. I would personally get him involved in the receiving game, especially with all the new faces Prescott will be throwing to this season, but unfortunately I'm not making those decisions.

Do you think Rico Gathers is more than just a passing game threat?



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Star Blog

Tony Romo Documentary in the Works

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Blog - 5 Most Heartbreaking Losses Of The Tony Romo Era

If you've missed seeing Tony Romo on the field, an upcoming documentary may be the cure. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback is reportedly the subject of a film chronicling his football career going all the way back to high school.

"Now or Never" will tell Romo's incredible story, going from undrafted to one of the top passers in the history of the Cowboys' storied franchise. It's being produced by a Texas-based company run by Christian Hanna (no known relation to James).

According to an article from MyRacineCounty.com, Romo's hometown newspaper, the tale of Tony's football career will be told going back to his days at Burlington High School in Wisconsin. It will follow him to Eastern Illinois University, the same QB hotbed that more recently produced Jimmy Garoppolo.

But what most of us will want to relive is Tony's amazing NFL career, which stands out among the most unexpected rises to stardom of any player in league history.

Romo, who was an undrafted free agent signed by the Cowboys in 2003, didn't play in a game for three seasons. He rose the QB depth chart through practice and preseason play, eventually becoming the backup and earning the respect of then-coach Bill Parcells.

 - Tony Romo, #9

Former Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo

In Week 7 of 2006, Parcells pulled struggling starter Drew Bledsoe at halftime and went with his intriguing young prospect. Tony's first pass in the NFL was one to forget; an interception.

About a decade later, Romo would retire as the Cowboys' all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He currently ranks fourth all-time in NFL history for passer rating.

Tony's career never saw the playoff and Super Bowl success of predecessors Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, but he remains a beloved figure in team history. The controversial end to his football career, losing his job to rookie phenom Dak Prescott in 2016, created a major rift among Cowboys fans.

While no longer playing, Romo remains one of the hottest names in football. His charisma and football acumen have him in a featured role with CBS Broadcasting.

From obscurity to "anointing oil" to one of the most discussed names in sports, Tony Romo's story is fascinating. This documentary crew picked a great subject, and we look forward to enjoying their work and revisiting the Romo Era once the film is released.



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