The Dallas Cowboys depth at the tight end position took a little bit of a hit this past Friday when James Hanna announced to the world that he planned on retiring. The Cowboys will now move him to the reserve/retired list, thus creating questions as to who will be Jason Witten's primary backup in 2018?
Before James Hanna's retirement announcement, it was rumored he could end up getting cut to get some salary-cap relief. The Cowboys fortunately didn't have to make that decision, but Hanna's retirement has the same impact on the salary-cap as it would have if it would've been released.
The downside of all of this is that the Dallas Cowboys now have to find out who will now become their backup tight end this season. This is definitely an important decision because Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was, and his age could make him start becoming susceptible to injuries, although he has been an Iron Man the majority of his career.
I don't know about you, but there's really not anybody currently on the Cowboys roster who inspires a lot of confidence. Geoff Swaim will likely step into James Hanna's vacated role behind Jason Witten, but the depth behind him creates more questions than answers.
The Dallas Cowboys are supposedly pretty high on Blake Jarwin, but he will be entering his second year and hasn't really received a lot of playing time as of yet. Then, there is Rico Gathers, a fan favorite, who flashed his ability in preseason last year.
Gathers mere size and athletic ability makes him a mismatch against anybody who tries to cover him, but I just don't know how committed he is to his football career. He seems much more focused on trying to become a rapper than he does improving his craft. Hopefully, that's not the case and he can take the next step in his development.
The Dallas Cowboys current situation at the tight end position is a little depressing. In fact, I really think it's holding the Cowboys offense back and it's past time to do some upgrading.
Fortunately, there is an event happening this week that could improve the entire tight end position… the 2018 NFL Draft. If the Dallas Cowboys weren't planning on drafting a tight end before James Hanna's retirement, they should seriously consider it now.
Jason Witten isn't going to play forever and if he was to get injured, the Cowboys offense would seriously be in trouble. We all know he's not the player he once was, but he is still the best and most dependable option currently on the roster.
Unfortunately, we witnessed firsthand just how bad things can get when a starter goes down and the depth behind them isn't capable of stepping in and handling the job. That is why the Dallas Cowboys should have a better contingency plan in place if something were to happen to Witten.
The good news is that this year's TE draft class is pretty deep and the Dallas Cowboys should be able to take one to not only replace James Hanna, but hopefully become Witten's successor as well.
Should the Dallas Cowboys draft a tight end?
Cowboys RB Tony Pollard Continues Excellent Training Camp
Rookie Running Back Tony Pollard hasn't wasted any time making his mark on the Dallas Cowboys organization. The buzz around the fourth-round pick began to pick up steam back in May during OTAs when he broke a long touchdown run in practice. It was a sneak peek into the speed, change of direction and vision that the former Memphis Tiger possesses.
46.2k Likes, 700 Comments - Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) on Instagram: "Rookie on the run 🌟 #EarnTheStar"
Dak Prescott has been impressed by the rookie since OTAs, confirming his pre-draft thoughts about Pollard. "He's somebody I watched before the draft that I was excited about. I looked up his highlights and they said receiver at first. I was like 'Dang, I thought we were getting a running back.' But then you see him playing running back and he's still having success. You look at Randall Cobb's highlights, it's the same thing he did in college. It's exciting," Prescott told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.
Pollard has only added to the hype of what he can bring to the Cowboys offense since first stepping on the field in May. Even in a short sample size against the 49ers a little over a week ago he showed the patience needed to be an effective runner on the pro level. 16 yards on 4 carries won't blow you away but it's all about reps at this point for him and maximizing them before the season starts. Also, he silenced those who doubted he if could run between the tackles in the NFL.
Recently, he showed off a different dimension of his skill set in practice during some one-on-one battles with Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. This shouldn't surprise anyone, though, considering Pollard had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards and 9 touchdowns in college.
Tony Pollard ghosts LVE in 1v1s. Beautiful https://t.co/PEJMw8hmBP
Tony Pollard beats LVE deep down the sideline. Perfect throw by Dak. #Cowboys https://t.co/2dDp0mUSMs
In the first video above, in particular, Pollard does a great job of selling his route to the outside before gaining inside leverage to beat Vander Esch. This is the kind of savvy you want to see from a young running back transitioning to the NFL.
Pollard once again put on a show Saturday when the team played the Los Angeles Rams in Hawaii. The Cowboys went 97 yards on a twelve play drive to take an early 7-0 lead. He would gain 42 yards on 5 carries and add a catch for 9 yards as well, topping it all off with an impressive 14-yard touchdown run.
The NFL really let the Dallas Cowboys draft Tony Pollard in the fourth round. (via @nflnetwork) https://t.co/Hqkd6e4YuE
Three things stand out about this run in my eyes. First, the patience Pollard shows in letting the play develop. Running backs sometimes are too impatient and let potential big plays go to waste. Great job by him setting up his blocks and hitting the hole. Second, the balance he shows after taking a hit early in the run. What you always want to see is your running back(s) have the ability to not go down on the first contact they receive. Lastly, the awareness to cover the ball at the end of the run to avoid a turnover and cross the goal line.
So far in two preseason games, Pollard has 9 carries for 58 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per rush, putting him almost right at his 6.8 yards per rush average in college.
Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones hasn't been quiet about his feelings on what he's seen from Pollard so far. After the first preseason game, Jones said he was confident Pollard could "carry the load" if All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott's holdout goes into the regular season. After Saturday's victory against the Rams, Jones had another raving review of the rookie, but with a slight twist to it.
"What's amazing for him is to come in here and he hadn't done that much," Jones told the Dallas Morning News. "He knows exactly what to do and he knows how to do it. If he goes out there and he plays to that level he's going to be [at] for the next several weeks, he's going to be right in the middle of it early. That will really complement what we're doing with Zeke, not replace that, I mean that, not replace it. Nobody is getting cute here, certainly be a great compliment to have a great running game where I can picture those guys [having] success at the same time out there really giving the defense some fits."
The Cowboys have a one-two punch at running back with the potential to set the NFL on fire. As Elliott continues to work out a long-term deal with the front office, Pollard will keep getting the much-needed reps on order for him to be ready to go on September 8th against the New York Giants, regardless if he's the starter or not. Once Elliott and Pollard are providing their services simultaneously, we could be looking at the NFL's top overall backfield.
Cowboys Wishlist: First-Team Offense Scores a TD
It's time for football to be played in Hawaii! The Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams are set to play tonight at Aloha Stadium, home of the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. It's the second week in the preseason and the Cowboys have a ton of things to figure out before cut-down day arrives. The Rams' starters remained at home, so it'll be interesting to see what the Cowboys' game plan is.
Without further ado, here is this week's edition of Cowboys Wishlist! Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Dak and starters get in the end zone
Last week the Cowboys' starters on offense looked sharp, but failed to score a touchdown. Prescott completed four out of four passes for 23 yards, Michael Gallup had two catches for 19 yards and Tony Pollard showed us a little bit of what he could do with only four rushing attempts for a gain of 16.
Offensive line looked solid with Travis Frederick back on the field and a very improved Connor Williams lined up next to him.
This week, I hope we see a little bit more from the starters and I wish we get to see them score a touchdown. It's only preseason, but it's never bad to see your starting offense put six on the board.
Wish #2: Jon'Vea Johnson bounces back
Undrafted rookie Jon'Vea Johnson has been a sensation in offseason workouts and training camp, but he couldn't take it to where it matters most, the playing field. Drops were an issue both in camp and in last week's preseason opener. However, his route running has been great and he's been able to create separation with ease.
His stock took a hit versus the 49ers, but I wish he bounces right back with a strong performance against the Rams.
Wish #3: Walk away without injuries
This might slightly contradict my #1 wish, but I'm not talking about starters only. In San Francisco, the Cowboys had a couple of injuries that might be more relevant than they seem. First off, WR Cedrick Wilson, who has a real case of making the 53-man roster suffered a concussion after playing very well and racking up 36 yards in three catches.
LB Luke Gifford, who's also fighting for a spot on the team was having himself quite a night before suffering an ankle injury that will keep him out for at least a couple of weeks.
Every time an NFL team walks away from a preseason game without injuries, it's a win.
Wish #4: DE depth continues to impress
Last week, rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson shined on their preseason debut. Jelks sacked the QB on his first play of preseason action, Jackson got some pressure in and both have had pretty good camps so far. Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder have also played well. Taco Charlton got a couple of good pass rushes in versus the 49ers.
With Robert Quinn suspended for the first two games, I wish we continue to see quality play from these young defensive ends as they fight for the final spots on the Cowboys' 53-man roster.
What are your wishes for tonight's matchup between Cowboys and Rams?
A Deep Dive Into Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s Value
The number took the football world by surprise, and left most fans and analysts across the league shaking their heads. Dak Prescott? $40 million?
Of course, the same people who would yell at the Cowboys for extending Prescott at such a number will also laugh at the Cowboys for extending their running back and paying him big money for his position. But that's enough about that.
The fact of the matter is Dak Prescott has earned the right to be paid. He's earned his contract extension through his play, and as a quarterback when it's your turn to get paid, the total yearly value is going to look ridiculous.
Whether or not Prescott has "earned" this deal is still debated across fanbases, however. Some believe he's been carried, others believe his skill players and offensive play caller have held him back. Some say he can be a top 10 quarterback, others believe he's "trash."
Let's settle the debate, or at least attempt to, by taking a deep dive into some of the most important numbers when determining a quarterback's production.
It's almost become accepted as fact that Dak is an inaccurate quarterback, but the numbers suggest a very different story. Completion percentage on its own is a very poor judge of accuracy, but Next Gen Stats' "completion percentage over expected (CPOE)," is a much more robust metric. Completion probability is calculated on each throw, and depends on a variety of factors such as the depth of target, where the receiver is on the field, separation, time to throw, and much more.
CPOE measures the difference between a quarterback's expected completion percentage and their actual completion percentage. In short, the higher the number, the more accurate that quarterback tends to be because he is outperforming his expectations.
Prescott had a CPOE of +2.1 in 2019, tied for 9th among quarterbacks with a minimum of 200 attempts. This means that he was 2.1 percentage points better than he was expected to be in terms of completion percentage.
Dak and Dunk?
Another major narrative against the Cowboys quarterback is that he is a dink and dunk passer. The argument says that Prescott dumps the ball off too often, and is risk averse to a fault in the passing game.
Next Gen Stats has a metric called Aggressiveness Percentage, which measures the percentage of passing attempts into tight windows over total number of attempts. Prescott's AGG% was 17.7%, tied for 7th in the league among quarterbacks with a minimum 200 attempts.
Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that Dak is the 7th most aggressive quarterback in the league. His high percentage of throws to receivers with less than 1 yard of separation could have more to do with lack of offensive creativity and lack of speed at receiver than Prescott taking a ton of chances.
Our friend Cowboys Stats on Twitter has spoke a lot about this narrative as well, though, and dispelled it with this excellent chart linked below.
@TheKegbearer @KDDrummondNFL Very quick-and-dirty density plot of all league passes since start of 2015 (red) and all of Dak's career passes (blue).
As you can see, Prescott is no more likely to dump the ball off than the league average since 2015. The X axis is depth of target, and the Y axis is total share of passes. So shoutout to Cowboys Stats for this awesome chart to show how little validity the "Dak and Dunk" narrative really has.
Why else is Dak good, Kevin?
I'm glad you asked!
While remaining as aggressive in the passing game as anyone else, Prescott turns the ball over much less. His interception percentage was just 1.5%, tied for 4th among all quarterbacks last year. While he did have a weird fumbling spurt at the beginning of 2018, Prescott has never been someone who throws a lot of picks. And, you guessed it, that's good.
Prescott's value is also measured through Expected Points Added. Expected Points uses the down, distance, and field position to estimate a team's expected net point advantage. Simply put, how many points is this team expected to score considering their circumstances.
EPA is the difference between expected points at the beginning of the play and end of the play, defined by Brian Burke as a play's impact on the score of the game.
Prescott had a total EPA of 71.7 in 2018, 12th among all quarterbacks. He was also 6th in rushing EPA by QBs, further emphasizing how important his quarterback runs are. Lastly, Dak finished 8th in EPA on non-zero value added QB-plays (most plays that are not handoffs).
Now, while I certainly sit in the "Dak is good" camp, he does have room for improvement. Passing efficiency leaders tend to be stable year over year, whereas something like team defense is highly variable. But, Prescott can make some key improvements going forward.
Prescott had a sack percentage of 9.6% in 2018, 28th in the league. This high percentage comes while being 10th in time to throw, indicating that Prescott needs to make decisions quicker. As you might expect, most of top 10 are guys who like to extend plays and get out of the pocket, but Dak does hold onto the ball too long and take too many sacks.
Prescott also was below average in two important efficiency stats in 2018. Dak finished 19th in ANY/A at 6.22 yards, though most of the Cowboys faithful hope to see this number grow with a changed offensive philosophy under Kellen Moore. Dallas' passing offense also finished 26th in DVOA, which is downright bad. Though, the acquisition of Amari Cooper certainly helped things quickly for the Cowboys in the second half of the season.
Dak Prescott is a good quarterback. Does he have flaws? Of course. Is he an elite, Patrick Mahomes level player? No, he's not. But it's his turn to get paid and he is worthy of the contract he's about to receive.
Don't let Philadelphia fans tell you differently.
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