On April 28th, the Dallas Cowboys went and got their guy. This was the night of the 2016 NFL Draft, and the Cowboys cashed in their miserable 2015 campaign for RB Ezekiel Elliott - the fourth overall pick out of Ohio State.
Fast forward to September 11th, when Elliott made his regular season debut against the New York Giants, facing immense pressure to live up to all of the hype around this running back prospect stepping in behind the best offensive line in the world. Zeke went for just 51 yards on 20 carries, and we all focused in just a little bit more on the 21 year old.
With an incredibly limited off season and preseason, Elliott picked things up following this week 1 performance on the road against the Redskins, carrying 21 times for 83 yards and another score. The best sign from this game, besides the fact that the Cowboys picked up a much needed win, was that Elliott began to patiently read his blocks and allow plays to develop - unlike his impatient style in the previous game.
Cowboys Nation couldn't help but smile, as we could feel that Ezekiel Elliott was about to break out. The lights were going to be on in week 3 for Sunday Night Football at home against the Bears, and the rookie would be ready.
30 carries. 140 yards. 4.7 Yards Per Carry.
Zeke stole the show by running all over the depleted Bears defense, showcasing just a little bit of his wide range of skills that made him the most complete running back prospect to enter the NFL Draft in years. He was just getting started.
On Sunday, Dallas fell behind the 49ers on the road 14-0, their largest deficit of the season. Scott Linehan stuck with his running game, because he knew that Ezekiel Elliott would not be denied behind this offensive line.
He was correct.
Zeke ate up yards all game long, getting stronger in the second half on his way to an average of six yards a carry for 138 yards. Once again, I saw Ezekiel Elliott make another big stride towards becoming the player he was at Ohio State.
His vision, power, decisiveness, and footwork were all at their best this season, as Elliott propelled himself to the league lead in rushing yards - just four games into his Dallas Cowboys' career. That is incredible!
Elliott Still Has Plenty of Room for Improvement.
Do me a favor. Think back to the 2014 Cowboys running game with DeMarco Murray. This shouldn't be too hard, positive thoughts of Murray running through massive lanes are filling your head!
Murray was certainly not a complete back, relying on the blockers in front of him to give him space to accelerate and then succeed at the second level with power and great balance.
As Elliott continues to get to the second level, which he essentially gets a "free pass" to behind this offensive line with good chemistry, he will be able to attack defenders with superior power, balance, and most importantly - speed.
The element of Zeke's game that has not translated yet from his Ohio State days is the extra gear of breakaway speed that sets up hopeless defenders on Elliott's way to huge gains.
Elliott is still getting his legs under him when it comes to running the rock in the NFL, but the speed is on its way. An entire new element to Elliott's arsenal is going to make the league's leading rusher even better.
Additionally, the Cowboys offensive line is going to continue to feed off of the way Zeke can punish defenses, and they will improve as a run blocking unit for him as the featured back.
Zeke's last two performances have also come with the Dallas offensive line not at full strength, with all-universe LT Tyron Smith inactive in weeks 3 and 4. La'el Collins won't be back on the field for some time after exiting at halftime against the Bears, making way for Ronald Leary to step in next to Chaz Green at left guard.
Elliott is still dominating behind these guys, who have performed well, but #21 has still proven that he was made to be the running back for America's Team.
The Dallas Cowboys featured back is a 21 year old rookie that leads the NFL in rushing after four games, and they're not afraid to use him. Take notice, world.
What have you seen from Ezekiel Elliott so far, and what are you looking for from him as the season goes on? Let us know! Use the comment section below to talk about Zeke Elliott, or email Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.
Cowboys Will Tag DeMarcus Lawrence; What’s the Plan?
February 20 is an important day for NFL clubs this year. Why? It's the first day in which teams can franchise tag any player. Since 2015, when the Dallas Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before they were able to work out a long-term deal, Jerry Jones & Co. haven't used the franchise tag. In 2018, though, that will change.
DeMarcus Lawrence just played his best season yet in 2017, and he's looking to get paid big time. Through three years, he had been able to rack up nine sacks, 52 tackles and three forced fumbles. In just 2017, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times, had 35 tackles and managed to force four fumbles.
Not only did Lawrence look like an elite pass rusher, but he also improved as a run defender a lot. The Cowboys have been looking for a "War Daddy" for a long, long time and Lawrence seems to be the answer for this football team.
After such a big year, one would expect the Cowboys to sign him to a multi-year enormous contract. But there's a catch. Lawrence failed to remain healthy early in his career and really didn't make as much of an impact until last season.
There's no question that D-Law will be wearing a star come the 2018 NFL season, but will he be doing it under a long-term deal or under a franchise tag?
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
For now, according to David Moore from Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence with the objective of getting a deal done in July. The tag however, is not expected to be placed as soon as possible.
In 2015, the Cowboys didn't place the franchise tag on Dez Bryant until the final deadline day. This year's deadline is March 6th, so it may be two weeks before they make it official with DeMarcus Lawrence. #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys
What would franchise tagging DeMarcus Lawrence mean for this team?
First of all, they'd make sure he doesn't hit free agency in March. This gives the front office time to get to work and restructure players' contracts if they have to in order to open up as much cap space as they can before giving him a deal.
It's worth mentioning as well, cap savings from players who are designated as post-June 1 cuts will already be available. If you want to be more familiarized with the Cowboys' cap situation, I highly recommend you read John Williams' deep dive on the matter.
It'll continue to be a very interesting story for this offseason, as handing a franchise tag to a player tends to become a non-friendly situation for both parties. Let's hope that's not the case for the Cowboys and Lawrence this year and that everything works out fine.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue updating you and the rest of Cowboys Nation throughout the offseason.
Watch: Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Goes Bowling for First Time Since College Injury
Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Jaylon Smith did not just defy all odds and return to normalcy in 2017, starting as the Cowboys' middle linebacker for a full 16 games. He became one of the team's and NFL's brightest success stories, earning the right to celebrate everyday activities returning to his life - as football did this season.
This is exactly what Jaylon Smith did on Twitter Friday afternoon, posting a Snapchat video of himself bowling. The caption on Twitter adds that Smith was enjoying his time at the lanes for the first time in two years.
It was January 1st, 2016 when Jaylon Smith's injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame changed his outlook forever. In that moment, Smith went from a projected top ten pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to a LB that would need a team to take a chance on him - and be patient.
The Dallas Cowboys proved to be that team, using the 34th overall pick on the Notre Dame star and supporting his efforts to return to the field from day one. The entire Cowboys' organization was rewarded by Smith remarkably playing every game this season, inspired by his constant determination to do just that.
So, a normal offseason for Jaylon Smith is anything but right now. Still battling the drop foot condition (one that is reportedly healing well and "fading") which limits his movement ability in the lower body, Smith is a normal Dallas Cowboys football player from this point forward.
He can say he's already defined all odds, can expect to take an even bigger stride forward in 2018, and Jaylon Smith can go bowling again. You can't help but be happy for #54.
Dak Prescott’s Accuracy Stands Out in Final 2017 Stats
2017 was a season that left the Dallas Cowboys with a ton of questions to think about. Dez Bryant's contract, Sean Lee and Tyron Smith's availability, and the future of DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving are some of those questions.
But there's another more pressing question for the Cowboys. How can they get the most out of Quarterback Dak Prescott and avoid another struggling year for him?
Also, what if he has another rough year? At what point does quarterback become a position that needs to be evaluated if he continues to struggle?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that will be the case. In fact, I have a lot of faith in Dak. I think he's shown a lot to be excited about and I definitely believe there's a "quarterback curve" in the NFL. Hopefully, #4 finds a way to get back on track in 2018.
A reason to be optimistic about Prescott's future is an impressive stat from NFL Next Gen Stats. Turns out, Dak Prescott ranked first in the NFL in "tight window throws" completion percentage with 45.8%.
According to Matt Harmon from NFL.com, a "tight window throw" is defined as a pass in which the intended receiver has less than a yard of separation from the defender.
Dak Prescott is far from a perfect quarterback and he's constantly bashed about his throwing accuracy. Just recently, he took part in a passing competition with David Carr before the NFL Honors and well... it's fair to say Carr completely beat him.
David Carr 6, Dak Prescott 1 pic.twitter.com/rV532Q3Cob
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) 6 de febrero de 2018
Cowboys Twitter was anything but forgiving for the young quarterback, but at the end of the day, I'm not sure a casual passing competition at an event like that one is the way you judge an NFL starting quarterback who has a 22-10 record in his career.
Dak has a long way to go before being considered an excellent quarterback in the league, but a bad season like 2017 doesn't mean it's the end of his career and that the Dallas Cowboys should start Cooper Rush over him.
It's not the first quarterback who struggles one year and he won't be the last one to bounce back from one. As of right now, Dak Prescott rightfully is the Dallas Cowboys QB1. Hopefully he has a better year next season.
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