There is no denying the Dallas Cowboys have one of the top offensive units in the entire NFL. This offense can go toe to toe with just about any team in the league due to the skill players they currently have on the roster. But, there is one player that is flying under the radar who could make this unit even better in 2017… Fullback Keith Smith.
The Dallas Cowboys are one of the few teams around the NFL that still employ a traditional fullback. The position has been pretty much phased out over the past several years, but the Cowboys are proving that fullbacks aren't entirely obsolete yet.
A season ago Keith Smith was asked to transition from linebacker to fullback. He may have been a little reluctant at the time to make the position switch, but he ended the 2016 season as one of the top graded FBs in the entire NFL.
Keith Smith may still be relatively new to the FB position, but if we learned anything from the Hall of Fame game against the Arizona Cardinals Thursday night, then Smith is ready to take his game to the next level. At least that's what I took away from his involvement on offense.
Keith Smith ended the game against the Cardinals with three catches for just 15 yards, but he was targeted five times and one of those targets was knocked down at the line of scrimmage. To me, that's an indication we could see him much more involved on the offensive side of the ball this season.
Smith actually looked really natural catching the ball out of the backfield Thursday night. This will add another dimension to the Cowboys offense. Defensive coordinators around the league will have to account for yet another playmaker in the Cowboys already stacked arsenal.
I don't want to jump the gun here, but it does bring back memories of one of my favorite all-time Dallas Cowboys players, Daryl Johnston. Johnston was not only the lead blocker for one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL, Emmitt Smith, but he was also a sure-handed receiver out of the backfield. He accumulated over 2,200 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns during his career with the Cowboys.
Now, I'm not comparing Keith Smith to Daryl Johnston at all. That would be unwise. But, Smith could be utilized the same way Johnston was back in the 90s.
Anyway you slice it, Keith Smith has taken his game to another level and it can only help improve the Cowboys already potent offense. He has proven he can be another offensive weapon, but with only so many balls to go around he likely won't be heavily involved.
I fully expect the Cowboys to use Keith Smith in specific situations in order to catch opposing defenses off guard. He may not be heavily involved, but I do expect him to play a key role in 2017.
Is Keith Smith another offensive weapon for the Cowboys?
Could NY Giants Be a Surprise Threat in the NFC East?
The NFC East is a wild, wild division. Since 2004, the division that hosts some of the most popular franchises in the NFL hasn't seen the same team winning the NFC East title two years in a row. It's crazy! Who expected the Dallas Cowboys to become the #1 seed in the conference in 2016 after seeing Tony Romo go down during the preseason? Who was able to predict the Philadelphia Eagles' amazing run for the Super Bowl last year?
It's an unpredictable league, but the NFC East side of things can really amaze you on a yearly basis.
Heading into 2018, it all seems to be about the Eagles and the Cowboys. Being the last two teams to win the title, it's only logical to expect them to be the only teams in the division that have what it takes to own the NFC East crown.
But maybe, just maybe, we are overlooking the New York Giants.
Coming from a 3-13 record in 2017, the Giants have quite a bit to prove if they want to become a winning team once again and return to playoff contention. With Odell Beckham missing most of the season and with good ol' Ben McAdoo calling the shots, the team was never able to get a break.
Listen, we all know Eli Manning has been struggling lately. Many thought the Giants should've drafted a quarterback when they held the #2 overall pick back in April. But whether we like it or not, New York seems to have a plan: take advantage of Manning's last years on the field.
Instead of taking a young QB for the future, they drafted the best player available to take the load off Manning's shoulders. Saquon Barkley will probably be able to do what Ezekiel Elliott was able to do in 2016: lead the offense by running the football 20 times a game and have several 100-yard performances.
Not only that, but the front office did make an effort to re-build a disastrous offensive line by bringing in a talented left tackle in Nate Solder and by stealing the UTEP product, Will Hernandez in the second round of the draft. If the Giants are able to finally groom Ereck Flowers into a decent starter at right tackle, this could be a pretty solid offensive line.
Of course, Manning will not only be benefited from the running game, but his superstar wide receiver will be back on the field. Beckham is one of the NFL's best wide receivers and will surely be back at terrifying opposing secondaries week in and week out.
The Giants are bringing in Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher, who did a nice job for the Arizona Cardinals' defense over the last few years. With some talented defensive players, the team might not have the best squad in the league, but it doesn't seem like a defense that will struggle throughout the season.
Last but not least, the Giants will have a new head coach in form of Pat Shurmur. He's had some success in the league, lately as an offensive coordinator for a Minnesota Vikings team that managed to get to the NFC Championship with Case Keenum at QB. It was a good hire for the team, and I'm pretty sure it will be easy to do a better job than McAdoo's work with the Giants.
If I was to make a prediction, I'd say the Giants will have a handful of wins in 2018. However, I don't see them getting back into the postseason just yet. An 8-8 record sounds about right. Having said that, though, it really seems like a team that could surprise everyone and emerge as a surprise contender in the NFC East.
Do you think the New York Giants could be a surprise threat in 2018?
Where Cowboys CB Marquez White Fits In 2018
In the 2017 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys selected four new defensive backs, three of which saw significant playing time during their rookie season.
Those three, of course, are Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods. That fourth defensive back, however, should not be forgotten about as we enter the beginning stages of the 2018 season. That player is former Florida State cornerback Marquez White.
Rather than playing alongside his rookie counterparts in the secondary, White spent time on the Cowboys practice squad in 2017. The former sixth round pick was signed to a futures contract at the end of 2017, however, and now has a chance to compete in camp once again.
Entering their sophomore seasons the starting secondary already appears to be taking shape. Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones are just about locked in to the outside cornerback jobs, Xavier Woods is expected to start at safety beside Jeff Heath, and Jourdan Lewis is battling with now third year player Anthony Brown for the slot corner role.
So where does Marquez White fit into all of this?
Well, the aforementioned players are locks to make the 53-man roster, but Marquez White should be the favorite to win the 5th cornerback spot going forward. White's raw talent is undeniable, and he has the ability to play under both man and zone responsibilities.
The main reason we should be optimistic about Marquez White's chances to land on the final roster, however, is his athletic profile. At 6'0" tall, just under 200 pounds, and long arms White fits the mold for what new secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard tends to look for in his cornerbacks.
And, for better or for worse, Richard clearly values these measureables highly. This is evident in how second year corner Jourdan Lewis has been used thus far in mini camp and offseason activities; being relegated to second team and the slot rather than allowed to compete for an outside cornerback job with Awuzie and Jones.
So with the arrival of Kris Richard, the departure of Orlando Scandrick, the underwhelming play of Anthony Brown, and the raw talent he already possesses, Marquez White has a very strong chance of making the final 53-man roster in Dallas.
Can Jaylon Smith Challenge Vander Esch For Starting MIKE Role?
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world basically assumed he would be the starting MIKE linebacker week one of the upcoming season.
After all, the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens to free agency and none of the injury replacements had much success during the 2017 season.
Now just a couple of months shy of that week one match up with the Carolina Panthers, a battle for that middle linebacker spot appears to be occurring.
Former 2016 second round pick Jaylon Smith has seemed to find his health, and his movement skills and agility look like they did back when he was at Notre Dame. Whether or not these offseason hype videos will actually mean anything on the field remains to be seen, but just the fact that Smith is working out and playing without the knee brace is obviously a good sign.
Unlike Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith did play for the Dallas Cowboys a year ago. Sure Smith had his share of growing pains, but he seemed to find his groove late in the season. It probably isn't a coincidence, though, that Smith's best games came when coming off the bench in a limited role and when playing beside veteran Sean Lee.
During the offseason activity thus far Jaylon Smith has gotten the majority of snaps at middle linebacker, but Vander Esch has also been sidelined with an injured ankle. Leighton Vander Esch clearly fits the mold of a MIKE both physically and athletically, but at his best Jaylon Smith does as well.
Despite the resurgence of Jaylon Smith and the injury to Leighton Vander Esch, I still do expect Vander Esch to snag that MIKE role moving forward. While showing glimpses of productive play, Smith did not impress enough to earn him the unquestioned starting job last season, and may best fit as a SAM backer and situational pass rusher/blitzer in the current scheme.
Allowing Jaylon Smith to conserve his energy and provide a boost off the bench is the best way for the Cowboys to structure their defense. Of course, this is only true as long as Vander Esch becomes the player they expect him to be, though.
If Jaylon Smith does return to the player he was at Notre Dame prior to his horrific injury, the Cowboys will possess three incredibly rangy, athletic, and talented linebackers on their roster.
Of course, that if is a very big if at this point, however.
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