When Ezekiel Elliott lobbied for the Dallas Cowboys to select Wide Receiver Noah Brown in the 2017 NFL Draft, it was the blocking of Elliott’s former Ohio State Buckeye teammate that drew rave reviews from Elliott. The Dallas Cowboys likes what they saw and made him a seventh round selection that year with the hopes of utilizing his excellent run blocking in their run-heavy offense.
Noah Brown was slowly integrated into the offense his rookie year, and found a role in the Vince Mayle mold. That player who has the size to motion in-line and crack line backers, but also the ability to move in space to neutralize defensive backs in the run game. Not big enough to be a full-time tight end, but does everything you want your tight end to be.
So perhaps a “light end.”
Injuries derailed his 2018 season thus far and when he finally got back into the lineup the results were mixed. Solid blocking, but also drew a couple of penalties and wasn’t effective in the passing game. He saw his largest offensive snap count of the three games he's played this season and third highest total of his career.
On Thanksgiving Day, Noah Brown flipped the script and made a big impact for the Dallas Cowboys offense. Let's take a look at what makes Noah Brown such an important piece for the Dallas Cowboys.
On this play you see Noah Brown motion into the backfield and on the snap works across the formation to engage the linebacker on the second level. He uses excellent leverage and positioning to neutralize the defender. It's a modest gain for Elliott who cuts back against the grain and Brown limits the linebacker's ability to flow with Elliott. The league leading rusher runs it in for a score.
This time Brown coming in motion draws the attention of Safety DJ. Swearinger. Again, Elliott cuts back to the weak side of the formation where he finds more running room, but Brown's ability to occupy Swearinger prevents him from being able to work to the play side and gives Elliott more room to run.
This time Ezekiel Elliott follows Noah Brown's block through the hole for a nine yard gain. Again, it's Noah Brown taking on a linebacker at the point of attack and neutralizing him in the hole with good leverage and positioning. Brown holds him up long enough for Elliott to get by him for a nice gain.
This time the Dallas Cowboys are in a two tight end formation to the right side with a single wide receiver to the left. They bring Brown in motion to the weak side and Brown is the lead blocker for Elliott. Brown shows a lot of patience working behind Xavier Su'a-Filo and Cameron Fleming as he works to the second level. Brown holds up the defensive back long enough for Elliott to turn the corner and out run the defensive back for the first down.
This is one of my favorite plays from Brown's day. He's motioned wide to the numbers, but hustles to the inside to seal the defensive back, which puts Rod Smith in a one-on-one situation with the safety as he takes the play wide. Smith is nearly able to pick up the first down before being forced out of bounds. Also, what are you doing Rod, stay in bounds.
This is another favorite of mine. Brown again on the outside of the formation is working against a cornerback and completely eats his lunch. From a wider view, you can see the DB begin to get frustrated. Brown drives him nearly 15 yards downfield and continues to work him even after the play is over. It's this tenacious work as a blocker that keeps him getting snaps and may see him get even more snaps moving forward. It may be his blocking that got him on the field, but Noah Brown has another element to his game that is pretty underrated.
His receiving ability.
This is the kind of win you want to see from your fifth wide receiver when you give him an opportunity. Noah Brown runs a comeback route by driving the defensive back downfield and creates a ton of separation at the top of his route and provides a large window for Quarterback Dak Prescott. Brown isn't satisfied with just the reception as he turns up field and with a block rom Ezekiel Elliott gets some nice yards after the catch. It's a huge pickup for Brown who doesn't get a lot of targets in this offense.
We've seen Noah Brown take on corner backs, safeties, and linebackers and when his blocking assignments. When Brown is on the field, he adds an excellent blocking element, which is why I think they need to use him more and more as the season moves forward. He brings more to the table than either Blake Jarwin or Rico Gathers at the tight end position, so the Dallas Cowboys should look to use Brown as a "light end" when they want to have a tight end on the field. At worst he should replace your second or third tight end when the Cowboys want to resemble 11 or 12 personnel.
Noah Brown as the team's "light end" is a matchup problem moving forward if Head Coach Jason Garrett and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan want to use him that way. When the Cowboys go with Noah Brown instead of a tight end, it forces the opposition to make a difficult decision. Do they keep their defense in nickel and risk a linebacker having to cover someone like Cole Beasley or Amari Cooper in the slot, or do they bring their dime package on the field and risk a size/talent mismatch between Brown and the fourth corner.
The NFL is about mismatches and the Dallas Cowboys have several and Noah Brown is one of them. It's time to increase his snap count to take advantage of his blocking and receiving ability.
Cowboys to Use 5th-Year Option on Ezekiel Elliott’s Contract
To nobody's surprise, the Dallas Cowboys intend to exercise the fifth-year option on star Running Back Ezekiel Elliott's contract. This will keep Zeke signed with the Cowboys through the 2020 season.
The deadline for teams to use the options years on the draft class of 2016 is Thursday, May 2nd, just a few days following the 2019 NFL Draft.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on the team eventually exercising the fifth-year option on Ezekiel Elliott's contract: "Obviously we're gonna do it.
It's appropriate that Stephen said "obviously," because there is no reason for the Cowboys not to utilize this provision. It's one of the perks of drafting a player in the first round; the option does not apply to any other rookie deals.
Right now, the 2020 option year projects to pay Elliott around $10 million. That is a bargain considering other franchise backs like Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and David Johnson are all now averaging $13-$14 million per season.
In fact, it may be more of a discount than Zeke is willing to give. He may very well holdout if the team doesn't give him a new contact closer to his market value.
For all we know, the Cowboys have every intention of doing just that. This move is little more than a formality; a placeholder that prevents Elliott from entering unrestricted free agency in 2020 and secures his rights while a new deal is negotiated.
Connor Williams Adding Size and Strength Huge for Cowboys OL
It's no secret that heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the book on Connor Williams coming out of Texas was that he didn't have enough length to play tackle in the NFL and didn't have enough bulk to play guard. At least not at first.
It was an issue we saw play out early in the 2018 season as he struggled with some of the more powerful defensive tackles. He struggled so much that the team went to Xavier Su'a-Filo during his injury and for a couple games after he was healthy, thinking they had a better option. After having a bit of time to sit back and watch, Williams came back into the starting lineup with a better feel for that power and was much improved over the last half of the season, including the playoffs. He never relinquished his job again.
Though he played better, it was obvious what his number one offseason focus would be; adding size and strength. According to Dallas Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones, he's done just that.
Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday afternoon, Jones gave us some insight into how Williams is looking this offseason.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on offensive lineman Connor Williams, last year's second round pick: "My understanding is that he's taken some huge steps in terms of his strength and size. My understanding is that he's put on some really good weight.
Jones then added some lofty expectations on the second year guard from the University of Texas.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan: "I think Connor Williams is gonna be a mainstay in our offensive line for many years to come. ... I think we'll be talking about him just like we do several of the other players on our offensive line.
Connor Williams was already proving himself capable of standing up to powerful defensive lineman as late in the season and in the playoffs, but this is very encouraging to hear as we look to 2019.
Against the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams, Williams and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys interior offensive line had big challenges in front of them. Seattle's Jarran Reed and Los Angeles' Aaron Donald were two of the better defensive tackles in 2018. Donald, is considered by many, the best defensive player in the NFL because of his brute strength that is matched by his quickness.
Against both players, Williams performed well. Not perfect, but well enough to be encouraged about what Williams could bring in 2019. Per Pro Football Focus, he only allowed five total pressures during the playoffs, including one in the divisional round against the Rams. There's a reason that everyone is so high on Williams heading into his second year.
The front office included.
Stephen Jones praise is significant. The Dallas Cowboys feature three All-Pro offensive lineman. To say that "we'll be talking about him just like we do several of the other players on our offensive line" is very high praise. There aren't many teams in the NFL that boast as much talent along the offensive line as the Dallas Cowboys do in Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. For Jones to think Williams cold be that level of player doesn't sound like generic front office speak.
With a full year under his belt, including two playoff starts, Williams should be confident heading into his second year. Adding strength and weight will help him anchor better against the strong interiors he'll face weekly in the NFL. Getting Center Travis Frederick back in the lineup will help him with the mental aspect of the game.
There's a lot to be excited about with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and the offensive line remains one of those things. How Connor Williams improves from year one to year two will be one of the major storylines throughout the offseason heading toward week one. The Cowboys offensive line remains a focal point for America's Team and all eyes will be on Williams as he looks to make the second year jump.
La’el Collins Has Surgery Ahead of Contract Year
The list of injured Dallas Cowboys players getting surgery keeps getting larger. DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones will welcome La'el Collins to the "surgery recovery" group chat after Collins had a procedure to repair a torn rotator cuff. According to the report from Forth-Worth Star Telegram, Collins suffered the injury at the end of the 2018 season.
La'el Collins expects to be ready for training camp, but don't expect much from him in the upcoming offseason program.
For Collins, this is a very meaningful season. At 25 years old, he's heading into a contract year in 2019. So far, his career has been decent at best. He began playing at guard, where he showed some pretty impressive flashes before moving to right tackle, where he's started since 2017.
Even before it was reported that he would have surgery, many in Cowboys Nation have wondered about his future. The truth is, since he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015, his career hasn't lived up to the hype. Prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, an off-the-field misunderstanding made every team pass on him. However, he was seen by many as a top prospect in the class and was a projected first round pick.
Although he improved when Marc Colombo took over as the OL coach, Collins has struggled during his time at right tackle. At this point, he hasn't earned a long term deal.
Right now, the Cowboys should see offensive tackle as a need in the NFL Draft. Not a priority one, but definitely one to watch out for in the later rounds. Tyron Smith is 28 years old, but his injury history doesn't look promising at all. I can definitely see this team addressing the lack of depth at the position at some point in Day 3.
This whole discussion raises yet another question. Would the Cowboys trade La'el Collins? I don't think it would happen, but it doesn't sound like a terrible idea either. At the moment, Cameron Fleming is on the roster and he isn't a bad starter. Now granted, he might be a downgrade from Collins. However, if you're able to get a good draft pick in exchange, it's worth considering. Use Fleming as a bridge player between for a younger one down the line.
Connor Williams could also move over to tackle, although I doubt they want to try experiments like this with a young player just like they did with La'el Collins. Let Williams grow as a guard and keep him there.
La'el Collins or not, the Cowboys have a need at offensive tackle and Collins' makes it even more evident. The good news is he expects to be back by training camp and doesn't seem like a huge question mark for week 1 as DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones do.
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