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Finding 2017 Roles For Cowboys Defensive Rookies

Sean Martin

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Finding Roles For Cowboys Defensive Rookies

It is often said that any NFL team is at its best when younger players can push those ahead of them on the depth chart for starting jobs and snaps. With seven of the Dallas Cowboys' nine 2017 NFL Draft picks going towards the defensive side of the ball, this will likely certainly be the case for Rod Marinelli's defense this season - looking to make improvements through continued returns on quality free agent additions, trusted veterans, and of course these seven new rookies.

After exploring how Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown, and some of the intriguing Cowboys UDFAs on offense could help this team in 2017, let's do the same on defense.

DE Taco Charlton (Round 1 Pick 28)

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Despite not being the most fan-favorite pick on the first night of the 2017 Draft, projecting what Taco Charlton will do for the Cowboys in his first season is pretty simple to an extent - line up at defensive end and rush after opposing quarterbacks.

A pass rusher is exactly what the Cowboys have lacked in the past few seasons, featuring two playoff exits to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, and they now have a solid one to mold in Charlton. Dallas is committed to letting Taco develop by working against Tyron Smith at the currently lackluster RDE spot, but naturally were also attracted to him because of his versatility to play on the left side (where he made most of his flashes at Michigan) and inside at defensive tackle.

Wherever Taco Charlton lines up across the Cowboys' defensive line in 2017, expect him to log plenty of snaps and be disruptive against the run while flashing as a pass rusher that should only get stronger as the season progresses.

CB Chidobe Awuzie (Round 2 Pick 60)

DB Chidobe Awuzie Brings Versatility, Competitiveness To Cowboys Secondary (Film Review)

If Charlton's role is easy to project for the Cowboys in his rookie season, Colorado defensive back Chidobe Awuzie's is anything but - which is exciting.

The best thing the Cowboys did in this draft was completely turnover a secondary that lost cornerstone players in free agency, replacing these starters with younger, athletic studs.

Awuzie is a magnet for the football and should mesh perfectly into Dallas' new defensive backfield, playing with the likes of Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll, Orlando Scandrick, and third round pick Jourdan Lewis at CB.

His experience at safety only adds to what Joe Baker and Greg Jackson are looking for in the secondary with versatility and athleticism, but I fully expect the Cowboys to work Awuzie at cornerback and trust what they currently have at safety.

This doesn't mean that Awuzie won't line up in off coverage, with the ability to rally to the football downhill and tackle, but in need of starting cornerbacks the Cowboys got one with their second pick in this draft.

CB Jourdan Lewis (Round 3 Pick 92)

2017 NFL Draft: Reviewing Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis - Slant Sports

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Rightfully so, it seems that the draft-weekend Orlando Scandrick trade rumors surrounding the Cowboys were just that, as the veteran CB is still an important part of this secondary.

Jourdan Lewis is the reason these rumors made sense though, as one of the stickiest cover guys available in the entire draft - slipping to the third round partially because of his size along with a domestic violence incident during the draft process.

As the 92nd overall pick, Lewis became a steal for the Cowboys, where he can make the smooth transition from primarily a slot CB at Michigan to a Nickel CB in Dallas.

Its clear the Cowboys built this new secondary with the idea of defending more passes and creating more turnovers, both areas that Lewis can help them improve in with his elite cover and ball tracking skills.

S Xavier Woods (Round 6 Pick 191)

Safety Xavier Woods Provides Incredible Value For a 6th Rd. Pick (FIlm Review)

If I had to pick a Cowboys draft pick that I expect to outplay their drafted position the most, it would undoubtedly be Louisiana Tech's Xavier Woods.

Along with seeing starting cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr move on in free agency this offseason, the Cowboys lost safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. As mentioned, I still feel the team is confident in what they have at safety with cornerstone player Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and veteran Robert Blanton.

Woods could play a major role in this safety rotation too, as the Cowboys were at their best defensively when they changed looks with their safeties in coverage last season. A solid replacement to Barry Church in his line of scrimmage enforcer role, Woods already gives the Cowboys more flexibility at this spot as a rangy safety that can patrol sideline to sideline with fluidity, hitting power, and a knack for creating turnovers.

Woods may remind some fans of J.J. Wilcox when he comes downhill to hit as well, making him a ridiculous value in the sixth round for the Cowboys. Look for him to truly line up all over the field in 2017.

CB Marquez White (Round 6 Pick 216)

Cowboys Draft: Scouting 6th Round CB Marquez White

Over the course of one draft weekend, the Cowboys' secondary went from a major concern to a unit that may not have a spot for this very draft's 216th overall pick. Drafted for his traits after making the transition from basketball to football at Florida State, White has the size and length to become a solid player in this league.

Whether or not he puts everything together and improves his overall awareness at the CB position in time to make an impact on the Cowboys in 2017 will be an interesting development to follow through training camp, but White certainly has the upside to become another late-round starter that Dallas needs to add even more depth defensively.

There's little question on tape that White can turn and run with all types of receivers in man coverage, but his limited ball skills and concerns with his back to the play could stand out significantly if fellow rookies like Awuzie and Lewis continue to make the plays they did in college with the Cowboys on the football.

DT Joey Ivie (Round 7 Pick 228)

Cowboys Draft: Scouting 7th Rd. DL Joey Ivie

The strength of the Cowboys' much-maligned defensive line is on the interior at DT. This did not stop them from using two of their last three picks in this draft on extra bodies for Rod Marinelli to work with at DT, both of whom have the traits to legitimately fight for their roster spots.

Florida's Joey Ivie projects best as a 3T DT, winning inside with initial quickness and some developed hand work that made up for enough of his lower body limitations and functional strength on tape in the SEC to warrant this pick.

At this position, Ivie will have to compete with second-year player Maliek Collins - a developing star playing at the most important spot in Marinelli's scheme - along with veteran Tyrone Crawford and David Irving.

I expect Ivie to have his flashes through the preseason, but ultimately find a hard time sustaining a high enough level of play against the Cowboys offensive line in training camp to make the game day roster in 2017.

DT Jordan Carrell (Round 7 Pick 246)

Colorado's Jordan Carrell was an unheralded player in college, putting in work against the spread schemes seen throughout the PAC 12 as he excelled at freeing up other talented players around him to get to the ball and make plays.

Always playing with the high motor and down-the-line effort that the Cowboys covet, Carrell could be the perfect player to keep around on the practice squad and even push for a spot on the 53-man roster as the Cowboys' last pick in the 2017 Draft.

Carrell will happily eat up all of the reps the Cowboys will need from him in the preseason to keep their starters fresh, and likely free himself to make some stops against the run along the way.

✭✭✭✭✭

As you see, the buzz around what the Cowboys defense could evolve into this season certainly seems warranted, as they'll add as many as four day one starters to an already solid unit that is expecting contributions from last year's redshirted picks in MIKE LB Jaylon Smith and DE Charles Tapper.

The Cowboys 2016 draft class has already been called their best ever, and if this 2017 class is going to closely follow this success the Dallas defense will be significantly improved with a fantastic young core in place for the future.

This year's Cowboys training camp projects to be full of key positional competitions, most of which will feature the players above looking to #EarnTheStar in a big way.

Tell us what you think about "Finding 2017 Roles For Cowboys Defensive Rookies" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Wide Receiver

Jess Haynie

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Can WR Michael Gallup Eclipse 1,000 Receiving Yards as a Rookie?

The biggest story of the Cowboys' 2018 season was the mid-season arrival of Amari Cooper and the way it turned Dallas into a playoff-bound contender. Wide receiver remains a key component of the team this year, and today we'll look at how the talent stacks up with only a week to go before 2019 training camp.

Cooper is back and all signs point to him getting a long-term contract in the near future. He is the undisputed number-one receiver and has reestablished himself as one of the better one in the NFL after a brief downtime in Oakland.

Last year's third-round pick, Michael Gallup, rose to the number-two spot throughout last year and eventually was beating Cole Beasley in targets by the playoffs. There are reasonably high hopes for his continued development; Dallas could boast one of the best WR tandems in football by the end of 2019.

With the aforementioned Beasley bolting for Buffalo in free agency, the Cowboys made one of their splashier signings in veteran Randall Cobb to replace him. Cobb has struggled with injuries his last few years in Green Bay, but he's still just 28 and has produced at a higher level than Cole ever did.

If Randall's healthy, he brings more security to the position as a player who can step into a starting role if needed. But ideally, if Cooper and Gallup hold their spots down, Cobb will be a major threat as the slot receiver. He has real potential to upgrade that spot from Beasley, which isn't a knock on Cole but the reality of Cobb's talent.

Here is our projected depth chart for the Cowboys' WR position in 2019. We're going to treat the top three receivers as starters, since WR3 plays the majority of offensive snaps in the modern NFL.

  1. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb
  2. Allen Hurns, Noah Brown, Tavon Austin
  3. Cedrick Wilson, Devin Smith, Lance Lenoir
  4. Jalen Guyton, Reggie Davis, Jon'Vea Johnson

As with most of the Dallas roster in 2019, we have a firm grip on who the starters are. But there's a lot of competition for the bottom of the depth chart, and WR exemplifies that as well as any position on the team.

Could WR Noah Brown Help the Cowboys at Tight End?

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown

One guy who feels like a lock is Noah Brown, the 2017 7th-round pick who has proven himself a valuable special teams player with the potential for more. Brown's physical receiving style has reminded us of a young Dez Bryant in his limited playing time, and he's even shown enough power to be deployed as a small tight end in some situations.

On paper, veterans Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin would round out the WR depth chart. Hurns has the most experience as a former starting WR and offers security if Cooper or Gallup should go down. Austin has versatility, rare speed, and the special teams work as a return specialist to justify his presence.

But Hurns also has a $6.25 million cap hit that Dallas can shed $5 million of if he's released. And Tavon's value may take a big hit if rookie RB Tony Pollard steals his reps as the offensive gadget player and in the return game.

These veterans will have to fight for their spots. A prospect like Cedrick Wilson, who the team was high on in 2018 as a rookie but lost to injury, could easily challenge them. There's also Lance Lenoir, who has return ability and has been with the team for two seasons.

Undrafted rookie Jon'Vea Johnson was one of the buzz names coming out of mini-camps and OTAs. If the praise continues now, Johnson could easily push his way onto the bottom of the roster. He appears to be a favorite of Cowboys WR Coach Sanjay Lal.

One more guy to watch is Devin Smith. He was a 2nd-round pick of the Jets in 2015 but has struggled with knee injuries the last few years. Dallas signed him last January as a reclamation project, and clearly there's something there that once made him a Day 2 pick.

This is a loaded group at WR in 2019, which is great for the Cowboys and unfortunate for those who deserve a roster spot but won't find one. Will the veterans like Hurns and Austin fight off the young guys, or will someone like Johnson be the next undrafted rookie to succeed in Dallas?

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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Is Ezekiel Elliott the Most Dominant Running Back in the NFL?

John Williams

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Safe to Say, Ezekiel Elliott Not an Offensive Line Product

There's no player in football that is more hotly debated at the moment than Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Though much of the debate surrounds his potential contract extension, which would likely make him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, there's also been a lot of debate about his standing as the best running back in the NFL.

On Thursday, Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox released his list of the most dominant players at each position. It's a fantastic read and not just because he listed Ezekiel Elliott as the most dominant running back in the NFL.

It's certainly easy to see where he's coming from despite the debate that rages across the NFL's fanbases. Ezekiel Elliott's lead the NFL in rushing two of the three season's he's been in the league. Both of those seasons, Elliott only played 15 games, getting the benefit of the Cowboys playoff positioning being solidified prior to week 17. In 2017, he would have probably ran away with the league's rushing title again, which would make him the three-time defending rushing champion heading into 2019.

In that 2017 season when he missed six games and had a game against the Denver Broncos where he only rushed for seven yards on nine carries, Elliott still finished in the top 10 in rushing.

In 2018, he bested Saquon Bakley by 127 yards rushing. Had Elliott played in the week 17 finale last season and rushed for his season average, he would have won the rushing title by more than 200 yards. And he did that in what many considered to be a down season for Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack. Pro Football Focus even graded Elliott as the 30th best running back for 2018.

In 2018, Elliott had 2,000 total yards, besting his 2016 number of 1,994 total yards as a rookie. His rushing total was down in 2018 from 2016, but he still had an excellent season.

No disrespect to Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Le'Veon Bell, or Chrisitan McCaffrey, but they don't have the credentials that Ezekiel Elliott brings to the table. Those guys are great running backs in their own right, but Elliott has lead the NFL in rushing in two of the three seasons he's been in the league and would have probably lead the league in 2017 had he not been suspended.

Per Game Table
Rushing Receiving
Rk Player From To Att Yds TD Rec Yds TD
1 Saquon Barkley 2018 2018 16.3 81.7 0.7 5.7 45.1 0.3
2 Le'Veon Bell 2015 2017 21.1 94.4 0.6 5.6 42.6 0.1
3 Ezekiel Elliott 2016 2018 21.7 101.2 0.7 3.4 30.0 0.2
4 Todd Gurley 2015 2018 18.0 78.4 0.8 3.2 32.5 0.2
5 Alvin Kamara 2017 2018 10.1 52.0 0.7 5.2 49.5 0.3
6 Christian McCaffrey 2017 2018 10.5 47.9 0.3 5.8 47.4 0.3
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2019.

Since 2015, only Le'Veon Bell has averaged more total yards per game than Elliott, but Elliott's close and he's not used as much in the passing game as Bell. Only Todd Gurley has a higher average of rushing touchdowns per game than Elliott.

Elliott's 3.4 receptions per game through the first three seasons of his career is only slightly better than Todd Gurley who ranks sixth among this group of players. The Dallas Cowboys attempted to get Elliott more involved in 2018 but didn't work him downfield enough in his targets for him to be anything more than a dump-off option. In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys should work to get him running more intermediate routes in the passing game because as we saw in the Detroit game last season, Elliott's got really good hands.

Historically, Elliott is off to a great start to his career. His first three years in the NFL compare quite favorably to two Hall of Famers and one of the most dynamic running backs of the early 21st century.

No player with more than 100 career attempts in the NFL has averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott.

Think about that for a second. Through his first three seasons, he's averaged more rushing yards per game than Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Eric Dickerson, Adrian Peterson, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, and the list goes on and on.

If you look at what he's done compared to other players during their first three years. Only Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Edgerrin James averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott in the first three seasons of their respective careers.

One of the things that people have used to knock Ezekiel Elliott has been the volume of carries that he's received, but there's a reason that the Dallas Cowboys lean on him so heavily. They've created a run-first identity and though at times it has made the offense somewhat inefficient, it's not because the player they're handing to is not a good player, but because every team in the NFL is expecting the Dallas Cowboys to run the football with Ezekiel Elliott.

In 2018 in particular, the Cowboys offensive coaching staff, namely the departed Scott Linehan, didn't do enough to create favorable matchups in the running game. Too often it was a first down run out of heavy personnel that the defense was expecting.

With two rushing titles already in the bag, there's no reason to expect anything different from Ezekiel Elliott in 2019. It's anticipated that the offensive gameplan and execution will be better in 2019 than it was in 2018. The offensive line will be better and with Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator, there's a thought that the Dallas Cowboys are going to be less predictable moving forward.

The debate will continue to rage over the value of extending Ezekiel Elliott with a contract that will carry him to his age 28 or 29 season, but there is no debating that Ezekiel Elliott is the best and most dominant running back in the NFL.



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Is DeMarco Murray a Factor in Ezekiel Elliott’s Rumored Holdout?

Jess Haynie

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DeMarco Murray Expects Ezekiel Elliott to Rewrite Cowboys' Record Book

There's been a lot of talk this week about a rumored training camp holdout by Ezekiel Elliott, with the Dallas Cowboys' star running back seeking a renegotiated contract. If Zeke does actually hold out, I can't help but wonder if the Cowboys' handling of DeMarco Murray a few years ago isn't a factor in his decision.

Quick history lesson; in 2014, Murray ran for the most yards (1,845) in Cowboys history for a single season. But that was also the final year of his rookie contract, and Dallas chose to let DeMarco leave in free agency when the two sides were unable to agree on new contract.

Murray had just turned 26 when he hit free agency, and his four years Dallas had not had consistent production or availability. 2014 was the first time he was able to play at such a high level, or played a full 16-game season.

As you might remember, Murray left and joined the Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly. As with most things during Kelly's time in Philly, it proved to be a disaster. DeMarco was released after one year and then had a couple of seasons in Tennessee before retiring.

The way it all turned out seemed to validate the Cowboys' decision. Perhaps Murray's big year in 2014 was more about adding Zack Martin and Ron Leary to the offensive line than DeMarco himself. He certainly didn't look like the same player at any other point in his career.

But Ezekiel Elliott and his agent may not be too worried about all of those nuances. They may be looking at the simple fact that the Cowboys allowed one of the most productive RBs in football in 2014 to just walk away in free agency.

Zeke may be worried that Dallas will allow him to do the same.

Ezekiel Elliott Already Has Second Rushing Title Locked Down

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

There are some important differences to note between Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarco Murray. For one, Elliott's been elite every season. He's led the NFL in rushing yards-per-game the last three years.

Zeke has also been faultlessly durable, missing no games due to injury. Murray had already missed 11 games his first three years before we even got to 2014.

However, there are some similarities that can't be ignored. While Elliott's never missed time for health reasons, he missed six games in 2017 due to a suspension for a domestic violence accusation. He also came dangerously close to missing more time this year due to an incident with a security guard in Las Vegas during the offseason.

Availability is availability, whether it's for behavioral issues or injuries. The team assumes the same risk either way.

Also, Elliott has had the same benefit of running behind this great Cowboys offensive line for the last three years. It hasn't been quite as good as 2014, with Ron Leary never being completely replaced, but he hasn't lacked for superior blocking compared to most NFL running backs.

Another factor; Zeke is due to turn 24 next week. That means he'd be 25 next year when playing on the 5th-year option, and about to turn 26 when he hits unrestricted free agency in 2021.

DeMarco Murray was also 26 when he hit free agency in 2015. And he'd only played four NFL seasons, while Zeke would have just finished his fifth.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: DeMarco Murray Dominates #29 2

Former Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

I'm not saying that Murray and Elliott are the same player. Zeke has proven himself better over a long period of time and with less talent in front and around him. He's carried the offense without Tony Romo's passing or Jason Witten and Dez Bryant still in their prime, like DeMarco had in 2014.

But in 2015, with the prospect of competing for a Super Bowl well in reach, the Cowboys decided to gamble on the shaky Darren McFadden rather than pay DeMarco Murray market value. They trusted their system and offensive line to produce a successful running back.

Zeke may be worried that Dallas is preparing to take that same approach with him. They can keep playing him at a discount this year and in 2020, when even his raise to $9 million is still a bargain compared to guys like Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell.

In 2021 the Cowboys could then hit Elliott with the franchise tag. He'd make a ton that year, but without any of the long-term security that other elite RBs are currently enjoying.

In that scenario, Zeke would now be turning 27 the next time free agency rolled around. And the window for getting a multi-year contract may have passed.

That's three more seasons for a major injury to finally find him. If nothing else, it's about 45-50 more games of NFL mileage that could scare other teams off.

Again, this notion of Ezekiel Elliott holding out is just a rumor right now. It may have been floated just to get some easy clicks at Pro Football Talk, which is hardly a new strategy for them.

But in all fairness, you can see why Zeke might be considering it. There's a fair reason to question the Cowboys long-term loyalty, and it goes back to how they handled their last star running back.



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