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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.
The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.
Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.
And here is the ESPN list:
43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.
I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.
But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.
The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.
Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Todd Gurley. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.
Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.
I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.
I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.
"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.
Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys, Elliott Should Keep Close Tabs on Le’Veon Bell’s Situation
The deadline for reaching an agreement with franchise tagged players came to an end last Monday, in what turned out to be a pretty uneventful day all around the league. No agreement was reached by any of the teams with their respective players, including the Dallas Cowboys and their promising "War Daddy," DeMarcus Lawrence.
But the Cowboys' front office have something to learn in this process that doesn't involve a player of their own. Something that both the front office and Ezekiel Elliott should be keeping a close eye on.
The Pittsburgh Steelers also failed to secure their franchise tagged player: Running Back Le'Veon Bell. Really, no one expected a deal to be reached among the two parties. The 26-year old football super star is asking for too much money, which has led to the Steelers tagging him twice in consecutive years.
Bell, conscious of his abilities on the field, is asking for a lot of money from his football team. In 2018, he's set to earn over $14.5M under the tag. That's more than twice the money that Devonta Freeman averages per year - 8.25 million - who's next on the list of highest paid running backs in the league and the highest paid on a long-term contract.
Just to clarify: Steelers' offer to Le'Veon Bell last year averaged $13.3 million per year. Steelers' offer to him this year averaged $15 million per year. But Bell does not believe he should be paid as a RB; he believes he should be paid as an elite offensive weapon.
Le'Veon, whose agent has said 2018 will likely be his last season playing as a Steeler, was reportedly offered $15M per year but that wasn't enough for him. Bell wants to get paid as an elite offensive weapon, which he is. But it turns out he's also... a running back.
It's a complicated situation and one that, if it turns out well for him in free agency next year, could revolutionize the entire running back market in the NFL. If it doesn't, he might end up regretting passing on the Steelers' offer for he won't easily find that kind of money with a team that seems to be a Super Bowl contender on a yearly basis.
The Dallas Cowboys' priorities will rely on other players during the next couple of years, but that shouldn't keep them from keeping close tabs on these events since they could be dealing with a similar scenario when Ezekiel Elliott's turn for a new deal comes around.
Fairly assuming that the fifth year option on Zeke's contract will be picked up after the 2018 season, locking him up through 2020, it's a problem that will be down the road for the Cowboys. But it will have to be dealt with at some point.
When his time is up, Elliott should undoubtedly be looking to become the highest-paid in the game, but the amount of money he gets will depend on the outcome of this whole Le'Veon-Steelers thing. David Johnson and Todd Gurley will also play an important role in determining the future of the running back market.
While Elliott hasn't been used as a receiving threat during his first two seasons in the league, he's still an elite offensive weapon for the Cowboys. The team's offense is based around Zeke and the running game, so it will make sense if his demands are somewhat similar from those by Bell.
Elliott might even be franchise tagged once or twice by the Cowboys if things get complicated in the future. Unlike DeMarco Murray in 2014, surely they won't be willing to let him walk in free agency once his contract comes to an end.
For now, it won't be just the Cowboys who will be keeping close tabs on this situation, but also Ezekiel Elliott and his agent. Hopefully, both parties will manage to handle things better than what we're seeing right now in Pittsburgh.
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