The Dallas Cowboys spent 5 of their 7 draft picks in the 2016 NFL Draft on improving Rod Marinelli's defense. After grabbing Ezekiel Elliott at fourth overall, this defensive trend certainly makes sense, as the team will try to emulate the 12-4 season of 2 years ago where the defense often found themselves on the field in favorable situations.
For a defense that showed some really good signs in the bleak 2015 season, this unit should be excited at the new additions joining the mix. The key will be finding roles for these rookies alongside the veterans.
Let's attempt to do that for all 5 players:
LB Jaylon Smith (Round 2, Pick 34)
Unfortunately for Dallas, the role for Smith in 2016 may be the easiest to figure out. While the front office and coaching staff has shown some optimism for the Notre Dame product, it is very likely that he will not see the field this season.
Instead, look for Smith to be placed on the PUP list, where he can stay for the majority of the season while not occupying a 53 man roster spot.
DT Maliek Collins (Round 3, Pick 67)
Collins could find himself in an interesting position as a rookie this season, due to the current situation the Cowboys face at defensive end. With a depleted depth chart on the edge, thanks to Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence being suspended for the first 4 games of the regular season, the speculation has been that current defensive tackles like Tyrone Crawford or David Irving could see time over at the end spot.
If this happens, the 3T DT in Collins could find himself right in Marinelli's rotation in the middle of the defensive line. Collins would play next to free agent acquisition Cedric Thornton, along with Terrell McClain and potentially Jack Crawford.
Personally, I would like to see Collins as part of the defensive tackle rotation, with T. Crawford staying at his position. While Crawford sees the majority of the snaps, Collins can help keep him fresh later on into games and into the season.
Either way, Marinelli loves the Nebraska product in Collins, and he will be given a chance to showcase all of his skills come training camp.
DE Charles Tapper (Round 4, Pick 101)
We just mentioned the potentially slippery situation the Cowboys could find themselves in at the defensive end position for the coming season, and they knew about the need for pass rush well before the draft.
However, the only true DE this draft class features is Oklahoma's Charles Tapper. Tapper has a ton of upside and desirable traits, and should find himself in a very prominent role when Dallas kicks off against the Giants' on September 11th.
Tapper is one of the few natural right defensive ends on the roster currently, with his clear competition being Benson Mayowa and UDFA Caleb Azubike. Of course, depending on how these players take advantage of their opportunity, 2015 breakout player Demarcus Lawrence could find himself playing back on the right side when he returns in week 5.
For now, the Cowboys 101st overall pick needs to be ready to get after quarterbacks in the silver and blue as soon as possible.
CB Anthony Brown (Round 6, Pick 189)
The Cowboys secondary is still in a dangerous place. The unit has been a sore spot for years, and Cowboys Nation has reason to be concerned that - for a team that wants to be contend for a Super Bowl in 2016 - Dallas did not do a ton to fix this position in the off season and draft.
The Cowboys passed on Jalen Ramsey in the first round, and are preparing to roll into the season after the return of leader Orlando Scandrick with a rejuvenated Morris Claiborne and a less-expensive Brandon Carr.
Anthony Brown, for a 6th round pick, jumps out on film as a guy that could feasibly contend for Claiborne or Carr's spot in the secondary as early as training camp - or once the season gets going and either veteran is under-performing.
If not, Brown will have to be ready anyway, as Claiborne and Scandrick both carry health concerns that could see them miss time at any point.
Come training camp, Brown will also have to separate himself on the depth chart from Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell to earn this role. These two players saw time on the field at the end of 2015 with some impressive results.
S Kavon Frazier (Round 6, Pick 212)
We just talked about the Cowboys' secondary at the corner position, and we'll focus on the safeties as we now look at Frazier - the team's last defensive pick from this draft.
Last year's first round selection, Byron Jones, has apparently found his long-term position at free safety - which finally gives the Cowboys a sustainable talent at this position. Before Jones' came in, fans suffered through watching Dallas' last line of defense blow tackles on a consistent basis with players like Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox.
Church and Wilcox are still on the roster for 2016, but both in contract years. The future expectation for Frazier is that he can potentially allow the team to move on from Church after this season - while Jones has already reduced Wilcox's role.
Frazier and Church compare similarly in play style, and the Cowboys also have Jeff Heath locked up on a new four-year deal that will allow him to compete for a spot while holding his role as a core special teams player.
While the coaching staff does value the experience that Barry Church brings to the defense, it is not too far fetched to expect Frazier to either see some snaps on the field over Church this year, or be out there at the same time playing in the box as a psychical body against the run.
Whatever is in store for these rookies in 2016, let's hope they can contribute to an already solid defensive unit that is starved for turnovers. Want to chime in with your expectations for this unit and class of rookies? Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Thank you for reading, and stay posted here on Inside The Star for my look at the offensive rookies coming up!
Though Promising, We Need To Relax About Safety Kavon Frazier
With the addition of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to the Cowboys' defensive coaching staff, fans are hoping that Dallas will create their own "Legion of Boom." Of course this is a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing nonetheless.
If the Cowboys are to recreate the Legion of Boom they will need their version of two vital pieces: Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks defense works, in many ways, because of these two players. Thomas' ability to play centerfield and literally defend sideline to sideline gives the Seahawks the freedom to use Chancellor where he's best, as a box safety. Chancellor is a big, physical safety who defends the run effectively in the box and can blanket tight ends in man coverage with his size and athleticism.
These safeties are arguably the most critical pieces to the Legion of Boom, though having a shutdown corner in Richard Sherman certainly doesn't hurt.
Realizing Chancellor's importance, Cowboys fans are hoping that current safety Kavon Frazier can fulfill this role in Dallas. Since being drafted by the Cowboys in 2016 Frazier has made his home on Special Teams. As an impressive tackler in both punt and kick coverage, Frazier earned himself time at safety down the stretch of the 2017 season.
All in all, Frazier played rather well. Against the Washington Redskins he stepped in and made a few splash plays at the line of scrimmage, causing Cowboys Nation to lose their minds. After that impressive Thursday night game, however, Kavon Frazier didn't really reach that same level of performance.
Frazier is still a liability when asked to cover, especially when asked to play as a two deep safety. He also struggles when taking angles at times, though playing downhill as a tackler is his best attribute. Frazier actually reminds me a bit of Barry Church, though over time Church became more refined in coverage than Frazier currently is.
Some have argued that Kavon Frazier's presence should stop the Cowboys from considering a first round safety. I would disagree, and actually believe that if Florida State's Derwin James is available, the Cowboys should consider making that pick.
If you could combine the athleticism and coverage abilities of Byron Jones with the physicality and "box safety" qualities of Kavon Frazier, you'd have a fantastic safety. Unfortunately, this isn't the Marvel Universe and we are left without any super heroes in the back-end.
Hopefully Kris Richard will figure out how to correctly place all of these pieces in the Dallas Cowboys secondary going forward.
Maverick Carter: LeBron James Considered Cowboys During NBA Lockout
Maverick Carter is a pretty important man in the world of sports. As a business man, entrepreneur, and manager of one of the best basketball players of all time in LeBron James, Maverick Carter is certainly used to making headlines.
This week, while on former NFL running back Arian Foster's podcast "Now What? with Arian Foster," Carter claimed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once attempted to negotiate a contract with LeBron James.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Carter claims that Jones contacted LeBron James and discussed bringing him in as a Cowboy while the NBA was without games.
"Jerry Jones, being the smart marketer he is...one day out of the clear blue sky LeBron got a contract I think it was for like one year, a couple million bucks to play for the Dallas Cowboys." - Maverick Carter.
Carter then states that LeBron may have the paperwork framed in his house to remember these discussions with Jerry Jones. LeBron's fandom for the Cowboys has been well documented, as has been his high school football prowess.
We may never know how "real" these discussions were, and of course it is long over now, but just imagining LeBron James getting a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys would break the internet.
You can check out the full episode of the podcast here, and I highly suggest listening to the other episodes Arian Foster has to offer.
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.
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