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Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch a Dominant Defensive Duo

John Williams

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Auto Draft 5

The Dallas Cowboys have created the identity they’ve been looking for since 2014 when we first saw them take the run-first approach that led to a playoff berth and first round victory over the Detroit Lions. The problem that season is they didn’t have the defense that the Cowboys have been looking to create since bringing Rod Marinelli on board. 

When Rod Marinelli came over after coordinating the Chicago Bears defenses, the expectation was he’d create a defense that would be capable of taking over football games. Those Bears defenses were led by a couple of dynamic linebackers in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. 

Well, if you haven’t noticed, this Rod Marinelli defense is being led by two dynamic linebackers. 

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.

Before I get started on how great these two have been, this isn’t meant to minimize the efforts by Byron Jones or DeMarcus Lawrence, two players making All-Pro cases this season. What we’re seeing out of Smith and Vander Esch is how having two athletic, physical, fast linebackers can completely transform your defense. 

Their ability to flow sideline to sideline and make plays in the running and passing game has been monumental for the Cowboys defense and you saw it on display on Thursday night. They’ve been solid and spectacular and have completely changed the feel of this defense. 

Jaylon Smith has been a physical presence in the middle, blowing up running plays and sacking the quarterback and cleaning up misses by other members of the team, like when Smith beat Alvin Kamara to the goal line when Byron Jones missed the tackle. 

Leighton Vander Esch looks like he’s been in the league a long time. He’s been the surest tackler on the team. When he gets his claws latched onto a player they almost always go down. 

The two of them haven’t been perfect in pass coverage, but they haven’t allowed a lot of big plays either. And both have shown amazing range in pass defense. Remember when Jaylon was running with Odell Beckham Jr. way down field? I do. That kind of speed and athleticism is rare in a 250 pound linebacker.

And the Cowboys have two of them. 

Pro Football Focus has Leighton Vander Esch ranked as their second best linebacker in the NFL this season. Jaylon Smith is ranked 8th. The Carolina Panthers are the only other team in the NFL with two linebackers graded in the top 10. 

Vander Esch, in his rookie season is leading the NFL in solo tackles with 85. He’s dimension that after sharing snaps with veteran Linebacker Sean Lee and filling in the last several games with Lee out with a Hamstrings injury. Jaylon Smith is in the top 20 as well. Smith is also sixth among linebackers in total pressures (hurries, hits, and sacks) and is tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks among linebackers. 

Leighton Vander Esch is second in the NFL in stops, which is defined by Pro Football Focus as a play that results in a “loss” for the defense. Jaylon is ranked sixth. 

Whether you’re a stats person, into watching All-22, someone who watches for the love of the game, or even a casual fan, one thing is true about Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch:

These guys are going to be wrecking the NFL for years to come. 



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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What Could the Dallas Cowboys Get for Taco Charlton in a Trade?

John Williams

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5 Positives for Cowboys Heading Into the Off-Season 1

Per a report from Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan and 247Sports.com, it seems that the Dallas Cowboys are fielding calls from teams inquiring about Defensive End Taco Charlton. Sources state that teams will be calling the Cowboys during the 2019 NFL Draft about the Cowboys former first round pick.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

Source: Teams plan to call #Cowboys on Taco Charlton trade ideas during 'interesting weekend' (vip) https://t.co/lon93QmzIh

 

It's an interesting turn of events for the former first round pick. Charlton, taken with the Cowboys first pick at the end of the first round hasn't really lived up to first round billing. For a variety of reasons, he hasn't been able to find a consistent role on the field.

With Randy Gregory being suspended indefinitely, there was some thought that Taco would get a chance to earn a role with the starting defensive line, but after the Cowboys traded for former All-Pro Robert Quinn, his path to playing time looks narrow.

With the NFL Draft starting tonight, rumors are swirling on all sorts of players, but it's hard to know which ones are accurate as teams will put out misinformation all over the place. But there's no reason to believe that the Cowboys aren't shopping Taco Charlton.

The question is, what could the Cowboys get in return for Taco Charlton?

Trading Taco Charlton at this point in his Cowboys career would be admitting they made a mistake selecting him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. That doesn't even begin to touch on the discussion of whether they should have taken Pittsburgh Steelers Outside Linebacker T.J. Watt over Charlton to begin with.

The Watt vs Charlton debate doesn't even matter at that point. If you're trading your former first round draft pick, you're telling the world, and your fans that you made a mistake. That being said, once you are willing to admit your mistake, it's best to move on.

In looking at potential compensation for Taco Charlton, it's important to look back and find players with similar careers who were traded. Thanks to Pro Football Reference, I went all the way back to 2010 to look at every defensive end traded and attempted to find players who have had similar production to Taco through his first two seasons.

In Taco Charlton's first two year's he's registered four sacks and 46 total tackles. He's played in 27 games for the Dallas Cowboys. The following players were traded in the middle of their rookie contracts, and to that point had similar career production to Taco Charlton. They varied in their original draft position. Henry Anderson was a former third round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. Kamalei Correa was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round. Jihad Ward was also drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Lawrence Jackson was a first round draft pick back in 2008 by the Seattle Seahawks and was traded before the 2010 season. Cassius Marsh was traded by the Seattle Seahawks prior to the 2017 season to the New England Patriots after originally being selected in the fourth round.

Query Results Table
Date From Traded AV To Received AV
Aug 28, 2018 Baltimore Ravens Kamalei Correa 3 Tennessee Titans 2019 6th round pick (191st overall)
Apr 28, 2018 Indianapolis Colts Henry Anderson 4 New York Jets 2018 7th round pick (235th overall, Zaire Franklin) 2
Apr 28, 2018 Oakland Raiders Jihad Ward 1 Dallas Cowboys Ryan Switzer 2
Sep 2, 2017 Seattle Seahawks Cassius Marsh 6 New England Patriots 2018 5th round pick (168th overall, Jamarco Jones)
Aug 18, 2010 Seattle Seahawks Lawrence Jackson 5 Detroit Lions 2011 6th round pick (173rd overall, Byron Maxwell) 24
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/24/2019.

 

What Could the Dallas Cowboys Get for Taco Charlton on the Trade Block?

Table created using Pro Football Reference’s Player Comparison Tool

Four of the five trades of players with similar careers to Taco Charlton included draft compensation. Three of the five trades made were for future draft picks. The trades for Correa, Marsh, and Jackson look to be moves by the original team attempting to get something for a player that they planned on cutting after training camp. Henry Anderson and Jihad Ward were traded for during the NFL Draft.

This gives us a range of pick compensation for Taco Charlton anywhere from the 168th overall pick to the 235th pick in the seventh round. That's a big disparity in value. According to the Trade Value Chart, that's anywhere from 23.8 points to one point in value for Taco. Based on previous trades of similar players, it's possible that the best they could get for their defensive end is a pick at the end of the fifth round.

Trading Taco Charlton isn't as simple as just trading for him. The Cowboys would have to get offers for the player that would make more sense than having the player. If they are able to get someone to give them a fifth round choice or if they're able to use Taco with one of their own draft picks to move up in the draft to get a player they covet, it makes sense to pull the trigger.

If the Cowboys could get an extra fifth, they could use it on a player like Rodney Anderson out of Oklahoma, Kingsley Keke from Texas A&M, or Jalen Hurd from Baylor and have a fresh start with a new player on a rookie contract.

In any trade rumor, it takes two teams to make a deal and if Mike Fisher's source is accurate, then the Cowboys may have several dance partners this weekend.

To me it doesn't make sense to trade him for anything less than a fifth round draft choice. Sure, he hasn't been what the Dallas Cowboys had hoped for when they took him at the end of the first round, but he's still a player that looked to be trending up at the end of his rookie season. In the NFL where rosters turn over quickly, it's best to get something for a player who hasn't lived up to expectations and not ride it out in hopes that they turn it around.

As they say, "hope is not a strategy."



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Cowboys to Use 5th-Year Option on Ezekiel Elliott’s Contract

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Rams

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.

Jon Machota on Twitter

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.



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Connor Williams Adding Size and Strength Huge for Cowboys OL

John Williams

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All-22 Notes: Connor Williams Stands Out in Wild Card Win

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.

Jon Machota on Twitter

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.

Jon Machota on Twitter

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.



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