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Jaylon Smith: Still a Good Draft Choice

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Draft - The Dallas Cowboys Select Jaylon Smith at #34

The Cowboys' selection of linebacker Jaylon Smith in last April's draft has been met with skepticism from the very beginning. It has only increased throughout the offseason.

Dallas spent their second-round pick, the 34th overall in the 2016 draft, on the former Notre Dame standout. They picked Smith despite the knowledge that he was unlikely to play this season after a major knee injury in the Fighting Irish' bowl game on New Year's Day.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys Linebackers Interested in Jaylon Smith's Knee 3The Cowboys saw Smith as the fifth-best talent in the class. They also had inside information on his surgery as their own team doctor performed the surgery. Even if it meant getting nothing in 2016, Dallas saw the pick as a chance to add a dynamic talent for the next ten years.

Many onlookers have disagreed. Some feel that the pick would have been better used on a player who could help right away. Others point to the team's bad history with risky second-round picks and feel they will only get burned again.

Let's look at the objections to the Jaylon Smith and see how much water they hold.

The Defense Needs Help Now

There is no refuting the basic element of this argument. Obviously, at any pick, you want to add talent that helps right away.

But immediate help is just one part of the draft value equation. Long-term potential is a key consideration at any pick. It has to be if you want to be known as a team that consistently handles the draft well.

When the 34th pick came along, Dallas had just watched defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Kevin Dodd get taken by other teams. Would the Cowboys have drafted one of them? Smith was still the fifth-best talent on their board. It's hard to say.

Cowboys Headlines - Jaylon Smith: Still a Good Draft ChoiceMany have pointed to another defensive end, Noah Spence, as the better choice. Spence went five picks later to Tampa Bay. His stock was mainly hurt by a history of drug and alcohol offenses while in college, but Spence is also undersized for a 4-3 defensive end.

Risk is risk, regardless of the type. Spence's character and size are just as much a cause for concern as Jaylon Smith's knee. Once you get into the second round, everything starts looking like 50/50 propositions.

For some this comes down to the simple debate of "Jaylon Smith versus Myles Jack." By the time the draft came along, Jack's knee issues had been downgraded in terms of his long-term future. He would be able to play now, and perhaps for a few seasons, but there was significant concern about his ability to have a long career.

Smith is the opposite; immediate absence but better long-term prospects. As already mentioned, Dallas' own team doctor performed the surgery. They had as good an idea of Smith's present and future potential as any NFL team. All health issues aside, they also saw Smith as the better talent of the two players.

The hindsight argument on "Smith versus Jack" will be a future article on this site and many others. I don't think there's any right or wrong in these situations; only lucky and unlucky.

Cowboys Blog - Rolando McClain Sets Cowboys Defense Back With SuspensionThey "Knew" Rolando McClain Was in Trouble

A few weeks ago, the Cowboys front office said they were fully aware of McClain's personal struggles when they made the decision to draft Jaylon Smith. This only exacerbated the complaints a bout the Smith pick for some and generated some new ones.

Saying that you knew McClain was having problems is like saying you knew the sun would rise. He's a troubled man. Dallas has treated him like a volatile mercenary for two years, trying to benefit from his skill while keeping the relationship temporary and easily dissolved.

I think the comment about knowing McClain was in trouble was the lesser of evils for public relations. I don't believe they expected him to be this far gone; likely unable to contribute to the team in 2016 or perhaps ever again.

The alternative was to say that you had no idea how bad things have gotten for McClain. That would've been admitting to a lack of awareness or involvement with your players. Which really makes the organization look worse?

Remember, the Cowboys knew they had Anthony Hitchens. He played well as the middle linebacker in 2014. Last year was a bit of a sophomore slump, but I think they still saw Hitchens as a solid insurance policy for 2016. All reports from training camp so far suggest that they were right.

2nd Round History

Cowboys Blog - Randy Gregory, I am Disappointed. Plain and Simple 2Some fans think that Dallas' track record with second round picks was reason not to gamble on Jaylon Smith.

Nothing about Martellus Bennett, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Gavin Escobar, DeMarcus Lawrence, or Randy Gregory has anything to do with the nerve in Smith's knee. It will recover or not based on medical science and not any sort of history or jinxes.

The argument that Dallas has gambled too much with second-round picks is overblown. The second round generally offers you two types of players:

  • First-round talents with risk factors or short-term obstacles
  • Low risk, medium reward talents

You likely remember names like Kevin Burnett, Anthony Fasano, or Al Johnson. They were former second-round picks who had solid years in Dallas and with other teams. None of them were ever stars or impact players, though. They are typically what you get when you try to avoid risks.

It's still too early to say if Gregory and Lawrence were bad picks. Carter had moments of brilliance but couldn't ever master the fundamentals of his position. Bennett had maturity issues but ultimately was a victim of Jason Witten's longevity and endurance. Since leaving Dallas he's proven to be one of the better tight ends in the league. The same could happen with Escobar.

Cowboys Headlines - 2016 Is To Jaylon Smith What 2014 Was To Sean Lee 1

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Obviously, the clearest comparison to Jaylon Smith is Sean Lee.  Although he didn't have the same level of perceived risk with his health issues, Lee also wasn't projected as the same potential talent that Smith was. Still, you're talking about that "risk vs. reward" debate that comes up with every player.

If Smith's recovery goes as projected, he and Lee could form the most dynamic linebacker duo in the NFL. Despite all of his missed games, Lee still leads all NFL linebackers in interceptions since entering the league. Smith has that same play-making potential.

Jaylon Smith will or won't get there based on his own rehabilitation efforts and basic good or bad luck. If he does, it could be the best second-round pick Dallas had made since Larry Allen.

That's worth some risk.

~ ~ ~

The Cowboys had a time when they drafted for immediate need and not a more long-term perspective. It was ugliest period of their draft history and the ramifications were felt for over a decade. Many of the fans who are complaining about the Jaylon Smith pick are likely the same who lambasted Jerry Jones for his previous draft record.

You can't have it both ways.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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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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Tony Romo: Cowboys TE Jason Witten Will “Pick Up Right Where He Left Off”

John Williams

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Did a Year Away Help Rejuvenate TE Jason Witten's Game?

There's no denying that the future holds a gold jacket for Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten. With everything he's done in his career, he'll go down as one of the three best tight ends in the history of the NFL when he finally hangs up his number 82 for good.

Most of the questions that have come surrounding the offense have focused on the tight end position this offseason. Even prior to Jason Witten announcing his return from the broadcast booth at ESPN to the NFL, tight end was one of the areas that was considered a draft need by most analysts. Since coming back, the questions may have altered, but they're there all the same. Now, we're wondering how much Jason Witten will play? Will Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz see significant playing time in the offense? Will Jason Witten be able to return to his pre-retirement form?

It's that last question that was answered pretty directly by Witten's former quarterback and NFL on CBS Analyst Tony Romo when he was on with Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan. In the way that only Tony Romo can, he illustrated what exactly will allow Jason Witten to return to the game without missing a beat.

"He'll pick up right where he left off. I don't think it's a big challenge for Jason  (Witten). The reality of it is as long as, if you know the game the way he does, there are certain positions -- he plays one of them at tight end -- he's always going to have the nuance to get open. Let's say he runs the exact same he always did, to me , it's just that at that position, your ability to use leverage against somebody, make you think this and then do that. It's like the back pick in basketball. Just all of a sudden it gets you and you didn't even know it was coming and that guy is wide open. He's very intelligent with the game of football. I think he's going to pick up right from when he retired. I think you're going to see the same guy."

Tony Romo on 105.3 The Fan via Jon Machota of SportsDay DFW

Jason Witten has been one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He's always been able to win with his intelligence and route running despite not ever being the quickest or most athletic tight end in the NFL.

Because of Jason Witten's knowledge and feel for the game, it's easy to see why a player like that could walk back into the NFL after taking a year off and remain a productive player for the Dallas Cowboys. It's why they didn't hesitate to bring him back in the offseason. Though it's been relayed that he'll have a somewhat reduced role, he'll be the starting tight end week one against the New York Giants.

While it's uncertain exactly how much Jason Witten can play, you know that he'll be available to play. Prior to his retirement, Witten played in 235 straight regular-season games. Not only is Witten's availability great to have, but so is his ability to win on third down and in the red zone. It will be a welcomed addition to a Dallas Cowboys offense that struggled in both of those areas in 2018.

In 2018, they were 10th in third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at 41.4%. That's down from ranking fifth in the NFL in 2017 at 42.9%. 1.5% may not seem like a huge difference, but that's two to three more first downs on the season. Being able to convert on third downs increases your chances of scoring. Scoring more helps you win.

They were 29th in red-zone scoring rate at 48% in 2018. The only teams in the NFL that were worse than the Dallas Cowboys were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers. Only one other team in the bottom 10 in the league in red-zone scoring rate made the playoffs; the Houston Texans. In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were sixth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage at 59.6% and that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six games and without Tyron Smith for three games.

Having Jason Witten's ability to get open in confined spaces will help everyone on the offense. Even after having a year off, Witten is a player that will have to be accounted for in those high-leverage situations.

There isn't a person in the world that knows Jason Witten the football player better than Tony Romo does. Their careers have been so intertwined that it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other. It's why one day when they're inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, that it would be fitting for it to happen together.

If, as Romo believes, Jason Witten can pick up right where he left off, his veteran presence, leadership, and on-field ability are going to be a huge asset for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in 2019. For the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl and win their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they're going to need "Gold Jacket" Witten to return to his pre-retirement form.

And if Tony Romo believes he will, there's no reason to doubt Jason Witten. Do so at your own peril.



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Report: Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott Planning Training Camp Holdout?

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 2

All offseason, the possibility of a new contract for Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has been a hot button issue among media and fans alike. Not because Ezekiel Elliott isn't a great player and worthy of top running back money, but because the idea of paying running backs north of $15 million a year isn't as simple as, "Is he worth it?"

There is significant evidence that the running back position experiences a significant decline in production around their age 28 season and few running backs play into their 30's with good to elite production. Ezekiel Elliott, though he's experienced heavy usage in his first three seasons, could be the exception to the rule.

Well, knowing his worth to the Dallas Cowboys he's expecting a heavy payday at some point in the next couple of seasons. Elliott is under contract through 2019 and the Cowboys picked up his rookie option for 2020. So, technically, Elliott wouldn't be a free agent until the 2021 offseason. However, much like in the case of Todd Gurley, Elliott's looking to get paid early to maximize his prime years as the Dallas Cowboys running back.

Within the last hour, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk released a report that Ezekiel Elliott is planning on holding out of training camp if he doesn't receive a new contract, per a "league source." It should be noted that Mike Florio has had some missteps in his reporting of Dallas Cowboys news, most notably the perpetuating a rumor that Dez Bryant was caught on videotape doing something at a Wal-Mart, that would have a "Ray Rice type of impact." A tape that has never been discovered or produced and a story that's completely died off since it was originally reported in 2015.

Given the recent news that Melvin Gordon is planning a training camp hold out, it should come as no surprise that Elliott is being mentioned similarly. ESPN even mentioned the idea of Elliott and a looming contractual holdout in a piece earlier today, but their prediction pointed to 2021 and wasn't a report based on fact or a source, but a prediction for next year.

The two-time NFL rushing champ is scheduled to count $7.9 million in 2019 and just over $9 million in 2020 against the salary cap. His salary for 2019 is only $3.8 million. Elliott certainly has earned the right to be paid like Todd Gurley ($14.37 million per year), Le'Veon Bell ($13.13 million per year), and David Johnson ($13 million per year) despite having two more years on his deal.

In looking at the long-term impact of Elliott's contract, I've advocated that if the Dallas Cowboys intend to pay Elliott, now's the time to do it. A contract extension now, that adds three or four more years onto his existing deal would get Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys to his age 28 or 29 season. In a well-structured contract, they'd have opportunities to get out at the back end if Elliott experienced a significant decline in production.

Ezekiel Elliott's contract is going to continue to be a hot button issue until he's either signed to an extension or it's made known that the Dallas Cowboys have no intention of extending him. Currently, there aren't any other sources confirming Elliott's plan to hold out of training camp, which starts July 27th, but it's a story that we'll continue to follow here on InsideTheStar.com.

Update: 7/16/2019 10:42 am.

Charles Robinson, Senior Reporter for Yahoo! Sports provided some insight into the thinking of Elliott and his representation.

It certainly seems like holding out is on the table for Ezekiel Elliott and his representation, but no decision has been made at this point.

Check back with us for updates on Ezekiel Elliott's contract extension. 



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