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Jaylon Smith Uncertainty Keeps Linebacker as Cowboys Draft Need

Jess Haynie

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Jaylon Smith

No matter who the Cowboys draft in 2017, none of those rookies may bring the same level of intrigue to next season as linebacker Jaylon Smith. A second-round pick last year, Smith has elite potential but an ongoing knee issue that hurt his draft stock and is still a cause for worry.

Jaylon's talent, which most feel would've put him in the top five of the 2016 draft class, has Cowboys fans salivating. However, they are also rightly concerned about just how many eggs Dallas are going to put into his basket.

For example, check out this question I received on Twitter recently:

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The Cowboys already used a second-round pick, the 34th pick overall, to acquire Jaylon Smith. That is a big egg on its own. What's more, not signing or drafting other linebacker prospects because of your hope in Smith's progress is its own form of investment. The more trust that the Cowboys put in Jaylon, the worse they might get burned.

The team expects for Jaylon to a contributor in 2017. Stephen Jones said the following a few weeks ago:

"I think the sky's the limit. I think he's got a great opportunity -- if he keeps on his current path -- to be a dominant player for us. Now to say I expect that when he's not there yet? That's tough to have that expectation. But I think we do expect him to contribute and be a big part of our defense this year."

There's a fine line between expectation and hope. Relying on Jaylon Smith to step into a starting role, presumably as the middle linebacker, is not without danger. Even if his body holds up, Smith would still be a redshirt rookie two years removed from playing. For all his potential, he may not be ready to start just yet.

Jaylon Smith

LB Jaylon Smith has yet to be seen in full Cowboys uniform.

The good news is that Dallas still has Anthony Hitchens, who has started 26 games for them over the last three years. While not spectacular, Hitchens has been solid and is a decent insurance policy for 2017.

However, 2017 is also the final year of Hitchens' rookie contract. If Jaylon Smith doesn't pan out then Dallas will be facing having to overpay to keep Hitchens out of necessity. Barring a major surge by Mark Nzeocha as a linebacker prospect, they would have a bare cupboard and no leverage.

This is where the draft comes into play. Dallas has several reasons to be motivated to add talent at linebacker, and perhaps even as high as another second-round pick.

  • Insurance against Jaylon Smith's career never taking off
  • Additional depth replacing departures of Justin Durant and Andrew Gachkar
  • Replacement for Anthony Hitchens in 2018
  • Additional competition for Hitchens and Damien Wilson for 2017 starting role at SAM

This is a little further down the road, but also consider that Sean Lee only has so much longer to play. Lee is currently signed through 2019 and will turn 34 after that season. Assuming he plays out that contract, Dallas may be ready for a young player. Plus, given Sean's injury history, there's reason to think they may need a new player even sooner.

Clearly, Dallas has plenty of reason to look at linebackers in the 2017 NFL Draft.  The uncertainty around Jaylon Smith is a big factor, but there are several others we've outlined that should motivate the Cowboys.

As if we didn't have enough defensive needs, right?


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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4 Comments
  • Randy Martin

    Why you gotta bring me down Jess? Nah I think you are spot on here. This is an understated need that we have. Hitchens is serviceable but so far he is just a piece. Nzeocha hadn’t been able to stay healthy and Smith is a giant question mark. And of course Lee could begin to show his age along the way and lose a step. Although his injury history has probably preserved his body. Lots of questions…answers to be revealed in about a month.

    • David

      Reality is that if the cowboys took the best linebacker at 28 you would have two quality linebackers on the field and should halon smith get his game back the cowboys would have the best linebackers in the NFL and running would be near impossible creating third and long over and over again

      • Randy Martin

        Well, in theory you might be able to say that but it’s predicated on two big “ifs.” One is IF Jaylon Smith can play and play at the level he is capable of and IF the LB they select pans out. But I don’t see any way they go LB at #28 anyway. If they took somebody in the 2nd round I would hope that Raekwon McMillan is still around. Bring on the draft!

  • Kevin Black

    I completely disagree. Dallas has enough for game day and will only get one in the draft is the value is there. They don’t NEED one in the draft. I compare it to an offensive position in the draft: it would have to be someone of extraordinary value to pick.

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Despite Going Undrafted, Kameron Kelly A Welcome Addition to Cowboys Secondary

Sean Martin

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Despite Going Undrafted, Kameron Kelly A Welcome Addition to Cowboys Secondary 1

The Dallas Cowboys best move of the offseason may very well be hiring Kris Richard as their new passing game coordinator. Despite not signing any free agents or drafting added talent for Richard to work with in the secondary, the Cowboys have plenty of reasons to feel great about their current starters - along with an intriguing class of UDFAs.

The prospects of Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Byron Jones, and Xavier Woods working with Richard to sharpen their skills with Seattle's "Legion of Boom" fabricator is as good as it gets. In a very short period of time, the cornerback position has turned into one of the hardest spots for fringe players to make the Dallas Cowboys roster.

Don't tell this to San Diego State's Kameron Kelly. Neither Richard or Kelly may be household names around the NFL, but San Francisco 49ers Cornerback Richard Sherman certainly is. Sherman also happens to be the player the Cowboys are looking for Kelly -- an undrafted free agent that didn't receive a single college offer from "power five" schools -- to emulate.

Despite Going Undrafted, Kameron Kelly A Welcome Addition to Cowboys Secondary

Dallas Cowboys Passing Game Cooridinator Kris Richard with Richard Sherman

Given all that Sherman meant to Richard's defenses since being drafted by his Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, these feel like impossible expectations for Kelly to live up to.

The 6015 (6' 1 5/8") defender didn't even play the same position as Sherman until his final collegiate season, slowly making the transition from WR to DB at SDSU by starting as a Sophomore and Junior at safety.

Now just another player in a blue jersey with white numbers at The Star, Kelly is looking to earn the star on a team that may look to remain young, deep, and most importantly versatile in the secondary by keeping one or more UDFAs.

That is, if any of these long shot players deserve a spot on the final 53-man roster. Kelly already has an edge on this field, blessed with the length and daunting frame that allows Richard and the Cowboys to dream of featuring their own Richard Sherman.

"I think he’s trying to turn me into his next Richard Sherman or something". - Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Kameron Kelly

Kris Richard is going to coach everybody he comes across hard. He knows no other way. Kam Kelly is already embracing this, seeing the Cowboys vision for him and not backing down from the challenge.

Turn on the tape for this "diamond in the rough" prospect, and you'll see a player that carries this same competitive toughness onto the field.

Mike Mayock on Twitter

Will a DB compete / tackle ? Top of screen- flat footed read on bubble- trusts eyes and goes ! Just checking boxes- I see you, kameron Kelly of SDSU.... https://t.co/fJM4s16Eq1

Kelly joins Charvarius Ward, Donovan Olumba, and Tyree Robinson as the Cowboys class of UDFAs at both cornerback and safety. An athletic DB out of Oregon, Robinson has made a strong initial impression with several plays on the ball in drills so far.

However, it was Kam Kelly that set up an interception for Jameill Showers in yesterday's practice by getting in the face of rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup.

Projecting anything that resembles a starting lineup for the Cowboys defense in the last week of May is silly. So too is realistically expecting Kelly, Ward, Olumba, or Robinson to ever crack this lineup.

Despite Going Undrafted, Kameron Kelly A Welcome Addition to Cowboys Secondary 2

Dallas Cowboys CB Kameron Kelly

The Cowboys could find themselves without enough practice snaps to go around for starting caliber players like Awuzie, Lewis, Jones, Anthony Brown, and even Marquez White. This does not bode well for Kam Kelly, who is only going to continue generating buzz from fans and the Dallas media.

For now, Kelly is getting his chance though. The Cowboys are ever-so-slowly getting back into form for 2018 - doing so with many familiar faces no longer on the roster. This team is going to look different on both sides of the ball come September, and Cowboys Nation can only hope it's for the better given the impressive amount of depth all over the field.

Kam Kelly won't back down from the depth the Cowboys have at CB, expecting to impress his new coach Kris Richard in the mold of three-time All-Pro Richard Sherman.

Tell us what you think about "Despite Going Undrafted, Kameron Kelly A Welcome Addition to Cowboys Secondary" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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WR Terrell Owens Featured As A Cowboy On Madden 2019 Cover

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Blog - Getcha Popcorn Ready: Terrell Owens Is Greatest 81 In Dallas Cowboys History

It's been a tumultuous few years for former Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens, to say the least. Based on his numbers Owens deserved to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but due to his off field "antics" and poor relationships with voters, Owens was kept out of the Hall of Fame until this year.

Now that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this Summer, Terrell Owens has earned another honor: cover athlete for EA Sports' upcoming Madden video game.

Madden has become a staple of football culture over the years, and being placed on the cover of their Hall of Fame edition is pretty special.

What came as a surprise, however, is that Terrell Owens is featured as a Dallas Cowboy on the cover of the game.

Bleacher Report on Twitter

@terrellowens will be on the cover of #Madden19 Hall of Fame edition

Terrell Owens played on a multitude of teams during his NFL career, spending 3 seasons with the Cowboys from 2006-2008. People tend to forget how great the Tony Romo-to-Terrell Owens connection was in Dallas, especially during their 13-3 2007 season.

That year, Owens caught 81 balls for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also earned First Team All Pro honors during the same season.

This is the first time the Cowboys uniform has ever graced the cover of a Madden game, and the second time Terrell Owens will be on the cover of a professional football video game. The first time came as an Eagle on the cover of ESPN NFL 2K5, ironically just one year before Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was the cover athlete for Madden 2006.

Terrell Owens then announced the news himself on Twitter, by tweeting out the following video.

Terrell Owens on Twitter

It's that time! I've made my decision to return to football. Madden 19 HOF #stayready https://t.co/pLL4lTAhD2

Terrell Owens is arguably the greatest (talent wise) receiver to ever play for the Cowboys, though he lacked the longevity to match any of the stat totals of guys like Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant. It's a shame the 2007 season ended the way it did, and that 2008 was such an utter disaster.

Those Cowboys teams were really talented, hence why they won 11 games and another division crown after Owens' departure in 2009.


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Dallas Cowboys

QB Dak Prescott Is Taking Control Of The Dallas Cowboys

Kevin Brady

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Dallas Cowboys 2018 Preseason Schedule Released
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into 2018 there is no question that the Dallas Cowboys are Dak Prescott's team. While some of the Cowboys fan base is skeptical of just how good Prescott is/can be, the franchise had placed all of their eggs in the Prescott-basket over the last two offseasons.

They've begun to build the "Dak-friendly offense," attempting to recreate the circumstances which surrounded him during his highly successful rookie season. By drafting offensive lineman Connor Williams, wide receiver Michael Gallup, and signing wide out Allen Hurns the Cowboys have made a conscious effort to help their young quarterback in his development.

But what do his fellow teammates think about him? Well, thus far during OTAs, the respect they have for Dak Prescott as a quarterback and a leader is clear.

Members of Prescott's wide receiver corps have been incredibly vocal about the respect they have for Dak Prescott, including two of their newest additions. Hurns told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News that Dak "runs things" around the locker room, and that the Cowboys will have no problems with leadership as long as Dak is at the helm.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Allen Hurns: "When I first got here, what surprised me a lot was Dak's leadership. He's only in his third year, but he's a very vocal guy. He runs things. I was very surprised by that. ... I don't think we'll have a problem with leadership.

Tavon Austin chimed in as well, telling Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News that while he expected Prescott to have "some juice" to him, meeting him in person allowed him to realize that his leadership is on a different level than even he expected.

Brandon George on Twitter

I asked Cowboys WR Tavon Austin on his impressions of Dak Prescott before his arrival in Dallas: "I always knew he had some juice to him, some swag to him and when I finally get here and meet him it's definitely a whole different ballgame because it was to even another level.

It's not only members of the offense which are showing their respect for Dak Prescott's leadership, however. Team sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence is noticing as well. This week Lawrence said that Dak is clearly taking control of the offense, and you can see it "every day in how he works."

Jon Machota on Twitter

DeMarcus Lawrence: "Dak is taking a lot of control over that offense. He's trying to take his game to the next level and be one of the elite quarterbacks in this league. You can see it every day in how he works.

There is an argument that can be made that the release of Dez Bryant and retirement of Jason Witten have allowed Dak Prescott to take that control. The veterans on offense from the Tony Romo-era have begun to disappear, and Prescott is now making the Dallas Cowboys "his team."

Of course, Prescott still has to do it on the field. While much of his first two seasons have been impressive, the final few weeks of 2017 featured some shaky play from Dak Prescott. But, the moves which were made this offseason combined with the full time return of running back Ezekiel Elliott should allow Prescott to take another step forward in 2018.

And if the Cowboys plan on being competitive as a team, they'll need Prescott to make those strides.


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