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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?

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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.

Dallas Cowboys

Should Cowboys Pursue Veteran Backup at Quarterback?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys en Español: Cooper Rush
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys only have two quarterbacks under contract right now, starter Dak Prescott and backup Cooper Rush. With only three years of combined experience between them, one could argue that a veteran presence would be useful. Should Dallas make a veteran QB a free-agent priority in the 2018 offseason?

Of course, there’s plenty of other QB experience on the Cowboys staff. Head Coach Jason Garrett played professionally from 1989-2004, and started his coaching career with quarterbacks.

Scott Linehan has been coaching offense with an emphasis on the passing game for 30 years.

Kellen Moore, who is taking over for the departed Wade Wilson as quarterbacks coach, has played very recently and will bring a fresh perspective.

However, losing Wilson’s experience from the room, and the lack of any veteran player at QB, shouldn’t be dismissed.

Dak Prescott has said veteran Mark Sanchez — who was with Dallas in 2016 — was a major help during his whirlwind rookie season. Tony Romo enjoyed veteran advice from guys like Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton throughout his playing career.

This isn’t to say Dallas would want to bring in a veteran to knock Cooper Rush down the depth chart. After a surprising preseason, Rush took the backup job from Kellen Moore and certainly has intriguing upside.

If the Cowboys were to add a veteran, that player would have to come in with the understanding he’s competing with Cooper and may not be guaranteed a job.

The good news is that it’ll be a buyer’s market for veteran quarterbacks this offseason.

Guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, and Matt Moore could all be available. Even a player with more pedigree, such as Sam Bradford, may have trouble finding starting work with many jobs taken among the NFL’s 32 teams.

Dallas could even consider bringing back Mark Sanchez, given his previous relationship with Dak Prescott. He only had a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears.

Given Prescott’s seeming durability, Dallas will likely only keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in 2018 and for years to come. Because of that, they may be content to focus on Dak and Cooper Rush, and just get through the offseason with training camp bodies.

However, the case can certainly be made for adding another veteran player with the desire to teach to help these young quarterbacks develop. Prescott was not the same guy in 2017 that we saw as a rookie, and perhaps the absence of guys like Sanchez and Tony on the sideline had something to do with that.

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Why WR Coach Sanjay Lal is a Good Hire for Cowboys

Kevin Brady

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Why WR Coach Sanjay Lal Is A Good Hire For Cowboys

Yesterday, it was announced that the Dallas Cowboys will hire Sanjay Lal to be their new wide receivers coach. Lal spent 2017 with the Indianapolis Colts in the same position, but has made multiple stops around the NFL prior to joining the Cowboys staff.

Most recently and arguably most notably, Sanjay Lal was the receivers coach for both the New York Jets (2012-2014) and the Buffalo Bills (2015-2016). This means he coached on Rex Ryan’s staff for two different teams, with two very similar offensive philosophies.

Run the football.

As seen in the video below, Sanjay Lal has experience working as the wide outs coach for an offense with a run-first philosophy. He even says himself that their offense in New York was “ground and pound,” but notes that “without a pass game there’s no pound.”

Cowboys fans became all too familiar with the truth behind that statement during the 2017 season, as even solid efforts in the run game were rendered meaningless by their lack of explosion through the air.

Jets Nation Inside Camp: Sanjay Lal Mic’d Up

Jets wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal is mic’d up during training camp, and also discusses trying to play pro football before becoming a coach in the NFL.

A lot has been made of Sanjay Lal’s lack of 1,000-yard receivers during his time as a coach. The offensive philosophies of the teams which he coached for, however, show why this criticism is flimsy.

It’s quite possible the Cowboys will once again be without a 1,000 yard pass catcher this season, but if Ezekiel Elliott and the run game are clicking, and Dak Prescott is spreading the ball to different targets, this stat won’t mean a thing.

Lal was also the coach in Buffalo when Sammy Watkins had the best years of his career, including a 1,000-yard season.

During that stint he coached Robert Woods to productive seasons as well. Now Woods is a dangerous target for the Los Angeles Rams after being coached by Lal for multiple seasons.

These were also the same years that quarterback Tyrod Taylor was at his best.

While in New York, with the Jets, Lal’s most productive receiver was Jeremy Kerley, who finished with 827 yards in 2012 and 523 in 2013. What’s important to note here is that Kerley played as a slot receiver for much of his time as a Jet.

The Cowboys lacked any type of production from the slot in 2017, but maybe Lal can change that by getting the best out of Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer, as he did with Kerley.

Bryan Broaddus on Twitter

Know that some believe he had a real shot to be an OC in this league one day. https://t.co/1s21w2jZGR

All indications from those “in the know” suggest Sanjay Lal is on his way to becoming an offensive coordinator soon. Many believe he has the smarts and the football IQ to command an offense himself, as soon as he gets the right opportunity.

Maybe that opportunity will come down the line in Dallas, where he can continue to coach within that “ground and pound” style, which he has done for many years while also implementing elements of his own passing game expertise.

Everyone has been critical of the Cowboys’ inability to bring in external hires, and to spark up new/creative offensive ideas. Lal has spent time among some of the smartest offensive minds in football.

Maybe he’s the man to bring in that outside creativity this offense seems to lack.

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Dallas Cowboys

Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

Sean Martin

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Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

After hiring Paul Alexander to fill their vacant OL coaching position, the Dallas Cowboys are continuing to retool their offensive staff below Scott Linehan. Sanjay Lal has been hired to coach the Cowboys’ wide receivers, replacing Derek Dooley.

Lal has experience as a WR coach with four different teams, dating back to 2009 with the Oakland Raiders. He was promoted up to this position after serving as the Raiders’ quality control coach from 2007-08.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys have reached an agreement with Sanjay Lal to become the team’s WR coach. Lal was with Indianapolis last season and replaces Derek Dooley on the staff.

Most recently, Sanjay Lal coached the receivers for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. He has also been with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

In this interview with the Colts, Lal mentions being very detail-oriented with a focus on the technical aspects of playing receiver.

Lal beats out former Cowboys WR Miles Austin for this position, earning the right to lead a room of receivers in desperate need of fresh talent. In an offseason that’s been about finding fresh ideas with the coaching staff so far though, the Cowboys have a new voice on offense.

Tell us what you think about “Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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