There has been an assumption since the 2016 draft that Linebacker Jaylon Smith, if he could overcome his college knee injury, would eventually take over as a defensive star for the Dallas Cowboys. 2018 has been the target for that emergence, but is it fair to expect so much already?
After spending all of his rookie season rehabbing, Smith debuted in 2017 as the NFL equivalent of a "redshirt" player in college. The best news from his season was health; Jaylon played in all 16 games and appeared to have no setbacks with his knee.
The reviews of his actual play, though, were not as stellar.
Jaylon struggled early in the year, more than many had hoped.
Remember, this is a kid many felt would be a top-five talent in that 2016 draft class. He likely would've gone in those early picks, if not for the injury. Those players are expected to hit the ground running, and Smith had the benefit of an entire year of professional coaching even as he was sidelined and rehabbing.
That's only one side of the missed year, though. It would be unfair to expect Jaylon to have all the benefits of the coaching without time on the field to put it into practice. There's only so much that watching and listening can teach; applying what you've learned is a key step in the development process.
So yes, Jaylon was a still a rookie in many ways last year. What's more, he had the rust from an entire year spent off a football field.
That excuse is valid for 2017, but should it still apply now?
Dallas will assuredly give Jaylon all of the practice reps he can take this offseason, and almost certainly with the first-team defense. Even if the team re-signs free agent Anthony Hitchens, the job is still Smith's to lose.
Ever since the days of Bill Parcells in Dallas, the idea of "Year Three" being critical in player development has stuck with us. Parcells once indicated that a player shows you his true self in this season, for good or bad.
It may not be fair to apply that same logic to Jaylon Smith in 2018. This is only his second year in a way, and at the least is not the typical third season that most players have when entering the NFL.
Still, those "elite" expectations hang over Jaylon now and forever.
He was taken 34th overall, at the top of the second round, because the Cowboys were willing to gamble on that knee for the potential payoff of a special talent.
With Sean Lee turning 32 in July, Jaylon Smith is expected to soon take over as the next captain of the Cowboys defense. It may not need to be this year, but Smith will still need to be more asset than liability this season to avoid becoming an easy target for criticism.
The uncertainty is why Dallas will likely try to bring back Hitchens, who at the least could be a valuable, versatile backup at all three positions. He could keep starting if Jaylon isn't ready, or take over mid-season if Smith gets hurt or struggles.
Dallas should give Jaylon Smith every opportunity to become a star this year.
He should get those offseason reps with the starters and, barring a major setback, start in week 1. The potential is still there, having been flashed several times last season, but given everything, the Cowboys should definitely hedge their bet with Anthony Hitchens or some other solid reserve option.
Should Gregory’s Potential Reinstatement Alter Cowboys Draft Plan?
A lot has happened with the Dallas Cowboys roster in a short period of time leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft. Just four days away now, the Cowboys are still adjusting to life without Dez Bryant, and may be preparing to welcome back Randy Gregory this season.
After months of speculation about the Cowboys' exiled pass rusher turning his life around for the better, the end result may be Gregory triumphantly returning to the field and filling a considerable position of need in Dallas.
Through Gregory's numerous absences from the Cowboys, the team has searched for temporary fixes at his right defensive end spot until drafting Taco Charlton in the first round last year. In his rookie season, Charlton looked much better at left end behind DeMarcus Lawrence than he ever did rushing against left tackles.
ALERT: Sources offer me very positive reports on #Cowboys DE @RandyGregory_4 coming bid for NFL reinstatement, as @BobbyBeltTX also notes. Randy Gregory has a chance to be a terrific story.
Randy Gregory can beat left tackles with speed and bend, but also has more career suspensions than he does sacks. Finding another defensive end with these traits in the draft could put the Cowboys defensive line over the top, but doing so with this year's class could cost them a pick better spent elsewhere.
Of course, this will be the case if Gregory does complete a comeback that the Cowboys have been understandably quiet about until recently. Stephen Jones has said the plan for Gregory is to apply for reinstatement following the draft.
The Cowboys "smart" approach of rebuilding their front four on defense as if Gregory would never see the field again has yielded them plenty of success - at all but the spot Gregory would line up at. DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Maliek Collins, and Taco Charlton should all inspire hope for this unit in 2018.
This is more than we were ever able to say about forgotten defenders like Benson Mayowa, who remains a free agent RDE.
The same can be said about prospects like Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport. At this point though, it feels like a priority draft pick spent at DE is a sudden sign of nervousness about Randy Gregory's return by the Cowboys.
This team has plenty of depth to deploy Rod Marinelli's patented "waves" of pass rushers, finally entering a season with an elite talent at DE too. The opportunity to have DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory attack opposing quarterbacks from opposite sides is a reality the Cowboys are prepared to work towards.
They should do so looking elsewhere early in the draft, coming back to defensive end if a developmental player they like falls.
Cowboys Quarterback is playing Moneyball
Money talks, and no one talks louder than the Dallas Cowboys. It’s hard to find a more affordable Pro Bowl player than Dak Prescott. A former fourth-round pick from Mississippi State, Prescott is only scheduled to make around $680,000 in 2018. It’s only his third year, but it may be his most important when it comes to his future with the Cowboys.
When a team drafts its franchise quarterback, they usually only get about two seasons to prove they’re "the guy."
Every year, teams draft someone, usually in the first round, with hopes that he'll be their sought after franchise quarterback. However, by being drafted so high, there’s little margin for error afforded to them.
In Dak Prescott’s case, being drafted outside the first round, he wasn’t expected to contribute near as much in his first two seasons as he has. A day-one starter for the then injured Tony Romo gave him his opportunity and he has made the most of it.
In two seasons, Dak Prescott has a 22-10 record, made the playoffs and Pro Bowl, completed 65.2% of his passes and has added a new dimension in the Cowboys offense thanks to his mobility in and out of the pocket. However, I wouldn’t be the first to tell you that his year two wasn’t as good as his year one was. Prescott lost four more games, completed fewer passes and more interceptions in year two.
To be fair, some of his issues attributed to the injury of Tyron Smith, Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and many of his receivers dropping more passes than we’ve previously seen. These issues will have to be cleaned up not only for the team, but for Dak Prescott’s future.
According to Spotrac.com, Dak Prescott’s market value today is around $25 million a year, which would make him among the most paid players in the league. In comparison, Kirk Cousins will be paid the most in the league at $28 million this year, while Aaron Rodgers will make $22 million.
So, the Cowboys quarterback's market value is among the best in the league.
Cowboys fans everywhere are rooting for him to succeed but year three will be crucial. If he can improve on his play from a year ago and keep winning games, he would likely see his extension happen sometime around his fourth season.
People have already seen Prescott at his highs and lows. Going into 2018 with a new receiving core, the return of Ezekiel Elliott and a new left guard will get rid of any excuses.
If Dak Prescott really is who he believes he is, and who fans know he can be, then the Cowboys have their quarterback. If not, then the search will continue.
Prescott should be plenty motivated to be the Cowboys quarterback for the present and the future. Also, he should be motivated by how much money he could get it.
It is a game, but it’s still a business. And C.R.E.A.M.
Cowboys Expected to Pick Up Byron Jones’ Fifth-Year Option
2018 should be a huge year for the Cowboys' 2015 first-round pick Bryon Jones. After being used all over the secondary, it seems like he'll finally find a position to stay next season. The announcement was made that heading into his contract year, Jones would be moved to the cornerback position full-time.
Fortunately for him, the Cowboys are now expected to pick up his fifth-year option. This may come as a surprise for Cowboys Nation, given there haven't been any hints by the franchise to do so. However, it definitely will be a wise decision.
The #Cowboys are expected to pick up the fifth-year option for Byron Jones, source said. That should give him $6.17M salary for 2019, one that is guaranteed for injury. The 2015 first-round pick should benefit from a full-time move to corner.
Since he played most of his snaps as a safety in 2017 (his third year in the league), Byron's fifth-option will be less expensive than one from a cornerback. This is obviously good news for the front office since it means more cap space will be available in 2019.
Hopefully, Byron finds success under the new secondary coach in Dallas, Kris Richard. With him moving to cornerback full-time, we might just see his incredible athleticism translate into consistent impact on the field.
Byron Jones said ever since Kris Richard was hired as the Cowboys' new DBs coach he talked about moving Byron back to CB. "I think it will be a good move for me and the team.
Jones has a ton of talent but bouncing from one position to another is not good for player progression. Heck, we talk about how hard it is for many talented prospects to come into the NFL and adapt, now imagine a player who's played in different spots in the secondary all through his first three years.
If #31 becomes a quality starting cornerback in 2018, the CB room will be loaded in Dallas.
Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis showed us they could become the next great CB duo for the Cowboys in their rookie seasons. Anthony Brown had a rough 2017, but can still play at a decent level if he's not asked to be CB1.
Add Byron Jones to the mix, and Cowboys Nation should be really comfortable with how this position will look next season.
Picking Byron's fifth-year option will be a wise decision for Dallas, and Cowboys fans should be happy about it. Let's go!
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