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How Much Can Cowboys Rely on Jaylon Smith in 2018?

Jess Haynie

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Jaylon Smith

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.

5 Positives for Cowboys Heading Into the Off-Season

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

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.


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
  • Travis Diggs

    The #1 priority should be to resign Hitchens because he’s just as important to this defense as is Sean Lee because of his versatility and Sean Lee’s always on and off health issues. Jaylon was a liability in pass coverage which led to more time for Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens. The talent is definitely there, all the other intangibles will follow if he sees and understand tape of what he did well and didnt do well

  • Russ_Te

    I think a Cowboys trainer said Smith would be full tilt next year. I was surprised to see the speed at near 100% last year. His issues were mental IMO and I also think much of that will get knocked down for 2018. The intensity and motor are all there, he just needs reps and proper deployment.

    I still think because of what would be a fearsome combination of size and speed in the secondary, Smith should try some downs at SS in camp. Not saying it will definitely work, only that he could be a monster there if it did. Otherwise I’d try an LT role and look at that. Taylor was allowed to roam the box & choose his spot to attack the backfield from. Pretty hard on an OL when the LB has that kind of speed. You have to shift around the double-teams to wherever he goes.

  • John Williams

    I think they will draft someone in the mid rounds and maybe sign a low priced free agent as insurance, but I think they are going full speed ahead with Jaylon at Mike.

    That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them trade up in the draft to get Roquon or Tremaine Edwards to pair with Jaylon given Lee’s age.

  • Nick Russo

    I believe Jaylon will take the next step after a full season and another offseason under his belt. With that being said, I strongly believe that we NEED to resign hitchens. Jaylon showed that he was more productive towards the end of the season when splitting reps. When you take into account Sean Lee’s age and injury history, it might make sense to look at running with a rotation of LBs. That’s where Hitchens becomes so valuable. He has been a consistent high level player on our defense since he was drafted. He’s been asked to play all three spots and he’s done so well. If you can keep jaylon and Sean Lee healthy and fresh and have the consistency of Hitchens, it gives our defense it’s best chance to perform at a high level.

Dallas Cowboys

Should Gregory’s Potential Reinstatement Alter Cowboys Draft Plan?

Sean Martin

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Cowboys en Español: Buenas Noticias para Jaylon Smith, ¿Fin de Randy Gregory?, ¿Adiós a Lucky Whitehead?

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.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

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.

Sean's Scout: Cowboys Can Fix RDE Problems with BC's Harold Landry

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.

Tell us what you think about "Should Gregory’s Potential Reinstatement Alter Cowboys Draft Plan?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Player News

Cowboys Quarterback is playing Moneyball

Shane Carter

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Jekyll or Hyde: Year 3 "Prove It" Season For Dak Prescott?

A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 PlayoffsMoney 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.


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Player News

Cowboys Expected to Pick Up Byron Jones’ Fifth-Year Option

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Film Room: Cowboys DB Byron Jones Is A Vital Piece To A Rebuilt Defense

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.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

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.

Jon Machota on Twitter

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!

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Expected to Pick Up Byron Jones’ Fifth-Year Option" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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