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Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Cornerbacks

Sean Martin

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Orlando Scandrick

If the Cowboys are going to finish off their 2016 season in Houston for Super Bowl LI, they will have to get past Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' passing attack today to earn a date with Matt Ryan and the high-flying Falcons, all just to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl against either Tom Brady, Alex Smith, or Ben Roethlisberger.

Basically, it goes without saying that the corner backs for Rod Marinelli's defense are going to have to step up as they have all season long. Not only has this unit benefited from some great safety play (which I broke down on Saturday in "Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Safeties"), but they are finally back at full health in time for the playoffs.

Let's take a closer look.

Brandon CarrBrandon Carr

Brandon Carr has once again proved to be an iron man this season in the Dallas Cowboys' secondary, extending his career starts streak through another season. Not only did Carr appear in all 16 games in the silver and blue once again, but he did so at a new position - transitioning to the right corner spot.

Even prior to this move, Carr received plenty of unwarranted criticism from fans that have begged for more out of their high-paid free agent acquisition of 2012. Far from perfect, Brandon Carr consistently does his job and limits big plays in the passing game - a trademark for this 2016 Cowboys' defense.

Opposing offensive coordinators are going to try to throw everything they can at Carr and the rest of these corners in an attempt to out score Dallas, and I expect Brandon - who will be a free agent after the season - to be ready for the challenge.

Morris Claiborne

The reason for Brandon Carr's position change this season is mainly because of the resurgence that Morris Claiborne has had. When on the field, Claiborne has played like a true shutdown corner in every sense of the word, with things beginning to trend upwards for him in 2015.

Unfortunately for Claiborne, his health has been an issue once again this season, as he has been sidelined since a week 8 home game against the Eagles. Ready to go once again, it is unclear what Claiborne's role will be today and throughout the playoffs, easing back into the defense with the luxury of solid depth behind him.

If Morris Claiborne is anywhere close to his early season form though, earning snaps will not be a problem, as he will quickly become one of the Cowboys' biggest keys to success. Claiborne has answered the bell with improved confidence and technique against elite wide receivers like A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery, and Odell Beckham Jr., and now he may be in a position to prove himself further (also in a contract year) against the likes of Davante Adams and Julio Jones.

Orlando Scandrick

Orlando Scandrick has found his form recently for the Cowboys as the shifty cover corner that has been counted on as a reliable veteran presence for years now, and it means great things for the versatility that Dallas can deploy at corner back.

Battling with his own injures, Scandrick has appeared in 12 games, asked to bounce between being a slot and boundary corner in each. His recent streak of excellent play has come out of the slot, with rookie Anthony Brown holding his own on the outside.

Scandrick is the perfect slot corner for the Cowboys this postseason not only because of his experience, but for his ability to use the teammates around him to be successful. With ideal length and short-range quickness, Scandrick redirects routes to other safeties and linebackers with ease, which leads to him being around the ball.

A corner that thrives on his own momentum from stringing together positive plays, Scandrick will be in for a fight with all of the receivers he could see in the playoffs - starting with the Packers' pass catchers today.

Look for not much at all to change with #32 though, and for any team that looks to test the eight year Cowboy too much to pay the price.

Anthony BrownAnthony Brown

Here's a fun question. Who is the third best rookie on the Dallas Cowboys? With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott headlining a stellar 2016 draft class, rookie corner and sixth round pick Anthony Brown has not only been ultra-impressive, but necessary at times to keep the Cowboys secondary formidable - making a strong case for this final podium position behind Prescott and Zeke.

Brown, who was projected as a slot corner by most draft analysts, has been asked to play all over the field, finding a starting role in key spots as an outside corner in the absence of Morris Claiborne.

Known for his speed out of Purdue, Brown's full skill set has translated seamlessly into the NFL thanks to his off-the-charts awareness. Defensive backs that get their hands on passes have unfortunately been a rarity for Cowboys Nation in past years, but now players like Brown have made it a standard - as #30 consistently closes on unsuspecting WRs to contest a throw at the catch point.

Like Carr and Scandrick, teams are going to equally attempt to test Brown simply because of the rookie status associated with his name. Anyone that has watched the Cowboys throughout this season knows however that Brown is already playing like a seasoned veteran, and that the expectation should be for him to continue to do as such.


We made it to game day, Cowboys Nation! Before the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers kickoff, be sure to share your thoughts on the game and this Playoff Primer with a comment below!

You can also catch up on previous editions of this series right here, and find me on Twitter @ShoreSportsNJ to discuss any player breakdowns!

Tell us what you think about "Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Cornerbacks" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: TE Geoff Swaim

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines -  76

For the 2018 Dallas Cowboys, the retirement of Tight End Jason Witten was one of the biggest developments of the offseason. It leaves a gaping hole in their offense, and no major free agent or high draft pick was added as a clear replacement. As such, fourth-year veteran Geoff Swaim may be in line for a breakout season.

A seventh-round pick in 2015, Swaim has stuck in Dallas with strong run-blocking and special teams play. His offensive production has been limited to just nine catches and 94 yards, thanks largely to the stranglehold that Witten kept on the TE position. Geoff has only been targeted 11 times in the passing game over three seasons.

But with Witten leaving, as well as veteran backup James Hanna, Swaim is now the elder statesman of the TE group. Even his limited playing time in the NFL thus far puts him way ahead of Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, or rookie Dalton Schultz.

Based on reports from the offseason practices and camps, Geoff is getting the first crack at becoming the new starter. It makes sense given his experience edge, but also his proficiency as a run blocker.

The Cowboys will likely lean on Ezekiel Elliott heavily this year, particularly early in the season. The passing game will need time to find itself with Witten and Dez Bryant gone. They'll want to ease Dak Prescott into heavier workloads as he and his new receiving options get acclimated.

Geoff Swaim

Dallas Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim

Geoff Swaim will be one of those new options. And even though his reputation is for blocking, don't take that to mean he's not athletic.

We've seen Swaim on the move as a blocker and also in the passing game, and he's certainly got some wheels. That could make him a deceptive weapon on play-action and other passing plays out of running formations.

In some ways, losing Witten and Bryant makes the Cowboys' offense less predictable than in the past. Defenses will be less sure who to focus on, and that also creates opportunities for the new receivers.

Obviously, Swaim's breakout potential is dependent on Prescott looking his way. But unless Dak has undergone a major change in his playing style, a TE working in the short and middle parts of the field is someone he'll rely on plenty.

With training camp and preseason still to come, calling Geoff the starter right now is just an assumption. There is still time for one of the other prospects to impress and climb the ladder.

But right now, there's clearly no better candidate to claim the spot than Swaim. He has the most critical skill as a blocker, and his potential in the passing game is underrated. It's his job to lose.

The guy with only nine career catches could get that in a single game this year. Therefore, Geoff Swaim is clearly one of the major breakout candidates for the 2018 Cowboys.



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: LB Jaylon Smith

Jess Haynie

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#DALvsIND: 5 Cowboys Storylines To Watch In Preseason Week 2 1

No single player on the Dallas Cowboys roster right now may be more primed for a breakout season than Linebacker Jaylon Smith. His ascension as a player isn't just a big gain for the Cowboys defense, but it may be vital to their success in 2018.

Smith joined the Cowboys as a high second-round pick (34th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft. Potentially a top-five elite talent in that class, Jaylon's stock fell after a severe knee injury in his final college game. It was unknown if he could ever play football again, but Dallas took the risk based on Smith's incredible upside.

After Jaylon sat out his rookie year to fully rehab. In 2017, he was able to play all 16 games and started in six. That alone was a huge win for Smith and the Cowboys.

Jaylon's performance last year wasn't great,  but understandably so after all the missed time. He also had to regain confidence in his knee, which is critical for a linebacker with all of the directional changes during plays.

Still, Smith got better as the season went. And even amidst the struggles, there were flashes of his instincts and potential.

This offseason, reports of Jaylon's improving health are fueling increased optimism. He is now playing without a knee brace and that means more confidence. If Smith fully trusts his body now, it will make him far more dangerous on the field.

5 Positives for Cowboys Heading Into the Off-Season

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

With Anthony Hitchens leaving in free agency, Dallas needs Jaylon to be a bigger factor this year. If he doesn't take the next step, it could leave the Cowboys vulnerable at linebacker in 2018.

True, Dallas drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last April's draft. But it's always dangerous to ask a rookie to do heavy lifting, and especially one who is seen as a raw talent like Vander Esch.

Ideally, anything Dallas gets from Leighton this year will be gravy. Their goal is to rely on veteran Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, with Damien Wilson also available as a solid fallback option.

But when you mention Sean Lee, you have to mention health concerns. After two encouragingly healthy seasons in 2015 and 2016, Lee was back to having some issues last year and missed five games.

That is all the more reason why Dallas needs Jaylon to be ready for more this year. If Lee misses time again, Smith is the best suited to take over the roles that Sean leaves behind.

Thankfully, all signs point to big things for Jaylon Smith in 2018. His body appears healed and there's no questioning his work ethic and desire. If the mental aspect of football has also developed, he could be everything the Cowboys hoped when they drafted them.



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Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Sean Martin

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Despite Late Push in Year One, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See the Field in 2018? 1
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.

These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.

Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.

Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, DT Maliek Collins (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.

This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.

Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.

The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.

It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.

Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.

As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.

For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.

Tell us what you think about "Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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