The NFL Draft is coming and there is still a lot of work the Dallas Cowboys need to do to fill out the roster ahead of the 2018 NFL season. Yes, I know it's a bit early, but I want to take a look at the 53-man roster and figure out where the holes on the depth chart are, which might give us an indication of where the Cowboys may go in the draft.
✭ Dak Prescott
✭ Cooper Rush
This should not be a surprise. The Dallas Cowboys felt confident enough in this tandem to release and move Kellen Moore to the practice squad last season. Dak Prescott is the QB1 on this team, of that there is no doubt. What is pretty impressive is the growth Cooper Rush has accomplished in such a short time. From a UDFA to QB3 to the primary backup in less than a year.
You don't hear a lot of rumblings about the Cowboys adding another quarterback. They didn't do it in free agency and you haven't heard much about drafting one during the process.
Now, they still have time before training camp to add a veteran name, if they want to, but it seems more likely they will add another UDFA or two from this year's rookie crop as camp arms and to compete with Rush.
Running Back (3)
✭ Ezekiel Elliott
✭ Rod Smith
✭ Jamize Olawale (FB)
There is room here for the Dallas Cowboys to draft a runner in the middle to late rounds, or to pick up a veteran or UDFA after the draft. They won't go into the season with just these three, and a name that I like in the middle rounds is Nyheim Hines out of NC State.
He's a smaller, quicker back who can catch the ball and serve as a "change of pace" option to Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. Hines ran for more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final season with the Wolfpack.
Wide Receiver (6)
I really didn't think there was any way the Cowboys would release Dez Bryant. There's been a lot said on that, and I don't care to get too deep into it here, but Dallas could use a youthful addition to the WR depth chart. Wide receiver now becomes a priority for the Dallas Cowboys in the top 100 of the NFL draft.
Terrance Williams' contract and current injury situation doesn't allow for much movement there. Cole Beasley would have the easiest contract to move on from, but he is a Dak-friendly receiver, so I doubt they'd move on from him.
While these are the six guys they have right now, they'll add a top-100 pick and one or two of these guys will be off the roster -- and perhaps on the practice squad -- come week one.
Tight End (4)
✭ Jason Witten
✭ James Hanna
✭ Geoff Swaim
✭ Rico Gathers
To me, this is the make or break season for Rico Gathers. If he can't earn a roster spot in 2018, it's time to move on.
James Hanna is still a candidate to be cut if the team needs to free up some cap space. The team likes him for his blocking prowess, but they also like Swaim as well.
Blake Jarwin is a dark-horse candidate to compete for a roster spot, but if he wins one, it likely means Hanna is gone and that Gathers didn't make the roster again.
I'd really like to see them take a Dallas Goedert or Mark Andrews if they're available in the third round, but I get that with the current group of tight ends, they may feel they can be a bit more patient in finding the heir to Jason Witten's throne.
Offensive Line (8)
The biggest question mark on the offense is at left guard on the offensive line. I would really like to see La'el Collins get another year at tackle to see if that could be his spot long-term before moving him back to guard again.
The Cowboys will tip their hand a bit during the draft as far as what they're going to do with La'el Collins. If they draft a guard in the first couple of rounds, then we know Collins is staying at tackle. If they don't, then it might mean a move for Collins back to guard.
Cameron Fleming was a really nice signing. He started the last five games of the season for the New England Patriots and their three playoff games. That definitely counts for something. If the team feels like he could be the full-time right tackle then we might see them move Collins back to guard this season. If they keep Collins at tackle, then Fleming provides a much better tackle insurance policy than Chaz Green.
Marcus Martin and Kadeem Edwards, while nice depth with potential, shouldn't be counted on as anything more than that.
The only name I'm not sure about being on the roster is Chaz Green. He needs a good camp to keep his job.
Oh the intrigue!!!
Defensive Line (5)
✭ DeMarcus Lawrence
✭ David Irving
✭ Maliek Collins
✭ Tyrone Crawford
✭ Taco Charlton
There are other guys currently on the roster who could make the team out of training camp, but the only guys I'm sure of are these five.
Richard Ash, Kony Ealy, Datone Jones, and a few others will be competing for roster spots, but they aren't names that'll prevent the Dallas Cowboys front office from investing draft picks to upgrade the position.
As we know by now, 1T defensive tackle is a huge need for this team. They struggled against the run for much of the season and, while Maliek Collins was serviceable, he was playing out of position for much of the year.
Vita Vea is the hot commodity, but this team hasn't placed a premium on a 1T in as long as I can remember. He would plug in immediately on early downs for the Dallas D. If they didn't spend a first on him, there are options deeper in the draft to make a move.
I don't see them going after a top-100 3T because they already have three of those on the roster in David Irving, Collins, and Tyrone Crawford. Anything is possible, but I don't see them investing a premium pick where they already have three guys who could take meaningful snaps at the position.
Defensive end is still a place where they could upgrade their weakside rusher. At the moment, all their ends are what I like to call "long and strong" guys. Taco Charlton, while still developing, hasn't shown the burst and bend that is needed to be a formidable EDGE rusher. Tyrone Crawford is solid in his role, but could also be a cap casualty at the end of training camp.
✭ Sean Lee
✭ Jaylon Smith
✭ Damien Wilson
✭ Joe Thomas
There are a couple of guys on the 90-man roster who could break camp with the team, but if I were Will McClay and the front office, I wouldn't feel great about my primary backups being Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, or Tre'Von Johnson.
Thomas would be fine for a spell but not someone who should be counted on long-term.
The Dallas Cowboys need to attack this position with a couple picks and preferably in the first four rounds. They need guys who could step into a rotational role right away. Barring an unforeseen drop by Roquan Smith to pick 19, they should be targeting guys in rounds two through four.
NaVorro Bowman is still unsigned and would be an excellent addition to this linebacker group. If they haven't made inquiries yet, they should look into it after the draft. He would be solid insurance at MIKE linebacker if Jaylon Smith still isn't ready to play.
✭ Byron Jones
✭ Chidobe Awuzie
✭ Jourdan Lewis
✭ Anthony Brown
✭ Marquez White
Dallas could certainly make a late-round selection to add some competition for Marquez White and Duke Thomas -- who could push for a roster spot -- but the top four guys are set and they aren't adding a top-100 cornerback.
This group, along with the safeties, is the unit I'm most excited to see in training camp with the addition of former Seattle Seahawks Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Back Guru, Kris Richard.
He gets the best out of his DBs and was instrumental in the rise of the Seattle Seahawks defense.
✭ Jeff Heath
✭ Kavon Frazier
✭ Xavier Woods
If there's a place I could see them spending a top-100 pick for the secondary, it's at safety.
The talent here is solid, but aside from Heath, we still don't know what we have in Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier. Even if they don't go safety early on, they'll probably draft one at some point.
I really like Xavier Woods' promise as the ball-hawking free safety we've been looking for since Monte Kiffin installed the Tampa-2 scheme. The fact remains, though, that Woods is a second year player from small-school Louisiana Tech and still has some growing to do. He and Heath should rotate the FS snaps during the preseason and season.
Kavon Frazier really came on strong at the end of the season and provided an edge to the secondary that had been missing. He was a physical tackler and supported against the run very well. He will likely get a chance to earn the "box safety" role on early downs with Woods spelling him on passing downs.
Special Teams (3)
✭ Dan Bailey
✭ Chris Jones
✭ L.P. Ladouceur
Same story, different year. Other than bringing in a camp leg to spell Dan Bailey during the preseason, the special teams specialists remain the same, and that's a good thing.
The kicking operation with L.P. Ladouceur snapping, Chris Jones holding, and Bailey kicking keeps a great and solid operation together for another year.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By my count, that's 43 roster spots accounted for, though a lot could change, and with the draft looming a lot of the names I listed could be pushed off the roster.
From my depth chart analysis, I'd argue the most pressing needs on the team right now are wide receiver, left guard, linebacker, 1T defensive tackle, safety and EDGE rusher. If they came away with players at each of these positions, then I will call it a successful draft, even if they don't draft my guys.
Where do you think they need to make additions to the roster?
Looking Ahead: Will The Cowboys Run The Table?
Only three more regular season games remain before we head into the NFL Playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys have turned their season around winning five straight and positioning themselves at first place of the NFC East. Once a 3-5 team, the Cowboys are currently one win away from clinching the division title.
In the midst of a five game winning streak, Jason Garrett's team is already being discussed as a legit threat in the NFC. Said discussions are the result from such a streak including a victory over arguably the best team in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints.
With three more games left to be played, the question I pose to you today is...
Can the Dallas Cowboys run the table?
After the Cowboys fell at home to the Tennessee Titans 28-14 in week 9, the schedule ahead did not look nice at all. The following five games included two matches against the defending Super Bowl Champions and division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles and a game against the high-powered offense from Drew Brees & Co. and well... we know how that story goes.
Now, the landscape is a bit different. The Cowboys seem to have only one more difficult game ahead of them. Let's take a look at each of Dallas' next opponents.
Week 15: @ Indianapolis Colts
This is easily the biggest challenge remaining. Similar to the Cowboys' recent success, the Colts have won six of their last seven football games. The offensive line has been able to keep the pocket clean for QB Andrew Luck who is finally back to his old self. Surely, they won't be intimidated by the Cowboys' being "hot" this past few weeks. Just last Sunday, they snapped the Houston Texans' nine game winning streak.
The Colts are averaging 29 points per game in their last 10 led by T.Y. Hilton in the receiving game, who might just be Byron Jones' biggest challenge yet due to his speed on the field. However, Indianapolis is far from perfect. That's the reason why the Jacksonville Jaguars left them scoreless a couple of weeks ago.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Cowboys this week will be playing on the road. Their recent success has been impressive, but they've played three consecutive home games. All things considered, this really is a very promising game. I'll lean towards the Cowboys to win this football game thanks to their great defense and Amari Cooper. It's worth noting that Colts' center Ryan Kelly could play on Sunday. If he doesn't though, DeMarcus Lawrence and the rest of the DL will make their presence felt constantly.
Prediction: Cowboys Win
Week 16: VS Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the 2018 NFL season. They've seen both versions of Ryan Fitzpatrick (the great one and the "why is he throwing so many picks?" one). They've gone back and forth again at the QB position between him and Jameis Winston. Right now, it seems like Winston is the guy who'll be leading the Bucs' offense for the rest of the season.
They surely seem like an easy opponent, but they're the same team that led the Saints 14-3 by halftime last Sunday. Their offense can be dangerous if the Cowboys are not careful. Cameron Brate at tight end is a player to watch out for when the Bucs visit AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys should get a comfortable win on this one, though. Tampa Bay's defense ranks 30th in the league in scoring and 20th against the run. Ezekiel Elliott will surely be fed.
Prediction: Cowboys Win
Week 17: @ New York Giants
By this week, it's hard to know if the Cowboys will rest starters for the playoffs or not. History tells us they won't, so we'll pretend that's the case. When these two squared off back in September, both were very different teams. Against one of the worst offensive lines in the league, it should be a fun game for the Cowboys' defense.
The Giants are 4-1 in their last five games, but don't let that record fool you. In that span, they've beaten the Josh Johnson-led Washington Redskins, the Chase Daniels-led Chicago Bears, the Bucs and the San Francisco 49ers.
The Cowboys should be able to win this divisional game fairly easily as they try to improve their execution before January football.
Prediction: Cowboys Win
To be quite honest, only the next game feels like a true threat to the Dallas Cowboys' winning streak. The Indianapolis Colts are an intimidating rival. In fact, they're the favorites in Vegas to get the win on Sunday. If Dak Prescott and his team are able to walk away victorious from said game, this team should go 11-5 on the season
That would be quite the ending for a team that had only three wins through eight games in week 9. They're really a new team. It's time to finish strong.
Is Scott Linehan Holding Playoff-Hopeful Cowboys Back on Offense?
Wide Receiver Amari Cooper means many things to the Dallas Cowboys. He is a token of change for a team that started the season 3-4 without him, and 5-1 since with their first win streak beginning in Cooper's second game at the Eagles. Cooper is the player this club promised they wouldn't need to compete this season, happily being proved wrong by the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for both weeks 12 and 14. Much more subtly, the 24-year old receiver is also the latest player to very publicly doubt Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan.
Cooper matched his season high 10 receptions in the Cowboys home win over the Eagles, hauling in the game-winning touchdown in overtime as his third score to go with a career high 217 yards. Seventy five of these yards came on one play, with Cooper getting behind the depleted Eagles secondary to put Dallas ahead 23-16 late in the fourth.
After the game Amari Cooper talked about his 75-yard touchdown and how he originally had a stop route but Dak Prescott gave him a hand signal to run a go instead.
Exclaiming "this is ridiculous" while watching the Cowboys offense at any point before trading for Cooper was a common occurrence. The Cowboys were playing with a struggling offensive line, receivers that couldn't separate, and frustrated quarterback being asked to carry way too much in a Linehan offense that also does him few favors.
It was Dak Prescott that warned Cooper to stick with Linehan's play call before giving in and throwing the touchdown.
If it took Cooper only six weeks to tell the media that opposing defenses are sitting on the Cowboys plays, it's almost certain he's noticed it much sooner. Where teammates have brought nothing but excuses for poor play, Cooper is a solution in and of himself, changing the play that helped lift the Cowboys to their fifth straight win.
With the Cowboys 75-yard overtime march to win the game on Sunday, Dallas finished with a season high 576 yards. After four quarters the Cowboys had 485 yards, which would still be their best output of 2018.
The emptiness in some of these yards starts with Linehan's play calling in the red zone. As I noted in Sean's Scout for Monday, Ezekiel Elliott's 40 touch performance saw just six attempts when the Cowboys were inside the Eagles' 20-yard line.
The Cowboys have the longest active win streak in the league, and also the lowest percentage of red zone touchdowns over their last three victories. It still feels like fantasy to be inking the Cowboys as NFC East champions-elect, with one more win confirming their spot in the playoffs.
This is exactly how much of the Cowboys coaching staff should feel about their ink on any contract extensions. Around Linehan, the Cowboys made several moves at the positional level entering the year. Jason Garrett's staff has at the very least earned the right to be evaluated at the end of the season, with Garrett credited for guiding his club through this ongoing revival.
For a team that expects to be playing single elimination games next month, the Cowboys offense is slowed down entirely too often to trust Linehan more than at any previous level. As if a reminder was needed, Linehan's job was under enough fire from all angles for Garrett to address his newfound "job security" during the bye week.
Garrett doused the flames of a report that he aimed to replace Linehan during the Cowboys week off. Head coach openings in Green Bay and Cleveland have opened since, with more to follow, decreasing the Cowboys chances at bringing in a top offensive mind in any capacity below HC.
Of course, it was also during this bye week that the Cowboys were integrating their offensive savior in Cooper. The latest challenge for the Cowboys comes from a Colts team back in the AFC playoff picture with a win over the Texans last week. Holding Deandre Hopkins to just four catches, the Colts have defended #1 receivers well.
Calling the defense for this Indianapolis team is none other than former Cowboys Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus. At a point in their season where the Cowboys should be fine tuning both sides of the ball before a playoff run, their championship level defense runs the risk of being held back by an uninspired offense more so this week than any other.
Linehan has stepped up with his back to the wall before, and with the right players in his system (read: Amari Cooper, again) the results can follow. Trying to extend a five game win streak to six isn't exactly pressure territory for any coach in December, but the Cowboys offense has three weeks to show what their playoff potential will be with Linehan as the play caller.
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
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