With the NFL trade deadline coming and going yesterday without the Dallas Cowboys making a move, their roster for the remainder of the 2017 season is effectively set, sitting at 4-3 with the strong possibility that RB Ezekiel Elliott will not play again until week 15 at the Oakland Raiders.
The Cowboys' young roster is still in a good position to compete, with a 2-0 NFC East record and both meetings with the division leading Eagles ahead.
Ahead of their week nine return home to face the Chiefs, here is how I would rank the Cowboys' roster by position on offense and defense.
1. Offensive Line
This part is easy. The Cowboys' offensive line got off to a slow start on the season in sparking this running game, but both Jonathan Cooper at LG and La'el Collins at RT have transitioned nicely as new starters to open things up on the ground.
The Cowboys offensive line is still the best in the NFL by a decent margin.
In Dak Prescott I trust. Prescott has accounted for 17 touchdowns in seven games, proving that the Cowboys truly found a franchise quarterback in last year's draft. Prescott's yards per attempt may be down from 2016, but #4 has been surgical in the pocket, putting the ball where it needs to be and mostly keeping Dallas ahead of the chains.
Whether or not they play with Ezekiel Elliott for the next six weeks should do little to slow down Dak Prescott's outstanding play, and adding rising QB2 Cooper Rush along with film-room extraordinaire Kellen Moore firmly places quarterback near the top of this list.
3. Defensive End
If you told me that I would be writing this article on October 31st (Happy Halloween!) and putting the Cowboys' edge rushers as their third best unit, I would have been dumbfounded at where the sack production was coming from.
With a healthy DeMarcus Lawrence accounting for 10.5 of the Cowboys' 25 sacks thus far, this team is pressuring opposing quarterbacks with a deep rotation off the edge.
Across from Lawrence at LDE, Tyrone Crawford has amazingly been active as a RDE. It is the consistent production from both of these starters paired with the expected contributions that David Irving, Benson Mayowa, Taco Charlton, and perhaps even Charles Tapper later in the year will make that puts DE at number three on this list.
4. Running Back
Just how far down to slide RB on these rankings was one of the hardest decisions, as we simply don't know how the Cowboys' offense will respond to a probable running back by committee approach.
Should their workhorse, three-down player in Ezekiel Elliott be taken off the field, the Cowboys can turn to a trio of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and Rod Smith to replace his skills in different ways.
McFadden is the proven veteran that's been held by Dallas for the better part of two years in the wake of Elliott facing league discipline. Becoming the featured back in 2015, McFadden ran for 1,089 yards but only three touchdowns.
Only a bulk of carries will tell Cowboys Nation if McFadden still has some of that burst and elusiveness left to be effective. If not, it likely means more of Alfred Morris, who has done little in his frustrating efforts taking Elliott off the field again this season.
Brought in because of his scheme fit, Morris has appeared run down ever since transitioning from the Redskins to Cowboys - leaving only Rod Smith as a "change of pace" back with some solid downhill rushing ability and ample talent as a pass catcher.
Will the Cowboys win games without Ezekiel Elliott at RB? Nobody knows.
Will they still be able to run the football with some success? I think so, making RB my fourth strongest unit on the squad.
The story of the Cowboys' 2017 season thus far is told pretty well through the numbers they've had available at the linebacker position. Without Sean Lee, Rod Marinelli's defense is simply lost.
These past two weeks, Dallas has been able to put both Lee and Anthony Hitchens back on the field together, and as a result they've allowed less than 300 total yards in both games.
Just a few weeks ago, I was one of the loudest critics for Jaylon Smith to be taken off the field for his own protection, but even he has taken some strides in his confidence and MIKE LB ability to help the middle of the Cowboys defense.
So long as the Cowboys offense does what they set out to do each week, a defense that has their full linebacker corps will win them games.
6. Wide Receiver
This is a position of need for the Dallas Cowboys. Dez Bryant is still the leader of the Cowboys passing offense at WR, but getting him the ball consistently has been difficult for Scott Linehan. Bryant has 19 career games with two catches or less, three of which have come this season.
Last year's leading receiver, Cole Beasley, has also not been utilized the same way - catching just 18 passes thus far, after snagging 37 through seven games in 2016.
Terrance Williams has been Terrance Williams once again, and fan-favorite Brice Butler has not shown the Dallas coaches enough consistency to take Williams off the field for Butler more.
This leaves rookie WR Ryan Switzer, who has only been thrown the ball twice for two short receptions. Switzer has carried the ball three times for insignificant gains of three yards each time as well.
Dez Bryant being one of the best red zone targets in the entire NFL certainly elevates this unit as he helps them finish drives with touchdowns, but as the Cowboys passing attack opens up these next few weeks it will be fascinating to see who can step up out of this group of pass catchers that have all settled into niche roles.
7. Defensive Tackle
It is here that we find the single most important position in Rod Marinelli's scheme, the 3T DT. With turnover for consecutive seasons at the spot and the lack of a productive 1T though, it is hard to put defensive tackle higher on this list despite the ridiculous numbers David Irving is putting up while lining up inside.
Irving's five sacks in three games at DT have forced Maliek Collins, a perceived breakout star at the position, to slide over to the 1T position. This is not a position that suits Collins' skills all that well, as he is much better working up the field and disengaging blockers on his way to the quarterback.
In a perfect world, Stephen Paea doesn't retire mid-season due to recurring knee injuries, leaving Dallas with a formidable 1T to rotate Collins and Irving at the three. Without Paea however, the likes of Brian Price and Richard Ash have performed as well as the Cowboys could hope inside at defensive tackle.
David Irving is going to continue being a game wrecker at DT for the Cowboys, but the same can't be said for any of the other rotational players here.
When you lose two veteran starters at CB in one offseason, it is hard to fill in a secondary quickly and expect things to work. Amazingly, the Cowboys have been decent at the CB position without being able to rely on sophomore Anthony Brown.
Brown's frequent struggles in coverage is the main reason CB falls so far down this list, as he has left Orlando Scandrick and Jourdan Lewis as the team's two capable cornerbacks.
When healthy, Scandrick has mostly been his usual self in the slot, and the best sign of hope for the Cowboys at CB is the play of rookie Jourdan Lewis. Getting fellow rookie Chidobe Awuzie on the field has been a nightmare for Dallas though, limiting their numbers in the back end defensively.
The Cowboys knew that this would be a transitional year at the CB position, and this transition is going better than expected. Jourdan Lewis is a star in the making.
For now, their lack of depth and experience here slides cornerback down the list.
9. Tight End
Jason Witten could walk into Canton and get a bust and jacket from the Pro Football Hall of Fame anytime he wants. This is of course the leader at TE for the Cowboys once again in 2017, and behind Witten the team has worked James Hanna and Geoff Swaim into regular roles as run blockers.
As a rookie, Dak Prescott had Cole Beasley as his perceived security blanket, but this role has shifted back towards Jason Witten this season.
Geoff Swaim is still a promising young player that is developing well for the Cowboys, but my concern at TE has been with James Hanna. Getting him back on the field as an extra blocker was critical for the Cowboys, but he has not been the same player at the end of the line of scrimmage.
It is highly unlikely that Rico Gathers will contribute on offense this season, leaving these three tight ends as the guys to get it done for the Cowboys.
It says a lot about the overall state of the Cowboys roster when I had such a hard time putting any position last on this list. Another spot that was depleted through free agency, the Cowboys surprising pass rush has made up for some problems in the back end with continuity at safety.
Rotating three safeties in different packages worked brilliantly for Dallas in 2016, but this rotation has yet to be set the same way this season. Finding Byron Jones a reliable partner at safety has not gone as planned, as Jeff Heath quickly proved that he is solely a rotational player.
Without being able to rely on Heath as a "starter", the Cowboys have had to put a ton of warranted confidence into rookie Xavier Woods. Naturally, Woods has his shortcomings as well with failed opportunities to tackle in space and stop the run.
Perhaps unexpectedly, it is the Cowboys front seven carrying their secondary at the moment, and it is a struggle to offer opposing offenses varying looks in the back end right now due to the situation at safety.
This is how I see the 2017 Dallas Cowboys roster breaking down by position. A concluding thought on these rankings should be that the Cowboys are pretty well off, with their main problem at some key positions being lack of proven experience.
Young players are getting opportunities to prove themselves all over the field, making it an exciting time for the Cowboys as a whole despite the Ezekiel Elliott situation.
The Cowboys pass rush has finally arrived, and with it they have a defense that can certainly support an elite offense led by their franchise quarterback Dak Prescott and league-best offensive line.
Let me know where you agree or disagree with these rankings by leaving a comment below!
DL Kerry Hyder Helps Solidify A Re-Tooled Defensive Line
The Cowboys got off to a busy start to week two of free agency on Monday, and capped it off by signing defensive lineman Kerry Hyder to a one year deal.
The former Detroit Lion could be classified as a "one year wonder" of sorts, but when you look closer at his career arc, you see that Hyder can provide upside at multiple positions across the Cowboys' defensive front.
After having 8 sacks and 19 quarterback hits as a defensive end in 2016, Hyder missed all of 2017 with an achilles injury. Last season, under new head coach Matt Patricia, Hyder was moved out of position and forced to play as a nose tackle and 5-technique more often.
So, the last time Hyder was healthy and playing in the role in he will likely fill in Dallas, he was productive. Yes that was a couple of seasons ago but it makes Hyder worth the one year deal he received from the Cowboys.
What exactly is that role, though?
I see Hyder primarily as a rotational 3-technique for the Cowboys. At just 270 pounds Hyder isn't going to play over the center often, and won't be very useful as a 1-technique against the run. He's at his best when lining on the outside shade of an offensive lineman, where he can use his get-off and quickness to create pressure.
Kerry Hyder can also fill in at defensive end if needed, especially when the Cowboys go into a nickel package. Hyder is similar to Tyrone Crawford in his ability to move inside and out, but is a bit better of a pass rusher than Crawford when at his best.
Hyder is a high energy, motor, and character defensive lineman who will fit right in with a Rod Marinelli unit. If it all clicks for Hyder and he regains his 2016 form, the Cowboys will have stolen an impressive pass rushing defensive lineman who can win from multiple positions.
If Hyder is actually a "one year wonder" who is more of his 2018-self with the Cowboys despite being put in a better role to succeed, Dallas can move on rather quickly because he is only on a one year deal.
This is a smart signing by the Cowboys front office as they look to re-tool their defensive line, and avoid being pigeon-holed into over-drafting at a certain position this Spring.
New Cowboys WR Randall Cobb Announces His Signing With A Fantastic GIF
On Tuesday this week it became official the Cowboys would sign former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb to a one year deal worth an estimated $5 million. After his visit Monday morning, speculation around whether and when he would sign was swirling.
Cobb confirmed his intentions to join the Cowboys himself, and did so with some A+ GIF usage on Twitter.
In case you don't know, the GIF Cobb tweeted is Woody from Toy Story, emerging confidently and tipping his cap.
This was Cobb signaling that he his a Cowboy, and he appears excited to be joining America's Team. Cobb also received some social media love from his now former teammates in Green Bay, including wide receiver Davante Adams and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Go do ya thang 18. Can't thank u enough for guiding me through this thing and showing us all how to be a pro. Love u brudda I'm excited for your next chapter ✊🏾 #187
Aaron Rodgers had some parting words for new Cowboys WR Randall Cobb
Clearly Randall Cobb made an impact in Green Bay, both on and off the field. Let's hope he can replicate some of that in Dallas now that he has joined the Cowboys.
Malik McDowell Is Well Worth The Risk For The Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are reportedly brining defensive lineman Malik McDowell into The Star this week for a visit, as they decide whether or not to potentially sign him for the 2019 season.
McDowell is a former second round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who fell to day two because of what scouts call "off the field" or "character" concerns. McDowell did not last long with Seahawks, as he was released in 2017 following an ATV accident in which he reportedly suffered "extensive brain and eye trauma" according to Charles Robinson.
None of us know much about who Malik McDowell is as a person, or what concerns their really should be with his health. But what I do know is that on tape at Michigan State, McDowell was a top 5-10 player in the 2017 draft class. He was a stud, and has the traits to continue to be a stud in the NFL.
The 2017 NFL Draft is chock full of talented, athletic, and productive defensive linemen. While most of the draft pundits have focused on EDGE rushers thus far, the defensive tackle class also possesses some of this year's top NFL prospects. Arguably the best of those defensive tackles is Michigan State's Malik McDowell.
Back in 2017 I wrote a full scouting report on McDowell, detailing why he earned such a high grade on my board. McDowell is a versatile linemen who is explosive off the ball, powerful and rangy against the run, and a skilled pass rusher who plays with a high motor. What more could you really ask for?
"McDowell is a patient pass rusher at times, setting up the blocker how he likes and then beating them with ease. McDowell’s ability to swipe hands off helps him greatly, but his quick swim is his most effective pass rush move.
On this play he uses that swim to perfection, forcing the center to power down to the right before swimming back to the other side."
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
When the Spartans went to a three man pass rushing front, McDowell moved to the EDGE often and made plays with his quick, active hands and impressive swim move. He was much more impressive on the interior, however, and could be a direct replacement for David Irving as an explosive and powerful 3-technique for the Cowboys.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
I love that the Cowboys are bringing McDowell in for a free agent visit. His price will likely be low, as he is yet to play in an NFL game over the last two years, but his ceiling remains very high if he is healthy. It's rare for a player with his college production, natural ability, and measurables to completely fail in the NFL.
Maybe all McDowell needs is a second chance to get his head right and prove that he belongs in the league. Maybe he flames out quickly and can't get on the field due to "off the field" stuff. Or, maybe he simply isn't healthy enough to contribute as an NFL player. Regardless, for the price he'll likely command, McDowell is well worth the risk if the Cowboys are willing to take it.
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