Bringing back third-year Running Back Darius Jackson as their former sixth round draft pick from 2016, the Dallas Cowboys have their entire draft class of two years ago back on the roster. For how long members of this nine-pick class will remain with America's Team remains to be seen, but now is as good a time as ever to reevaluate where things stand with these players.
Experiencing the playoffs as rookies only to miss out last season, this Cowboys draft haul has quickly become the foundation of a roster reversing the aging process every year.
Dak and Zeke. Zeke and Dak. However you want to pair the starting quarterback and running back of the Cowboys together, the 2016 Draft will always be remembered as one that brought this franchise a premier running back - maximizing the talent of their offensive line - and improbable fourth-round QB.
It wasn't until just before this draft that Ohio State's elite RB prospect was linked to the Cowboys. As soon as he was, Elliott and his star potential with the star on his head caused plenty of excitement.
Elliott's Cowboys career has also caused plenty of controversy, as the 2016 league rushing leader was eventually forced to serve a six game domestic violence suspension a year ago. Not going down without a fight for his innocence and public perception, Elliott's case dragged on and brought everything around him and his team down.
It wasn't only Elliott's absence that Dak Prescott was unable to overcome, but if the Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018 they'll need nothing short of the 16 game performance Elliott produced as a rookie.
In doing so, Elliott can firmly secure his status as the blue chip starter the Cowboys absolutely needed their fourth overall pick to be when turning the disaster of 2015 into a running back.
Of course, it was a slew of Tony Romo injuries that derailed the Cowboys in 2015. Destined for a similar faith in 2016, Dak Prescott was able to change the direction of this franchise forever.
The amount of change the Cowboys have gone through in their roster and coaching staff since being left with no choice but to start Prescott as a rookie -- later keeping a healthy Romo behind the hot-handed Prescott as he completed a 13-3 campaign -- is truly stunning.
While outside the Cowboys building, the perception of Prescott entering year three is that he must prove he deserves everything he's been given, this team could not be more committed to his skills.
Stepping up as a vocal leader of the Cowboys while preparing to silence any critics behind a healthy offensive line, Prescott is as solid of a starting quarterback as the Cowboys could have hoped to ever get in the 2016 Draft. They did so with the 135th overall pick.
Only UDFA Cooper Rush and rookie Mike White sit behind Prescott, presenting no threat to his starting job.
As mentioned, the Cowboys 2016 draft class was immediately tabbed as a historically good crop of talent for Dallas. To be on the right side of history, you need good fortune along the way, and the Cowboys are getting that with their 34th overall pick Jaylon Smith.
Smith's story, as deserved, is well understood. If healthy entering the draft, the Cowboys would have had to choose between Smith and Zeke Elliott at fourth overall. Given both players' college production and pedigree, this wouldn't have been an easy choice.
Fortunate enough to land both players, Smith was a heartwarming but controversial pick in the second round for the Cowboys. With nobody holding him to higher expectations than Smith himself, the Cowboys stood by the Notre Dame linebacker every step of the way prior to his miraculous week one debut.
Putting Jaylon Smith on the field as a starter in the NFL was a medical miracle for the Cowboys, but it takes more than this to exceed at middle linebacker. Only getting stronger as his rookie season came to an emotional end, Smith is currently practicing without his foot brace. Fewer limitations will only give Smith that much more confidence to handle a larger role in Rod Marinelli's defense, with passing game coordinator Kris Richard also envisioning Smith lining up all over the field.
Due to the unproven nature of their LB depth, the Cowboys entered this year's draft compelled to address the position at 19th overall. Drafting Leighton Vander Esch to coexist with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, as opposed to replacing either starter, the Cowboys now find themselves with three starting linebackers capable of lining up at multiple positions and in varying sets.
The last player I'd put in this category is Safety Kavon Frazier. Mostly a special teams contributor for the Cowboys thus far, Frazier has flashed as a hard-hitting safety with a nose for the football in limited snaps. With everything in the Cowboys young secondary tying back to Kris Richard's looming impact, Frazier can certainly earn a larger role on defense.
Still running around in shorts at The Star for OTAs, the Cowboys have rolled with two rangy safeties in Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods for the most part so far. An unproven position on the roster though, Kavon Frazier will get his chance, particularly when the pads come on.
Drafting a pair of defensive linemen in 2016, the Cowboys DL looks ready for a big year - so long as all their cogs in Marinelli's machine stay in place. Two players that have battled through injuries are Defensive End Charles Tapper and Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins.
Where Collins has yet to miss a regular season game, handling the challenge of playing wherever the Cowboys need him on the interior, Tapper has just two career games under his belt.
Already setback again with a concussion, the odds are increasing by the day in Dallas that Tapper's career highlight will be sacking Eli Manning in week one of 2017. The potential to play as a speed rusher at right end has been forgotten about not only due to Tapper's unavailability, but the continuing resources the Cowboys have put into the position with Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong.
The final number crunch on the Cowboys defensive line may also include a reinstated Randy Gregory. In working out who will be left off the roster at this position, it is very possible that Tapper becomes an unfortunate casualty from this talented 2016 draft.
The only reason Maliek Collins is not firmly listed as a 'developing starter' here is because of the Cowboys inability to play him to his strengths consistently. Bouncing back from the same foot injury that he's again dealing with entering 2018, Collins was a force to be reckoned with at the all-important 3T spot as a rookie.
As we sit here today, the Cowboys are even more uncertain at DT than they were in 2016, meaning Collins' role will remain fluid. David Irving, the starting 3T that forced a technique change for Collins, has still yet to report to OTAs for Dallas.
Regardless of where Collins is playing, this is a valuable player that the Cowboys drafted for his traits at 67th overall. If ever given the chance to focus on being an interior pass rusher again, Collins can easily outplay this draft stock and boost the level of play for the entire Cowboys defense.
Fringe Players with Potential
Rounding out our discussion of the Cowboys 2016 draft class is Cornerback Anthony Brown, Tight End Rico Gathers, and Running Back Darius Jackson.
The only thing all three players share in common right now is that it's nearly impossible to project any real contributions for them in 2018. Doing his absolute best to prove everything the Cowboys touched in 2016's draft turned to gold, Anthony Brown looked like a sixth-round steal that would be here to stay.
Turning over nearly their entire secondary around Brown before last season, the Cowboys saw Brown regress as an outside starter while rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis stepped in brilliantly. Now, Byron Jones also finds himself down at CB this season, forcing either Brown or Lewis into the slot.
From this slot position, Brown was able to salvage portions of his 2017 season, playing with the quickness needed to mirror smaller receivers. Doing much of the same for 16 games as a rookie, Jourdan Lewis has a chance to be one of the best inside CBs in the league, relegating Brown to a depth option.
Kris Richard will surely embrace the opportunity to continue working with Brown. If he's able to find any resemblance of the Purdue product's rookie form, Anthony Brown will be much more than a fringe player -- although I've already discussed the potential for Brown to miss the cut on this Dallas roster entirely.
Did I mention the Cowboys found a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow (shadowed in the clouds of a 4-12 season) in the 2016 draft? This jackpot would have been enviously successful for the Cowboys if they were able to convert Baylor basketball star Rico Gathers into a capable NFL tight end.
Looking the part of a mismatch target in the passing game last preseason, Gathers had some in Cowboys Nation crowning him as the heir to the now-retired Jason Witten. Life comes at you fast in the NFL though (see the timeline on Witten's very retirement), and Gathers is anything but ready to see real playing time in Dallas.
To say Gathers' 2017 season was taken out from under him due to injury is only fair to an extent. The third-year TE recently admitted to being healthy earlier than ever perceived, with the Cowboys staff choosing to keep him off the active roster.
Waiting until the fourth round to address their depth at TE in this year's draft, Dalton Schultz stands in the way of Rico Gathers along with Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim. From top to bottom this is far from the most proven group, and Gathers unfortunately finds himself near the bottom of a lackluster depth chart.
That brings us to the newest addition to the Cowboys backfield, Darius Jackson. It would have been fascinating to see Jackson play elsewhere before returning to Dallas, as Cowboys faithful have always seen a ton of potential in the Eastern Michigan product. Injured through his only season in Cleveland though, Jackson joins the Cowboys for a second stint as if he never left.
Still in his way is Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. These two backs alone may be enough to keep Jackson off the roster, projecting similarly to Smith in the way he brings a change of pace to the Cowboys running game.
Jackson's addition back to the Cowboys running backs room tells me that the team is still deciding what traits they value the most behind their workhorse in Elliott. Also adding Tavon Austin and Bo Scarbrough to this room, it's going to be difficult for Jackson to stand out. Enough big plays in the preseason would surely change this perception for Darius though, who is at the very least a capable back to give reps to leading up to the 2018 regular season.
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The Cowboys 2016 draft still has the potential to produce franchise players at critical positions. Already finding their quarterback and running back, Jaylon Smith is on his way to becoming a stud at linebacker. The same can hopefully be said about Maliek Collins moving forward, giving the Cowboys two players on both sides of the ball to feel good about as third-year contributors.
Add in anything from Charles Tapper, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, Rico Gathers, or Darius Jackson, and any future success from the Cowboys will be forever linked to this draft class.
Welcome back, Darius Jackson. You bring good memories.
Time to get FB Jamize Olawale More Involved Offensively?
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off arguably their best and most complete offensive performance of the season after playing the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, but there is still quite a bit of improvement that can be made. The need to get more playmakers involved is apparent, which is why I think it's time to utilize Fullback Jamize Olawale's unique skill set.
I know many of you will argue that getting Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup going is a higher priority, and you wouldn't be wrong, but Jamize Olawale's playmaking ability could be a huge asset for Quarterback Dak Prescott and the offense. I know it sounds a little strange, but hang in there with me for little bit.
As things stand right now, Olawale has only played 38 offensive snaps (10%) in 2018. That's the exact amount of offensive plays Wide Receiver Terrance Williams has played this year and he's missed the majority of the season. It's not exactly the kind of production I was expecting when the Cowboys decided to bring him aboard via trade with the Oakland Raiders earlier this offseason.
I don't know about you, but I was expecting Olawale to be more involved in the offensive game plan. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and isn't too shabby as a runner either. But, we haven't seen him utilized in either fashion this season and I think that's an injustice that needs to be corrected.
Now, I fully understand there are other offensive weapons ahead of him in the pecking order who need to see more targets, but I also really think he can make a difference maker, especially in the passing game. That is where his strengths lie, not as a lead blocking fullback.
Olawale was a bit of a Swiss Army knife during his time with the Oakland Raiders. He played a little running back, fullback, tight end, and even a little slot receiver. I really thought the Cowboys would take advantage of his versatility in the passing game, but as of yet they have failed to do so.
I'd like to see the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan utilize Jamize Olawale's unique playmaking ability a little bit more on offense. I think they should try to utilize him like the San Francisco 49ers use their fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. He's much more involved and has played a total of 263 offensive snaps (63.68%) this year.
Juszczyk is a better lead blocking FB then Olawale, but that's not where he makes the most difference in the 49ers offense. He does it as a receiver and has already caught 17 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. That's some pretty solid production from a position that is being phased out in the NFL.
Now, just imagine the Cowboys offense getting similar production from Olawale and how that would help open up things for everybody else. It's not out of the realm of possibility because the 49ers offense and the Cowboys isn't all that dissimilar.
Unfortunately, I think Jamize Olawale is pretty much an afterthought in the Cowboys offense right now. It's truly unfortunate because I think he can be a difference maker if given the opportunity. And with a division foe like the Washington Redskins next on the schedule, what better time to unleash a new and unseen element of the offense?
Do you think Jamize Olawale needs to be more involved offensively?
Cole Beasley Key to Cowboys Passing Game Productivity?
What most of us already knew was confirmed last Sunday afternoon against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wide Receiver Cole Beasley is the Dallas Cowboys best receiver and is the key to the passing game productivity. He is not only the most productive, but the most consistent.
Cole Beasley isn't the tallest or the fastest and definitely doesn't look like a prototypical NFL receiver, but he showed last week against the Jaguars why opposing defenses have to account for him on every single play. He torched Jacksonville's top-ranked passing defense for 101 yards on nine catches and added two touchdowns, and it's that production that could help open up the entire passing game for the Cowboys.
It's painfully obvious Cole Beasley has been Dak Prescott's favorite target in the passing game since he took over the starting duties in 2016. Once opposing defenses figured that out they started to make things extremely difficult by bracketing Beasley in coverage and the passing game hasn't been the same since. But, that could be changing if the Jaguars game was an indication of what we might see moving forward.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan did a much better job of moving Beasley around to create favorable matchups against the Jaguars. I think we will see much more of that moving forward, but that likely means opposing defenses will once again try to take away Prescott's favorite target. That actually could end up helping the Cowboys passing game though.
If opposing defenses indeed try to contain Cole Beasley like they've done in the past, it should help provide more opportunities for Dallas' other pass catchers. Spreading the ball around to several different receivers would not only help Prescott and the passing game, but also open up the entire offense.
We haven't really seen much of Allen Hurns or Michael Gallup this season, but both are more than capable of being more productive if they are seeing single coverage more often. That's what's likely to happen if defenses bracket Beasley in coverage once again. Both WRs need to be more involved anyway and Beasley's recent spike in production could help do just that.
Now, if defenses decide to try and cover Beasley one-on-one like the Jaguars did quite a bit of last Sunday, the Cowboys would be wise to take advantage of that mismatch. He simply can't be covered by a single defensive back because of his precise route running ability. He is that good.
Regardless of how opposing defenses try to handle/contain Cole Beasley, he is without a doubt key to the Dallas Cowboys passing game productivity. Just the threat of him on the field changes a defenses approach, which is why he is Dallas' #1 WR in my book. He absolutely has to be more involved moving forward, even if it is as a decoy.
Do you think Cole Beasley is the key to the Cowboys passing game productivity?
How ‘Bout them Cowboys?! Dallas Set to Lasso Redskins in Week 7
Well, what do you think now of America’s Team? Anyone who foresaw Dallas’s evisceration of the league’s No. 1 defense hailing from Jacksonville is a downright soothsayer. In case you were in a coma this past weekend, the Cowboys obliterated the Jaguars’ vaunted defense to the tune of a 40-7 massacre in which Dak Prescott tossed for 183 yards, two passing touchdowns and ran one into the end zone for good measure. When the dust settled Prescott had chewed up 82 yards on the ground and Ezekiel Elliott surpassed the century mark in rushing with 106 yards and a touchdown of his own.
It was a glorious day to be a Cowboys fan and it’s safe to say that America’s Team is back!
Or are they?
Dallas is in a three-way logjam for the top spot in the NFC East with the Redskins and Eagles, but the way they made mincemeat of the Jacksonville defense gives us all hope that more good things are in the cards soon.
Seventh-year WR Cole Beasley blew the doors off of the Jags secondary by catching nine passes on 11 targets for a pair of touchdown receptions and 101 yards. It was a season-high for Beasley and the fact that Prescott has no real top-tier targets after the departures of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten makes it even more special.
This is a team that was not supposed to be able to move the ball through the air and, to be fair, hasn’t done much of it this season as evidenced by their 29th ranked passing game. But a little creative game planning by Head Coach Jason Garrett and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan paid dividends and the lingering specter of their heartbreaking overtime loss to the Texans in Week 5 was exorcised by the dominating victory.
What has gotten lost in the euphoria of Dallas’s week 6 win is their defense, as the Cowboys had three sacks, seven quarterback hits, and an interception by Jeff heath.
Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles was under siege and did not respond well to the pressure after establishing career highs in passing yards over the last two weeks leading up to this contest. But his opportunity to become the fifth NFL QB with three consecutive games of 375 passing yards or more evaporated in the heat of a blistering Dallas defense. Bortles ended the day with 149 yards, a TD and a pick.
As the Cowboys move on to Washington, we see that their success at home is only equaled by their struggles on the road. Dallas is now 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the highway. Buoyed off their stunning blitzkrieg of the Jags, we see that one of the most respected and trusted online sportsbooks in the industry, BetOnline has the Cowboys as 1 ½ point underdogs which is most likely a few points below what they would have been had they not won so convincingly last week.
Those who like to back up their football prognostications with cold, hard cash understand that Dallas is not only losing on the road but losing money for their backers in those contests. In those three losing games, Dallas is 0-2-1 against the spread but this week could be different. Against their divisional foes this week, Dallas is 4-0 straight up and 3-1 ATS versus Washington over the last two seasons.
The way this Cowboys defense is playing and the sudden explosion of Cole Beasley as a focal point of the passing attack, we could very easily see their first road win of the year.
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