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Rookie Minicamp: Finding Roles for Cowboys’ Offensive Rookies

Sean Martin

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The Dallas Cowboys stayed true to their commitment of heavily addressing the defense in the 2017 NFL Draft, committing seven of their nine picks to that side of the ball. With their offensive core firmly in place, the draft still presented the Cowboys a chance to bolster the wide receiver position - and potentially much more - in the fourth round with Ryan Switzer and seventh with Noah Brown.

With the full slate of rookies reporting to Minicamp yesterday to #EarnTheStar, let's attempt to find 2017 roles for Switzer, Brown, and a few of the offensive players Dallas signed after the draft.

WR Ryan Switzer (Round 4 Pick 133)

Cowboys Draft: Scouting 4th Round WR Ryan Switzer

Ryan Switzer has quickly developed into a fan favorite player for many in Cowboys Nation, which is warranted when you look at the wide range of ways Switzer can impact any given game as a rookie for America's Team.

Already well-known for giving Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan another Cole Beasley-esque slot receiver to utilize in tormenting opposing defenses, Switzer's name has been mentioned by the Cowboys as a potential replacement to departed running back Lance Dunbar.

This "gadget player" role is currently occupied by Lucky Whitehead, who is limited as a receiver but has value as a kick and punt returner - another position Ryan Switzer can immediately upgrade.

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Ryan Switzer special teams numbers. #Cowboys

Switzer made it very clear right after his selection that the Cowboys were one of multiple teams that graded him as this draft class' top return man, giving him a clear spot to make his immediate presence felt.

Additionally, look for Ryan to make the most of his offensive touches both in the slot, on jet sweeps, and from anywhere else the Cowboys find to show off his explosive play ability.

 

WR Noah Brown (Round 7 Pick 239)

Cowboys Draft: Scouting 7th Round WR Noah Brown

Brown's Ohio State teammate Ezekiel Elliott was a big voice in bringing this dominant blocking receiver to the Cowboys, where Noah will now face an uphill battle in getting on the field in 2017.

As a seventh round pick, the Cowboys should certainly be excited about their long-term potential with Brown, but for now he'll likely be limited by the receivers ahead of him on the depth chart.

Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Ryan Switzer should all be locks to make the roster, leaving the fifth and potentially final WR spot to either Brice Butler, Noah Brown, or a "dark horse" candidate like Quincy McDuffie.

Dallas has already shown some commitment to Butler by re-signing him prior to the 2017 season, and with this confidence should come extra opportunities in training camp. Noah Brown will have his flashes as a physical specimen that can level defenders as a blocker, but it may not be enough to earn meaningful snaps this season.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Cowboys officially signed 13 UDFA players ahead of their Rookie Minicamp, eight of whom will fight for their chances in a nearly complete offense. Here are just a few that I think are worth keeping a closer on eye than the rest.

Rookie Minicamp: Finding Roles for Cowboys' Offensive Rookies

QB Austin Appleby (Florida)

Appleby spent three seasons at Vanderbilt before playing his Senior season with the Florida Gators, completing 127 of 209 passing attempts for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions.

Doing so while displaying enough intriguing pro traits to earn a spot on the Cowboys following the draft, Appleby's competition will come in the form of fellow UDFA QB Cooper Rush.

Performing against better competition isn't the only advantage Appleby has in his fight for either the QB2 spot with Kellen Moore or the developmental third QB position. When given a clean pocket, Appleby will display some flashes of great accuracy with his very strong arm, but struggles to complete the touch throws necessary to be a well-rounded passer or diagnose situations under any pressure.

QB Cooper Rush (Central Michigan)

Cooper Rush was never able to put everything together as a next-level QB prospect over his four years starting at Central Michigan, where he became the MAC's second leading passer of all time with 12,894 yards.

Rush's slight upside paired with some intangibles as a pocket passer give him a chance to carve out a role as a QB3 in this league, but he will need to improve his overall mechanics and sloppy footwork to show he can deliver the ball accurately to all levels on a much more consistent basis.

OL Michael Coe (North Dakota)

Dane Brugler on Twitter

OG/C Michael Coe (6-2, 309, North Dakota). Played OT/OG/C in college. Unlocks his hips, mirrors and gets the job done. Some balance issues. https://t.co/2iqh04aamm

Figuring out how the depth chart will fall along the Cowboys' offensive line at this point in the offseason is a fruitless exercise, but it  goes without saying that undrafted players will likely have a hard time cracking a roster with first-round starters at three positions.

That said, Michael Coe of North Dakota brings an interesting blend of two elements that may give him a chance in Dallas - versatility and technique talent.

Coe gives the Cowboys a chance to sneak more depth onto their offensive line should he earn a spot, experienced at all five positions, approaching tackle, guard, and center with the same toughness that Coe pairs with his length and functional strength to be successful.

G Nate Theaker (Wayne State)

Also experienced as a tackle and guard, Theaker will have to find a home in the NFL at  guard - where the Cowboys currently are considering all options on the left side.

Theaker plays with a visible mean streak on tape - one that unfortunately replaces his technique too often - but holds up just fine at the line of scrimmage and can deal with multiple types of rushers.

Theaker will have his flashes with the Cowboys this summer because of this, but absolutely needs to improve as an aware athlete that can bend his hips and steer defenders if he wants to hold up against next level defenders consistently.

Tell us what you think about "Rookie Minicamp: Finding Roles for Cowboys’ Offensive Rookies" 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.

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3 Comments
  • Randy Martin

    I think the drafting of Switzer was the stroke of doom for Whitehead. There is no way they make that pick if they weren’t planning cut Whitehead. Whitehead is not a good return man, not a good receiver and we don’t have room on the roster for a guy that is good at jet sweep only. And I don’t believe Dallas signing Butler was any commitment at all. Very low risk. I didn’t want them to sign him. He has caught 28 of his 60 targets the last two seasons and shown no growth in 4 years in the league. That is a horrible catch to target percentage! He is a big body that screams nothing but potential. It is my sincere hope that Brown or Andy Jones will send him packing.

  • John Williams

    Remember when the team called up Vince Mayle and they used him mostly as a blocking wide receiver and it didn’t really work.

    Well, I can see them utilizing Noah Brown this season as a blocking wide receiver mostly until they fine tune his route running and catching abilities. To me he offers way more intrigue than Brice Butler or Lucky Whitehead do, Butler being his biggest competition to a roster spot.

  • dallas1966

    Randy, count me in, on Switzer and Brown, bringing their unique skill set into play to assist the Cowboys, in the organization, quest to exist from the 21 years of being in predatory. More chess players for Linehan, to insert into the offensive scheme of things to come, with Dak Attack!!

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson Benefits Most From Terrance Williams Issue

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson Benefits Most From Terrance Williams Issue

The fallout from Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams' arrest yesterday remains to be seen. Whether or not it costs him a roster spot is hard to say, but a suspension is likely. Whatever the case, veteran Deonte Thompson stands to be the biggest beneficiary of Terrance's issues.

Signed last March to a minimal one-year, $1.8 million contract, Thompson is a 29-year-old late bloomer who only last season got some notice in Buffalo. Given the limitations of the Bills' passing game with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, Dallas clearly hopes that Deonte could do more with a more traditional offense and passer.

The Cowboys acquisition of Thompson was quickly overshadowed after they picked up Allen Hurns just a few weeks later. Deonte was actually signed just a couple of days after Hurns' release from Jacksonville, so it's fair to question if Dallas would have even signed him if they'd already picked up Hurns.

Even with Dez Bryant's release, the depth chart still didn't look good for Thompson. He was clearly behind Hurns and Cole Beasley and was likely battling with Terrance Williams for targets. Once the team drafted Michael Gallup in the third round, things looked even worse for the veteran.

Deonte Thompson

Dallas Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson

But now, if Williams is going to miss time or be gone completely, Deonte Thompson could find himself with a big role to start the year.

While Gallup is exciting, he's also a rookie. Thompson has been a starter the last few years and played in a few different systems. Dallas may lean on his experience early if Terrance is gone either temporarily or permanently.

One reason the Cowboys brought Deonte in was for speed, and that value doesn't change regardless of who else is on the roster. Essentially, Thompson is the new Brice Butler; intriguing qualities but just no consistent production at other stops.

If Deonte can do more with what Dallas throws him than Butler did, he might carve out a steady role. Brice always seemed to follow up his big plays with blunders, never gaining any real momentum during his time as a Cowboy.

Before Williams' arrest, there was a legitimate question as to whether or not Thompson would even make the 2018 roster. If younger prospects like Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir made noise, perhaps Dallas would've just let the 29-year-old walk.

But with Terrance's availability now the big question, Thompson's experience becomes vastly more important. It could mean a big early role in 2018.

Depending on what he does with his opportunity, Deonte Thompson could've gone from an offseason afterthought to a major part of the team's success.


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Is Terrance Williams Roster Spot Safe with Dallas Cowboys?

Sean Martin

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Is Terrance Williams Roster Spot Safe with Dallas Cowboys?

This will hardly be the last article written about the wide receivers of the Dallas Cowboys entering the 2018 season. However, we can only hope it's the last off-field incident that will factor into the difficult decisions the Cowboys will make on their final depth chart at WR. Yesterday, veteran Wide Receiver Terrance Williams was arrested for public intoxication after leaving the scene of a crash involving his Lamborghini.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys WR Terrance Williams released a statement on his recent arrest detailing several facets of the incident: "I have always been an upstanding citizen and handled the situation the best way I know how.

Details concerning the severity of the incidents that led to Williams arrest remain somewhat unclear. His on-field production certainly has not been though, putting himself in an expendable position by failing to catch a touchdown in 2017 and only going for over 100 yards once.

Handling this Terrance Williams situation in whatever the "right way" is will be yet another critical decision the Cowboys make under Head Coach Jason Garrett. A team that has clearly valued continuity under Garrett, there is precedent for the Cowboys keeping a now-troubled player like Williams if the void he'd leave behind is too large.

It is widely believed that this is a Cowboys coaching staff working to keep their jobs in 2018. Losing Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams in one offseason may very well be too much.

Already dealing with a broken foot that expects to keep Terrance Williams out of football activities until training camp though, it is becoming increasingly easier for Williams to become forgotten about in new WR Coach Sanjay Lal's room.

New additions to this unit include FA signings Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, along with rookies Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. Joined by the likes of KD Cannon, Lance Lenoir, and Malik Earl, all of these receivers are going to stake their claims for a spot on the Dallas Cowboys before Williams even catches another pass from Dak Prescott.

Takeaway Tuesday: What We Learned From Cowboys Loss To Packers

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Once perceived to be fighting for positions below Hurns, Williams, and Cole Beasley as locks on the final 53 man roster, Williams' arrest is the epitome of "next man up" in Dallas. Even if Williams remains with the team in 2018 - as cutting him would only make moral sense for the Cowboys, not financial - his days as a starting receiver may very well be numbered.

As mentioned, this won't be the first look we have at the status of the Cowboys receivers. I'm already on record having high expectations for Michael Gallup, and believe Cedrick Wilson was one of the steals of the draft for the Cowboys in the sixth round. The unproven nature of this pass catching unit (through to TE with rookie Dalton Schultz) is going to make for fascinating training camp battles, competing for spots in an offense that could still be one of the league's best.

Tell us what you think about "Is Terrance Williams Roster Spot Safe with Dallas Cowboys?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Dallas Cowboys

Terrance Williams Arrest: Salary Cap Impact if Released

Jess Haynie

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3 Current Starters Cowboys' Fans Hate, But Shouldn't 1

The news of Cowboys Wide Receiver Terrance Williams' arrest yesterday sent a shockwave through an otherwise quiet mid-May news cycle. Many fans are wondering what the team might do, and what effect the decision could have on Dallas' salary cap.

Unfortunately, moving on from Terrance won't bring the team any cap relief. But given their current cap space and where we are in the offseason, the Cowboys should have the freedom to cut the receiver if they choose to.

Depending on who you ask (OverTheCap, Spotrac), the Cowboys have somewhere between $5-$9 million in current cap room. If they release Williams before June 1st, his cap hit accelerates from $4.75 million to $7.25 million in dead money. That means he counts $2.5 million more off the team than on it.

If Terrance is cut on June 1st on later, the 2018 dead money is $4.75 million for a net-zero wash. That extra $2.5 million counts against 2019.

While that may sound cost-prohibitive on the surface, you have to remember where we are in the offseason.  May is very different from March when you're talking about cap space.

Did Terrance Williams' Big Game Quiet His Doubters?

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams

Free agency is essentially over. The Cowboys don't need to worry too much about their 2018 cap room at this point, so they can absorb Williams' dead money if they want to cut him loose.

Helping matters should be the eventual new contracts for Guard Zack Martin and Defense End DeMarcus Lawrence.

Martin's 2018 cap hit is currently around $9 million. Once he signs his new long-term deal, which is almost sure to come before training camp, that number should go down significantly. Dallas can do an immediate Year One restructure and potentially create around $6 million in cap space.

That alone would facilitate cutting Terrance Williams, but then they also have the hopeful new deal for Lawrence. The $17 million that Lawrence currently counts as a franchised player will go way down with a long-term contract. If Dallas can get that done, they may not have to touch Martin's deal.

The point here is that while cutting Williams is not a financially beneficial move, the money shouldn't stop the Cowboys if they don't want him around anymore.

If Terrance has proven anything during his five years in Dallas, it's that he doesn't have the talent to step into a primary role. With new arrival Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley both showing they can produce at a high level at times, plus exciting rookie Michael Gallup now in the mix, the Cowboys' season hardly relies on Williams' presence.

Of course, the Cowboys have a history of sticking by their guys during times of personal problems. Josh Brent did way worse than Terrance and remained supported by the organization.

But each situation and player are different, and the coaches may have already soured on Williams after a lackluster 2017. They may have only kept him because of those cap numbers we discussed before.

Terrance's latest dropped ball may have been the final straw, though. If so, the salary cap shouldn't stop Dallas from cutting him.


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