As the Dallas Cowboys get training camp going this week, the drama surrounding the team is as high as it's ever been.
From suspensions to injuries, America's team brings a lot of newsworthy items as they get ready to embark on what many of us hope will end with a 6th Lombardi Trophy.
Will the Hammer Drop on a Certain Running Back?
Ezekiel Elliott's name has been in the news a lot this offseason, and that is rarely a good thing.
For Elliott it's been a mixed bag.
There's been a lot of speculation on his and quarterback Dak Prescott's ability to repeat their remarkable rookie seasons.
Most of the news surrounding the NFL's leading rusher from a year ago has been predominantly troubling.
From speeding to alleged bar fights, Elliott has been in the news a lot for making bad choices or being in the wrong place at the wrong time a lot lately.
With a lot of the focus for the Cowboys offense surrounding Elliott and the running game, the latest news has been particularly troubling to Cowboys Nation. He is the focal point of an offense that hopes to lead this team to a championship in 2017, but if he isn't on the field, those aspirations diminish.
Darren McFadden and the rest of the running back depth chart is solid, but no one would confuse them for Ezekiel Elliott.
With the latest news suggesting that the NFL has wrapped up its investigation into the domestic violence allegation from more than a year ago, some resolution should be coming shortly.
Whether that's in the form of a suspension or a fine remains to be seen. Many who cover the team seem convinced that at least a one-game suspension is coming, but nobody can be certain.
What hasn't been talked about much lately is what Elliott is capable of on the field. Let's not forget that Elliott nearly led the league in Total Yards in 2016 despite playing one less game than Arizona Cardinals runner David Johnson. If he's on the field for 16 games this year, he's going to have a chance at 2,000 rushing yards and possibly 2,500 total yards.
He was amazing as a rookie and will continue to get better if he's got his head on straight.
Dak Prescott's Draws Rave Reviews Ahead of 2nd Season
As Jess Haynie noted here, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is receiving some pretty amazing comparisons heading into his second season.
"Sophomore slump" is a phrase that gets thrown around a ton by people who are more than likely part of Cowboys Hater Nation. When people talk about Carson Wentz, are we hearing discussion about a slump? Not to my knowledge. It seems people are expecting him to make marked improvement.
But for Prescott, most national analysts expect him to have some sort of regression. Because... just because.
Don't buy it.
We've seen enough of Dak's work ethic to know that he hasn't rested on his 2016 success. In his second season, I fully expect Prescott to be in the MVP conversation yet again as he leads the team deep into the playoffs.
Players Returning from Injury Offer Glimmer of Hope
Much has been made this offseason over the recovery of Jaylon Smith's nerve. The star college linebacker has made a ton of progress in his recovery from the knee injury he suffered in his final collegiate game.
Hope is great and the positive news coming from inside The Star can't be ignored. That said, there is still no telling what the team will get from Smith in 2017. The other day I predicted that Jaylon would likely start the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Charles Tapper, on the other hand, looks healthy and ready to go.
He was sidelined to injured reserve in 2016 with a bad back that needed some rehab time.
Now declared healthy, he offers some hope on the right side of the Dallas defensive line that is filled with a bunch of guys who can play the left side. Tapper has a lot of athletic tools that can be useful to a defense. We still need to see him practice and play in some preseason games to get an idea of what he could bring to the team.
Just to remind you what he's capable of, check out Kevin Brady's scouting report on Tapper.
2016 Draft Class Looks to Add to Their Legacy
There hasn't been a Cowboys rookie class that has had as big of an impact as the 2016 rookie class did in more than two decades. Elliott, Prescott, Maliek Collins, and Anthony Brown all played significant snaps for the team.
All four of these guys will be counted on again in 2017.
Kavon Frazier was a solid special teams contributor and began seeing some late season snaps. He'll compete with Jeff Heath, Robert Blanton, and Xavier Woods for snaps at strong safety.
Smith and Tapper--coming back from injury--will look to make their debuts in 2017 and both could start at some point this season.
Rico Gathers offers the last mystery to the 2016 draft class. Drafted as a project out of Baylor, Gathers is competing for a role on the depth chart. He has to prove he's ready to hold up in his blocking assignments.
2017 Rookie Class Aiming for 2016 Rookie Impact
It's unlikely the 2017 draft class can match the impact of the 2016 class, if only because it's hard to match the impact of a franchise quarterback. For what the 2016 rookie class was on offense, completely franchise changing, the 2017 class can be that for the defense.
Seven selections went to the defensive side of the ball, including four defensive backs.
Taco Charlton headlines a group of defensive players who could literally determine how late into the season the Cowboys are playing.
If Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, Marquez White, Joey Ivie, and Jordan Carrell can have a similar impact as the 2016 rookie class, watch out. This defense will be ready to take the team to the next step.
Offensive Line Turnover
Gone are Ronald Leary (Denver Broncos) and Doug Free (retirement).
Replacing Free at right tackle appears to be La'el Collins, who is making the transition back to the position he manned pretty effectively in college.
Left guard will have to settle itself out during training camp. It is the most highly anticipated position battle on the offensive side of the football.
At the moment it seems that Jonathan Cooper has the leg up, but Chaz Green, Byron Bell and others will definitely get their opportunity to run with the first team.
The Cowboys will have a lot to say about who hoists the Lombardi Trophy come February 2018. The way these training camp storylines play out will write the story for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys: The Case For Regression In 2019
It's been a few years since things around the Dallas Cowboys felt this good prior to a season. Coming off a 10-6 year in which Dallas won both the NFC East and a home playoff game before losing a one possession road game to the future NFC champions, Cowboys Nation is expecting some big things in 2019.
After all, the Cowboys went out and improved their roster in multiple ways this offseason and brought in some new blood on their offensive coaching staff. Spirits are high among Cowboys Nation, and just about everyone is anticipating a two team race for the NFC East.
But some numbers indicate we should be thinking "not so fast."
The details of the 2018 season are not as pretty as the total picture. Rarely are they ever, of course, but these particular details point towards possible regression for the Cowboys in 2019.
Basically, their point differential a year ago spells out impending doom. (That was dramatic, but let's discuss).
The Cowboys were +15 in 2018, and by pythagorean wins expectation, they were about as strong as an 8-8 team (8.53 wins to be exact). This means they won nearly 2 more games (1.47) than would be expected, fourth most in the entire NFL.
This point is furthered when looking at their record in one possession games. Dallas went 8-2 when the game was decided by 7 points or less, winning close games at a rate that is simply not sustainable year to year.
These numbers make the Cowboys a prime candidate for regression in 2019, as they were in 2017.
Back in 2016, the Cowboys outperformed their pythagorean expectation by a whole 2 wins. The following season? Dallas finished the year 9-7. The model also indicated that the 7-9 Eagles performed 2 wins under expectations in 2016, meaning they would get back on track in 2017. As we know, they ended up winning 13 games and the Super Bowl the following season.
Of course, this isn't set-in-stone, and the Cowboys very well could outperform these expectations and avoid regression. This would mainly hinge on their coaching staff and quarterback performing at an elite level, carrying them through close games and winning more games by greater than one possession.
Newly Acquired DE Robert Quinn Brings High Expectations
Winning games in the NFL typically comes down to accomplishing two goals. One, being successful when passing on offense. And, two, stopping the opposing team's passing game.
The Cowboys set out to accomplish that second goal this offseason, re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and trading for veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn. Quinn, who tallied 6.5 sacks last season for the Miami Dolphins, is one of the leagues more feared rushers when at his best. The former All Pro has multiple 10+ sack seasons under his belt, including a whopping 19 in 2013.
And, as expected, the Cowboys coaching staff is ecstatic to have such a respected pass rushing specialist on their roster.
“He’s got that first step. He’s an established pass rusher in this league, so he’s going to bring some good stuff for us.” - Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The Cowboys acquired Robert Quinn for a 2020 6th round pick, which could end up being the steal of the offseason. Quinn has played with some top-notch pass rushers in the past, and each time they have brought out the best in his own game.
Back with the Rams in 2017, when Aaron Donald was on the same defensive line, Quinn got to the quarterback 8.5 times. And, last season, he remained consistent in his sack totals playing alongside Cameron Wake. Now he joins a DeMarcus Lawrence who has 25 sacks over the last 2 seasons.
"I think it was kind of one of those where I get to have fun, pin my ears back and just disrupt the backfield, which is what they want us to do." - Robert Quinn told NFL.com.
Quinn and the always dominant Lawrence will form an impressive defensive end duo on passing downs, with the potential to be one of the best in all of football. Dallas is also hoping to add Randy Gregory into this mix, a piece which could prove vital late in football games if he is able to return from his current indefinite suspension.
Whether or not Gregory finds his way back onto the field, though, this defensive front will be in good hands. The edge combo of Quinn and Lawrence, combined with a plethora of skilled interior rushers such as Maliek Collins, gives the Cowboys a fearsome defensive line which should keep quarterbacks uncomfortable every Sunday.
Can Rookie OL Connor McGovern Compete For A Starting Spot?
Raising eyebrows in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Cowboys added Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern to their already deep OL depth chart.
McGovern, who played guard for the Nittany Lions, was reportedly by-far the best player remaining on the Cowboys draft board when they came on the clock in round three. Still, with seemingly more pressing needs yet to be addressed, Dallas' selection of McGovern was certainly a surprise.
When you watch the tape, though, you immediately see what the Cowboys loved about Connor McGovern.
A "plug-and-play" type guard, Connor McGovern is the type of rookie you'd expect to contribute in year one. On many teams he may be a candidate to start at guard or center from the beginning of his rookie season, but here in Dallas, his role for the 2019 season is somewhat in question.
Clearly, being a day two pick, there's no doubt that McGovern will make the Cowboys roster. But can he compete for a starting job?
During OTA's McGovern took reps at both guard and center, pointing towards the possibility of him being the first interior offensive lineman off the bench if one of the starters were to go down with an injury. Fellow interior linemen Joe Looney and Xavier Su'a-Filo each contributed in big ways during the 2018 season, however, and will be tough to beat out during camp.
While possible, I would still say it's unlikely. The Cowboys selection of McGovern seems to be more about 2020 and beyond than it is about the 2019 season. With right tackle La'el Collins coming up on a contract year, Dallas might elect to let him walk in free agency, move Williams back to his college position of tackle, and slide McGovern into the left guard slot.
This seems fool-proof in theory, but this many moving parts across the offensive line could spell trouble early on in 2020. Regardless, Connor McGovern's arrival gives Dallas the flexibility to consider all options on their offensive line.
In reality, McGovern strengthened a strength for Dallas, and may be needed to prove himself as early as this Fall if injury issues arise.
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