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.