The 2017 NFL Scouting Combine begins this Tuesday, and there are a lot of players who are looking to hopefully raise their NFL Draft stock with some elite performances in Indianapolis.
The annual "Underwear Olympics", as pundits call them, are where future NFL stars are poked, prodded, questioned, drilled, and put through the ultimate ringer as their quests to professional football continue. A lot of information can be gleaned about a prospect at the Combine, and this set of data can have a lot to do with where a player ultimately ends up come Draft Day.
The braintrust of the Dallas Cowboys - Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett, and Will McClay - have done an outstanding job over the last few seasons in terms of evaluating and drafting talent for their team.
What exactly did the braintrust see in certain players that made them want to put Stars on their prospective helmets? With the NFL Scouting Combine happening this week it felt like a great time to throw on our hindsight-vision to see what certain Dallas Cowboys Stars - no pun intended - showed off when everything was on the line.
So kick up your feet and relish in the greatness you're about to see. This was where it all began for these five players, the road that led to Dallas and - in a little under a year from now - Super Bowl LI.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End, 2014 2nd Round Pick (34th Overall)
Demarcus Tank Lawrence Monday Morning NFL camp work out
Isn't it amazing how long ago 2014 was? DeMarcus Lawrence found himself being taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2nd Round of that Draft (after Dallas traded up to get him) as America's Team looked to fill the void left by another DeMarcus, who wasn't re-signed in Free Agency a month earlier.
"Tank" as Lawrence is known, has had a three-year career that very closely resembles a sin/cos curve. He's had moments that have been star-studded, plays where he's looked pedestrian, and a suspension that shortened his 2016 season. Lawrence's Scouting Combine performance was indeed three years ago, which means this season is a contract one for him. My how time flies!
Byron Jones, Safety, 2015 1st Round Pick (27th Overall)
Watch UConn DB Byron Jones set a world record at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. Subscribe to NFL: http://j.mp/1L0bVBu Start your free trial of NFL Game Pass: https://www.nfl.com/gamepass?campaign=sp-nf-gd-ot-yt-3000342 Sign up for Fantasy Football! http://www.nfl.com/fantasyfootball The NFL YouTube channel is your home for immediate in-game highlights from your favorite teams and players, full NFL games, behind the scenes access and more!
There are players who perform so well at the combine that they get drafted a round or two ahead of projection, but then there are players that actually set world records at the NFL Scouting Combine! Byron Jones has always been an athletic freak, and that skillset was on display two years ago at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It's fascinating re-watching Byron Jones' combine highlights when you consider how the Cowboys have used him since he was taken at #27 Overall. He's been used at cornerback, safety, on special teams, and shown a robotic ability to correct apparent physical ailments. "Late Night Ice Cream" - as I've affectionately referred to Byron - locked down his first career interception in 2016, so the best is ahead even though what's behind in terms of his Combine footage is phenomenal.
La'el Collins, Guard, 2015 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent
LSU offensive lineman La'el Collins participates in the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine drills.
The 2015 NFL Draft was made all the more special for the Dallas Cowboys when Pro Football Hall of Famer turned on the Texas charm and swung the steal of the century in terms of Offensive Lineman La'el Collins.
As you'll remember, La'el had a very unique and unfortunate circumstance surface just before the Draft that caused teams to panic on his potential with their club. Collins went undrafted which left him no NFL options except to sign as an undrafted rookie free agent, putting him in a unique situation as a top rookie - the ability to choose his new team.
La'el Collins joined Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin to make the NFL's most formidable Offensive Line. That 80% of the line will be back and ready to take things to the next level in 2017, but it all began for La'el two years ago with some funny drills in weird outfits.
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, 2016 1st Round Pick (4th Overall)
Ezekiel Elliott, RB from Ohio State, showing that he's one of the best at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. Subscribe to NFL: http://j.mp/1L0bVBu Subscribe to the NFL YouTube channel to see immediate in-game highlights from your favorite teams and players, daily fantasy football updates, all your favorite NFL Network podcasts, and more!
Ezekiel Elliott was the consensus top running back in the 2016 NFL Draft Class long before the NFL Scouting Combine, but he cemented that status in Indy and perhaps did so with Dallas Cowboys eyes glued to him and his every move. Zeke would go on to lead the NFL in rushing as a critical member of America's Team, and his elite talents during the Combine showed that this was always a possibility for him and his game.
Running backs like LSU's Leonard Fournette and Florida State's Dalvin Cook owe a serious debt of gratitude to Ezekiel Elliott as Zeke's 2016 season made drafting a running back early a fun and smart thing to do again. It all began here, and re-living it is a glorious practice for any member of Cowboys Nation.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback, 2016 4th Round Pick (135th Overall)
You cannot be a team that challenges for the Super Bowl if you don't have a franchise quarterback. It's a rule that's not written down anywhere in the NFL except for the championship banners that hang across various stadiums.
The evaluation process for any NFL position is an incredibly difficult thing, but quarterbacks are their own freak of nature in this regard. The most renowned minds to ever study and evaluate this sport all miss on a guy from time to time, and that's what happened with Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott.
The NFL Scouting Combine isn't exactly an environment similar to an actual NFL game, and perhaps that's why people miss on certain players. You can only tell so much about a player watching him throw against air to guys he's never practiced with before. Whatever the case it's a great thing that when various sets of eyes saw this sampling of Dak Prescott they passed on him enough to let him fall into our laps, giving us stability at the most important position in sports for the next decade.
If you want to get excited about someone who could make this list a year from now, check out Staff Writer Brian Martin's 10 Defensive Ends to watch for at the NFL Combine.
Cowboys 2018 Preview: Which Offensive Starting Jobs Are Open?
We're still about a month away from the start of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Training Camp. However, even now, we have a good sense of what starting jobs are open and which ones have already been decided for the upcoming season.
Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that appear to already set. Barring injuries or some other unpredictable occurrence, here are the guys who you can bet on starting this season:
- QB - Dak Prescott
- RB - Ezekiel Elliott
- FB - Jamize Olawale
- WR - Allen Hurns
- OT - Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- G - Zack Martin
- C - Travis Frederick
Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.
For example, Allen Hurns may be the team's highest-paid receiver and the assumed replacement to Dez Bryant. But he's still brand new to this team, so chemistry with Dak Prescott and system familiarity make him a little risky early one.
La'el Collins will be a starter, but are we sure it's at right tackle? If nobody impresses at left guard, Dallas could still elect to move Collins back inside and start veteran Cam Fleming at tackle.
Still, these aren't likely. So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 12 players who are safe bets to start. What about the other 10 spots? What's are the possibilities and probabilities there?
Today, we'll focus on the offense.
Given his previous success and chemistry with Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley could seem an easy bet for the WR2 position. But there are several factors to consider.
Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is more of an all-around receiver and his play already in OTAs and minicamp has impressed. He also gives the Cowboys a young WR to form a new trio with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; an offensive nucleus they would hope to build on for years to come.
If Gallup keeps excelling, Dallas won't hesitate to give him a starting job. Beasley is a free agent next year and the rookie is locked up for four seasons.
There's also Terrance Williams to consider, all of his recent personal shenanigans aside. He offers system familiarity and exceptional run blocking, which is good for a starting role. You want Williams on the field when the ball is going to Ezekiel Elliott on early downs.
This speaks to the reality that being the starter may not necessarily lead to getting the most targets. Beasley could be the slot receiver and still easily get more passes than the WR2 by the end of the season.
The good news is that the Cowboys have options, which should also mean depth once things shake out.
Arguably the most wide open position on the whole roster, tight end is a massive crater in the offense with the impact of Jason Witten's retirement. Who will fill the void?
While veteran Geoff Swaim is getting the early deference, he's hardly locked in as the starter. Swaim's nine career catches give him hardly any cache over rookie Dalton Schultz or prospects Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.
It truly is a four-man race for the starting role, which makes things fun but also tense for the next two months. The reality that none of these guys will likely be able to perform on Jason Witten's level is also scary.
Thankfully, though, they may not have to. Dallas appears to be moving to more of a spread offense better suited to Dak Prescott's style, which may reduce the expectations of the TE position from the last 15 years of Witten.
As we mentioned before with Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim is a proficient run blocker. Couple that with his experience and he's the best bet to start, but we could see a steady rotation throughout the year as Dallas tried to figure out which guy is best suited for the long term.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will get the first crack at being the new starter at left guard, but rookies rarely have a guarantee when it comes to any first-year role. Throw in that he'll be transitioning from tackle to guard, and Connor has some clear question marks.
As mentioned already, Dallas could decide to flip La'el Collins back to LG and start someone else at right tackle. Ironically, that could also be Connor Williams. The Cowboys might decide that the rookie is better at his college position. It could also be the aforementioned Cam Fleming.
Also competing for the job at guard will be veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin. Both have position flex as centers or guards, meaning one could start and the other could be your top interior reserve. That versatility is nice for them and for the Cowboys, allowing the best man to win.
Chaz Green is also still hanging around, and surprisingly got first-team reps ecently when Zack Martin was missing camp. The Cowboys have invested a lot in Green and are understandably desperate to still get something for their trouble. He may get more of a chance to compete here than we'd have guessed.
But still, this should be Connor Williams' job to lose. A second-round pick is no small thing, especially for a guy expected to play interior line. Those picks are made with the goal of finding a starter, and Williams will get every chance to prove if he can handle it or not.
~ ~ ~
As you can see, there's going to be some real turnover in the Cowboys offense this year. But this is only half the roster, and there's even more opportunity on the other side of the ball.
Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the open starting jobs on defense.
Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco
When the Dallas Cowboys opened their world-class headquarters in Frisco, affectionately named The Star, the possibilities were endless for the franchise that embraces football being bigger than life in a state where that's certainly the case.
Not only have the Cowboys hosted more football than ever with AT&T Stadium serving as their home and the Ford Center at The Star being a shared practice space with local high schools, but they became the first team to host the NFL Draft from their stadium in April.
Just as the draft has become a spectacle for fans and media alike, the all-important Scouting Combine that leads up to the draft each year is a fully televised event now. Held in Indianapolis since 1987, the Cowboys will have to prove they're well prepared to handle the burden of a Scouting Combine while disrupting the continuity that Lucas Oil Stadium has provided.
The biggest advantage that Indianapolis has held through years of the Combine's development is their stadium's proximity to local hospitals. Any scout or draft analyst will tell you that the most important thing draft prospects go through during the Combine is their medical checks, something they can now do at The Star without setback.
Across the street from The Star is now the Baylor, Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research center, a brand new medical facility that spans 300,000 square feet. The Cowboys will even have their time to work out the kinks of potentially hosting the Combine, with Indianapolis still under contract to host the event through 2020.
The Combine also serves as a key point in the NFL offseason where executives and coaches from every team are together, often leading to trade talks that impact the following draft. Imagination can run wild with the Cowboys hosting the Combine on campus at The Star, and rival head coaches meeting in a Sushi Marquee, Cow Tipping Creamery, or Luxe Eyewear.
These are merely three of the hundreds of auxiliary features in place at The Star, ready to take the Combine to the next level, as Dallas already did with this year's NFL Draft.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and Left Guard Connor Williams became the first players to be drafted in the stadium they'll call home. Within a few years, prospects fortunate enough to get the call from America's Team may feel an even deeper connection to the Cowboys, going through their job interview that is the Combine at the team's headquarters.
Jerry Jones has stated that The Star was never designed with the thought of hosting a Combine in mind, but this does not mean preparations will not take place for the Cowboys to be ready following two more years in Indianapolis.
How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?
Every year, NFL Network releases a "Top 100" list of all the players in the league. What's special about this list is that the voters are actually fellow NFL players. We have tons of rankings from analysts and scouts all year long, so it's fun to see what the persons who actually put on shoulders and helmets week after week have to say about their peers.
However, that's precisely what makes it very controversial among fans. Year after year, we see players getting underrated and players getting ranked way ahead than they should.
Take Dak Prescott in 2017, for example. The young quarterback put on a show as a fourth-round rookie that no one could have expected from him. As impressive as he was, it's hard to defend him being ranked as the fourteenth best player in the NFL, which is how he was ranked in the NFL 100 last year.
This Monday, the 2018 Top 10 will be announced on NFL Network at 7 PM CT, but no Cowboys' name will be mentioned.
So, without getting frustrated about this year's results, let's take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys fared this time around.
#71: RG Zack Martin
2017 Ranking: #58.
I'm pretty sure that Zack Martin doesn't even care about the NFL 100 list, especially after he became the highest-paid guard in NFL history just days ago. For the Cowboys, even with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the same offensive line, Zack Martin might be the best lineman on the roster. At the very least, there's an argument to be made.
It's not very surprising to see Martin all the way at #71. Offensive guard is a very overlooked position by many, so it does make a tiny bit of sense for him to be ranked where he is.
What is surprising though, is the fact that Pittsburgh Steeler David DeCastro is ranked at #44. Both players are great guards, but Martin is widely acknowledged as the best at his position. Maybe playoff success came into account?
#54: RB Ezekiel Elliott
2017 Ranking: 7.
Ezekiel Elliott stumbled quite a bit this year, which is completely understandable. First of all, the 2016 season was electric. The narrative of two rookies taking the league by storm and earning the #1 seed in the NFC was unique.
Things changed for the superstar running back in 2017, though. Elliott had to deal with tons of off-field drama while fighting a six-game suspension that ended up being upheld and Zeke had to miss some time.
This is undoubtedly what made Elliott, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL, fall all the way out of the top 50. Despite having had pretty good years, I can assure you that Kareem Hunt (ranked at 33) and Mark Ingram (43) are not even in the same tier as Zeke.
#39: LT Tyron Smith
2017 Ranking: 18.
I'm not going to lie, I'm not complaining about this one. Just like the rest of the offensive linemen, Tyron may be undervalued here. However, he is the best tackle on the list, so it's certainly tough to be mad about this.
Besides, don't forget Tyron didn't play the entire season after being out for three games. Not saying that makes him a worse player or anything, but it helps make sense of his spot on the list.
With former Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas enjoying retirement, it's easier to see Smith as the clear-cut best tackle in the NFL today. He's a beast. If he finds a way to play 16 games next season, I'm sure he will climb the rankings in 2019.
#34: DE DeMarcus Lawrence
2017 Ranking: Unranked.
Last but not least is the Cowboys' breakout player of the year. Lawrence finally proved his worth getting to the opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times on the year. Not to mention, his game against the run was pretty remarkable and he helped take the defense to another level.
This was the first season in D-Law's career in which he remained completely healthy all along and it showed on the field. Thanks to his performance, the team handed him the franchise tag and hopefully he'll get a big, juicy contract once he continues dominating this year.
Six defensive ends were ranked ahead of him, so we will have to wait and see if he keeps it up in 2018 after being named a second team All-Pro in 2017.
The Snub: C Travis Frederick
The one thing that is outrageous from this year's list is the absence of Travis Frederick. I understand there aren't any other centers on the list, but they should at least include the best at his position, right?
Frederick is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players on the Cowboys' roster and a player that through five years in the league, has been to the Pro Bowl four times. One of the NFL's finest, he definitely deserves to be on that list.
But hey, as previously mentioned, this list is meant to be fun. It's cool to hear what the players (teammates and rivals) have to say about one another during this series. Instead of taking it as an official ranking or anything of the sort, it's better to see it as a fun piece of content by NFL Network.
Let me know what your thoughts on these rankings are on the comments section below or tweet me @PepoR99 to talk some football!
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