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.
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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