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, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
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