Every week we'll be looking at the Cowboys drafted rookies and seeing what impact, if any, they had on the previous game. At the end we'll name a "Rookie of the Week" for the standout performer.
Here's a summary of the performances and statuses from all nine of the Cowboys drafted rookies after the Week 10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB
In what's quickly becoming one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, Elliott saved some career firsts for a tough matchup in Pittsburgh. Zeke crossed the 200-yard mark in total yardage for the first time, helped largely by an 83-yard receiving touchdown. That score, along with two rushing, gave him his highest touchdown total in a game as well.
The 83-yard reception was the longest by a Cowboys player since 2012. That one was an 85-yarder from Dez Bryant. It's only fitting that Zeke Elliott would come close; by far the Cowboys most exciting offensive weapon since Dez joined the team.
With 114 yards rushing, Elliott remains firmly on top of the NFL leaderboard. He is the only RB to cross the 1,000-yard mark this season. What's more, he's done it in just nine games. His closest competion, DeMarco Murray (930 yds) and Melvin Gordon (838 yds), have yet to get their bye week.
Jaylon Smith, LB
Smith remains on the Non-Football Injury List and it is still unknown if he will play at all for the Cowboys in 2016. This is the last week that Smith can remain on that list and not impact the Cowboys roster limit. He will likely be put on Injured Reserve on Monday.
Maliek Collins, DT
Coming off his two-sack showcase last week, Collins did not add any big plays to his highlight reel. However, he was part of helping the Cowboys limit Le'Veon Bell to just 57 yards on 17 carries. Dallas boasts the NFL's third best run defense after 10 weeks and Collins, a starter in the base defense, is a major part of that.
Charles Tapper, DE
Tapper is on Injured Reserve with ongoing back issues. He began to miss time early in the preseason and has never been able to return to practice. The end result is, essentially, a redshirt season for the fourth-round pick.
Dak Prescott, QB
Prescott put together another gorgeuous stat line; 319 yards and two touchdowns on 69% passing. Dak's 121.7 passer rating was his third-best this season, which given the road environment and opponent is especially impressive. A blindside hit led to a fumble on the opening drive, but otherwise Prescott was his usual fantastic self.
What really strikes you about Prescott is how he's stepped up in pressure situations. I remember watching a rookie Eli Manning and being impressed with how, despite struggling for three quarters, he had the ability to turn it on in the clutch. For all the jokes and memes he's generated, Eli has two Super Bowl rings and some of the biggest plays in football history on his resume.
Prescott is playing great football in nearly every situation but that late-game spark is something that will only mean big things in the years to come. The Cowboys QB job is now officially his to lose, but that pressure doesn't worry me in the slightest. Dak has an uncanny maturity for his age and there's no reason to think he won't keep thriving.
Anthony Brown, CB
Sunday was the closest thing to rookie hazing that Brown has experienced this year. Drawing the tough assignment of guarding Antonio Brown, arguably the best WR in the NFL, the Cowboys' sixth-round rookie corner had the same issues that some of the league's best cover men face.
Antonio's big day of 154 yards and 14 catches didn't all come on Anthony's watch. When Orlando Scandrick went out with an injury, Anthony Brown moved into the slot and Leon McFadden played outside. It was McFadden who gave up Antonio Brown's only touchdown of the day, along with some other late receptions.
Kavon Frazier, S
Active and now the number-four safety with Barry Church's injury, Frazier finally recorded his first NFL tackle. He will be used sparingly, but at least the rookie finally put something in the box score.
Darius Jackson, RB
Having yet to dress this season, it appears Jackson's only shot at playing this year will be if Dallas has nothing to play for in one of the final regular season games. There is also the chance he could be released to make room for Darren McFadden.
Rico Gathers, TE
Gathers is still on the team's practice squad; the only drafted player to not make the 53-man roster this season. With Geoff Swaim suffering a pectoral injury that requires surgery and James Hanna not yet ready to return, the door is now open for Gathers to get called up to the active roster. Dallas has yet to make a move to fill their need.
Like we say almost every week, both Dak and Zeke had great games. Both played huge roles in the Cowboys victory. However, one guy not only made the biggest plays but also scored when it mattered most:
Elliott scored the Cowboys' final two touchdowns on runs of 14 and 32 yards. His 83-yard reception came with the team trailing 12-3 and sitting at 2nd-and-18 behind their own 20-yard line.
Clearly, Elliott delivered in the game's biggest moments. While the offensive line certainly plays a huge part in his success, Elliott has already given more than enough examples of how his special talent makes a difference. Last year we watched Darren McFadden be productive behind this line, but Elliott is being truly dominant.
In Pittsburgh, he was easily the difference between victory and defeat.
Previous ROTW Winners
Week 9 - DT Maliek Collins
Week 8 - QB Dak Prescott
Week 6 - QB Dak Prescott
Week 5 - RB Ezekiel Elliott
Week 4 - RB Ezekiel Elliott
Week 3 - RB Ezekiel Elliott
Week 2 - QB Dak Prescott
Week 1 - QB Dak Prescott
Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
Dallas Cowboys: How “Position-Flex” Has Handcuffed The 2015 Draft Class
Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys have placed a high level of importance on "position flex." They've drafted Swiss-Army knife players which could be moved around to different positions on the field.
By drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods last year, as well as Byron Jones in 2015, the Cowboys have tried to find these versatile players who can be used in multiple ways.
While this seems great on paper, this strategy has handcuffed the majority of their 2015 Draft Class, and is a key reason why the Cowboys seem to be in such a tough spot.
The Cowboys' first round pick in 2015, Byron Jones, quickly became a favorite of mine during his rookie season. Incredibly athletic, long, and skilled in coverage, Jones was able to be both a fantastic cover cornerback and a solid middle-of-the-field safety due to his range.
Due to both injuries to his teammates, and Jones' own versatility, the Cowboys coaching staff couldn't keep Jones in just one spot. Once they discovered how great he was in man coverage against tight ends, they became enamored with trying to play him in the box.
Once in the box, Jones' struggles as a run defender were highlighted, and both the organization and the fans soured on him quickly.
Now it is rumored that Byron Jones will be moving back to cornerback full time. And while I do hope this is the case, the fact that he is in year four, and the Cowboys haven't been able to find their first round pick a permanent home is a huge indictment on their ability to evaluate and develop talent.
Okay, hear me out.
The former third round pick of the 2015 Draft was brought in to be the swing tackle for the Cowboys his rookie year. Mainly due to injuries, Green did not see the field for much of his first two seasons. When he did fill in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, however, Green was very effective.
Of course, Chaz Green's last appearance with the Cowboys was ugly, giving up a plethora of sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. But Dallas might've made their own bed with Green during the beginning of the 2017 season, when they attempted to move him to left guard full time.
Instead of getting the increased work at tackle, and continuing to work as the swing tackle for the team in case of injury, Dallas started Green at left guard early on in the year. He struggled trying to move positions, and looked even worse when trying to move back to tackle.
Once again, the position flex bit the Cowboys right in the backside.
It's 2018 and we are still talking about what position to play La'el Collins on the offensive line. And that is solely on the coaching staff and front office, not Collins.
Collins was brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but was widely regarded as a first round pick heading into that draft. Though he started at left tackle at LSU, Dallas shifted Collins inside to left guard in 2015. After taking over for Ronald Leary as the starter, Collins produced highlight blocks week after week.
Injuries shortened his 2016 campaign, but heading into 2017 the Cowboys decided to shift him back out to right tackle. Despite some early struggles, Collins progressed nicely throughout the year and became a solid starting right tackle. Plus, he has the upside to become one of the top right tackles in the league.
Instead, it is now being rumored the Cowboys might move him back to guard for 2018. And with that news, I continue to pull my hair out over the position-flex decisions this coaching staff and front office like to make.
If the Cowboys want to get the most out of each draft class, and effectively develop their talent, they need to let those players actually develop, rather than move them around each season. Hopefully they now understand this, and allow both Byron Jones and La'el Collins to reach their full potential.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
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