Every week we'll be looking at the Cowboys drafted rookies from 2016 and seeing what impact, if any, they had on the previous game.
Here's a summary of the performances and statuses from all nine of the Cowboys drafted rookies after the Week 14 loss to the New York Giants:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB
In the first game of his professional career, Elliott was held to just 51 yards on 20 carries. Zeke showed his growth on Sunday, nearly doubling his production against the same Giants defense. Elliott finished 107 yards and a 4.5 average, crossing the 100-yard mark for the first time since Week 10 in Pittsburgh.
Scott Linehan did more to stop Elliott last week than the Giants defense. Despite Zeke's consistent production, Dallas still threw the ball 37 times to just 24 carries for their star running back. Considering that Dallas either had the lead or was tied for the majority of the game, this imbalance is hard to explain.
Jaylon Smith, LB
Today is the deadline for Smith to either join the 53-man roster or be placed on Injured Reserve. There is no indication that he is physically ready to return, so expect him to be placed on IR sometime by this afternoon.
Maliek Collins, DT
Collins had another solid day with two tackles and a QB hit. The Giants' running backs were held to just 95 yards on 31 carries, barely over three yards per touch. There are still plenty of rotating parts on the defensive line, but Collins is at least getting credited as a starter every week. That is no small thing for a rookie, especially with a veteran like Cedric Thornton behind him.
Charles Tapper, DE
Tapper went on Injured Reserve in Week 4 due to back issues. He was inactive the three games before that, making this a redshirt season for the fourth-round pick.
Dak Prescott, QB
This was the worst day for Dak Prescott so far in the NFL, both statistically and in the general narrative. A rookie quarterback losing in his first-ever game is not a surprise or even much of a disappointment. In Week 14, it hurts a lot more.
Prescott's 45.4 passer rating was the lowest of his career so far. It's only the third time this season his rating fell below 100, and the third week in a row that he's had less than 200 yards passing. It is also the first game in which he's thrown more than one interception.
I've never seen Dak look more rattled than in this game. He held the bell far too long and created sacks for the Giants. He did not recognize a few running opportunities and was trying to force the issue with the pass. It also looked like he may have been keying too log on one specific receiver.
The two interceptions Dak threw were a mixed bag. The first one looked like it was thrown to the right spot, but Dez Bryant just fell down. If Dez had finished the route it appeared he would've been in front of Janoris Jenkins and at least prevented the turnover.
The second pick is tougher to excuse. Dak threw the ball up into double coverage to give Dez a chance to make the play. I don't mind this sometimes when you have a guy with Bryant's talent, but Prescott put the ball where only the Giants really had a chance to make a play on it.
Tough day, but thankfully Dak's a tough kid. With two more primetime games ahead, he won't be lacking for spotlight as he tries to get back on track.
Anthony Brown, CB
Your first interception is always special for a defensive back, but Brown put some extra sauce on this one. Covering Victor Cruz, Brown perfectly read the play and jumped in front of Cruz to snag the ball. His coverage was flawless, and he did what so few Dallas secondary players seem capable of by actually completing the catch.
Other than a 61-yard touchdown by Odell Beckham, which came on Brandon Carr's watch, Dallas held the Giants passing game to just 132 yards. Anthony Brown is a major part of that effort, playing a key role while Morris Claiborne is out and Orlando Scandrick battles nagging injuries. He is easily the third-best rookie of the 2016 class.
Kavon Frazier, S
Frazier was active but was not visible in the game. He appears to be nothing more than an emergency option at this point.
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.
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way
In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.
This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.
A few Rams Passing Game Notes
- The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
- The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
- The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
- The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
- They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
- The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.
Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.
On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.
The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.
Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak
No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.
The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.
This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.
Star Blog1 week ago
Should Tavon Austin’s Role Get Expanded Against His Former Team?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Texas Forever? Kris Richard Appears Closer to Staying with Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys19 hours ago
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
What’s Next for Cowboys Coaching Staff After Divisional Round Loss?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
It’s Time To Stop Doubting the Dallas Cowboys
Player News2 weeks ago
Allen Hurns Injury: Status, 2019 Prospects, Teammate Reactions
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan Will Return in 2019