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WR Turnover has Only Just Begun for the Dallas Cowboys

John Williams

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Takeaway Tuesday: 2
AP Photo/Brandon Wade

As the Dallas Cowboys made the difficult decision to release Dez Bryant, it ushered in the beginning of the overhaul of the wide receiver group.

Much like they did in 2017 when they allowed Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, JJ Wilcox, and Barry Church to walk in free agency, and then proceeded to draft four defensive backs in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys began the painstaking task of overhauling a position group that has seen very little change in the last five years.

Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley have all been mainstays on the depth chart and had solidified roles with the team as the top three targets during the Tony Romo and now Dak Prescott eras.

What took place in the 2018 NFL Draft, however, was evidence that the team isn’t content with the status quo.

Cowboys Land Small School WR In Latest PFF Mock Draft

Colorado State Rams WR Michael Gallup (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)

The first big move over draft weekend came on Friday, when the Dallas Cowboys were rumored to be targeting SMU Wide Receiver Courtland Sutton. Instead, they held their picks and selected Colorado State Wideout Michael Gallup with the 81st pick.

Many see Gallup as someone who will be a lead receiver, if not week one, then by the end of the season.

Then on Saturday, after team favorite Nyheim Hines went off the board, the Dallas Cowboys made a trade with the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Tavon Austin. In a draft that provided very little drama for the Cowboys, this was a shock.

There had been little indication they were interested in making a move for the dynamic wide receiver and kick returner, but they pulled the trigger adding a dynamic threat to a team that needed more explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball.

While many of us, this analyst included, were dreaming up the possibilities of what Tavon Austin could look like on the field with this current receiving core, the Dallas Cowboys got a call from the Oakland Raiders about one of their wide receivers. Another surprise took place.

Dallas Cowboys Acquire WR Tavon Austin Via Trade

Dallas Cowboys WR Tavon Austin

After only one season with the team, the Dallas Cowboys traded second year wide receiver, Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders for defensive tackle Jihad Ward. Many thought Switzer could replace Beasley’s role in 2019, when the 2016 receiving leader's contract expired.

Switzer didn’t get a lot of opportunities on offense in his one year with the team and mostly because of the log jam at the top of the depth chart. Where Switzer’s impact was felt, however, was as a kick returner.

It’s important to note that Dallas had Jihad Ward only ranked five spots below current Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle, Maliek Collins in 2016. The Oakland Raiders made Ward their second round pick in 2016.

In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys had a first round grade on Tavon Austin.

The Dallas Cowboys came away with two players they really like for a fifth round pick and a player that wasn’t getting much run in Dallas.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

It could be argued that Switzer or another wide receiver was expendable with the addition of Tavon Austin. Austin is faster, more explosive, and has more experience playing the gadget role the team was hoping Ryan Switzer could play.

For the Los Angeles Rams, Austin took snaps lined up as a wide receiver and took snaps in the backfield. He was also the primary returner for the Rams. Austin immediately slots in as the team's kick and punt returner, jet-sweep guy, and deep threat, potentially making Deonte Thompson expendable.

While the Switzer move was a bit surprising, the Dallas Cowboys weren’t finished addressing the WR depth chart in the draft.

They selected Boise State wide receiver Cedric Wilson in the sixth round. Like Gallup, Wilson is a polished route runner who was very productive over his last couple of years at Boise State.

Who knows who will stick around after the 2018 season, but it’s obvious that the Cowboys want more consistent production from the wide receiver group and are trying to find guys who can get open quickly for quarterback Dak Prescott.

With Cole Beasley on a contract set to expire and approaching 30 years old next offseason, the team is expected to move on after the 2018 season.

Terrance Williams, though his contract would not allow for any team friendly management in 2018, gets a bit friendlier to the cap in 2019.

There are eight receivers on the roster who have a legitimate shot at being on the 53-man roster come week one. If you include a guy like Lance Lenoir who has made noise over the last two training camps, the wide receiver competition gets even more cloudy.

Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, Deonte Thompson, and Cedric Wilson all have a legitimate shot at making the roster. They may designate Austin as a RB and he could be listed on that depth chart, but what we know is they aren't going to take seven or eight players on the 53-man depth chart.

Training camp will provide more clarity as to the roles each could play in 2018 but one thing is clear, a shakeup is happening and more surprises could be on the horizon.



I didn't start out as a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quickly as I could. I grew up a Joe Montana fan when he was with the 49ers and followed him to the Chiefs, until we moved to Texas. I've now been a Fan of the Boys since the Dark Days of the Post-Aikman, Pre-Romo era of abysmal quarterback play, now relishing in more than a decade of franchise quarterbacking for America's Team.

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8 Comments
  • EverybodyTalks

    Our WRs stunk it up last year. When Zeke was gone, so were they. I love what is going on with the HARD hints.
    Hint 1: Dez is terminated.
    Hint 2: You sign Hurns and Deontay.
    Hint 3: You sign Gallup and Wilson during the draft.
    Hint 4: Switzer is traded to the Raiders.
    Hint 5: There are no SAFE SPACES to hide. Do Your Job or go somewhere else.

    So the most expensive, highest production WR is gone. Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the youngest WR is traded. The WR room has a new coach in the WR room and there is only elbow room with so many WRs. FO wants “competition”—-No, that is just their way of saying they want WRs that can get OPEN.

    • John Williams

      My prediction for the WR group come week 1
      Hurns
      Terrance
      Bease
      Gallup
      Wilson
      Brown

      How the depth chart will look week 17
      Gallup
      Hurns
      Bease
      Terrance
      Wilson
      Brown

      • Chuck Wright

        sounds about right

      • EverybodyTalks

        Great list. I definitely agree with you on Gallup moving up. I believe he will be an impact WR by the end of the season. To me, Beasley and Twill seem like 2a and 2B WRs. The wrinkle is with Witten retiring, Cole may become an even more important safety valve for Dak. A lot depends on opponent’s defensive scheme towards him. The dark horse, who I’m really curious about, is Cedric Wilson. Wilson could also be above TWill by the end of the season. If so, Terrance might be gone in 2019. For me, the real question mark is Brown. Body type like Dez. You had to check the jersey number to be sure. Can he push up into the WR pack, verses hanging to be at the bottom of the WR list each year? If not, is Deonte the WR, replacing Butler, as the stretch WR?

  • Hector Espindola

    Hope the rookies, including Brown, beat T-Will. If Will McClay saw Dez tape, I don´t know what they all are waiting to see Williams. These kids can beat him!!

    • John Williams

      Williams contract doesn’t really allow them to move on. They’d not really get much cap relief for moving on and they would eat a ton of dead money over the next two cap years.

    • John Williams

      A trade is the best option, but given his cap numbers it would be unlikely.

  • Mr. Jaguar

    The Cowboys are a business, if T Will don’t product, he out , same with the Bease. Imho, I expect the Cowboys to have a whole new group of wide receivers, who are perceise route runners, who can digest defensive schemes on the fly, and can separate with speed. I wouldn’t count out Brown. Him and Rico, have been working out with the receiver guru, that Dez is supposed to be hooking up with, to improve their route running skill, an the ability to make adjustments against the opposition defense, with the speed to separate.

    Dak Attack will be deadly weapon with speed in 2018 and beyond, you can take it to the bank. Just my two cents worth.

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Sean’s Scout: How Cowboys DTs Handled David Irving’s 2017 Absence

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: How Cowboys DTs Handled David Irving's 2017 Absence

For the second consecutive season, the Dallas Cowboys will be without the services of Defensive Tackle David Irving for their first four games. When Irving has been on the field, he's been a disruptive force at the all-important under tackle position, something the Cowboys can only hope he'll continue to be for at least 12 regular season games in 2018.

In his absence last year, the Cowboys allowed 107.5 rushing yards per game and another 231.75 through the air. While these numbers aren't far off from the team's final total of 104 rushing yards and 214 passing yards allowed per game, Irving's presence was surely missed on Rod Marinelli's defense.

I put on the tape to study how the Cowboys handled Irving's prior suspension, primarily watching the likes of Stephen Paea, Brian Price, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford play in rotation at defensive tackle.

With Paea no longer in the league and Collins dealing with another broken foot that expects to sideline him through most of training camp, the Cowboys will have to find a mostly new approach at DT starting next month in Oxnard.

Here is what I took away from the players still on the roster for 2018 that will have their chance to step in for David Irving.

DT Maliek Collins

DT4

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Any talks of the Cowboys maintaining a high level of play at defensive tackle without Irving has to start with Maliek Collins. Drafted as the starter at 3T-DT in 2016, Collins flashed incredible potential at this position despite missing most of camp as a rookie.

Last season, Collins was forced to play more as a one technique (1T) once Irving returned to the lineup, making up for the loss of both Paea and Price. Using his strength and stocky frame well as a 1T, Collins filled in admirably at this new spot -- though some fans still believe he was held back from developing further as a pass rusher.

When I watched Collins in the first four weeks of 2017 on tape, I didn't see the same technician of a pass rusher at the 3T position. Particularly in week one against the New York Giants, Collins struggled mightily with his pad level. This made is easy for interior offensive linemen to knock Collins off-balance, where he's effectively removed from the play due to a lack of recovery speed.

Collins best plays were produced when he was able to quickly shoot a gap to get up the field, or play with his hands above his eyes in overpowering his blocker to flow down the line. These are all desirable traits for a 1T tackle, which the Cowboys played with two of for the majority of snaps in weeks one through four.

Rod Marinelli was able to make a combination of Collins and Stephen Paea work on the interior. Similarly to Collins, there were flash plays from Paea, but overall this duo struggled to push the pocket much more than expected.

Keeping contain and creating penetration were two areas the Cowboys played at a below average level without David Irving last year.

DT2

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Just how much they'll allow Maliek Collins to change this, depending on the position he lines up at, will go a long way in how well the Cowboys are prepared for this season's dilemma of not having #95.

DT Tyrone Crawford

I can see why Tyrone Crawford was a fan of moving out to the right defensive end position later in 2017, after watching his limited reps at DT from the start of the season. This is a team captain, veteran player that's always competing on every single snap.

With that said, Crawford took a beating when trying to rush against double teams and get up the field. If Crawford's initial rush move is stopped, he has a hard time freeing himself up to make a play, getting drawn into his blocker's frame.

It remains unknown if Randy Gregory will be reinstated to play RDE for the Cowboys this season, but the team also feels good about rookie Dorance Armstrong and FA signing Kony Ealy at this spot. This depth, paired with their immediate need at 3T, means that Tyrone Crawford could be a likely candidate to kick back inside.

DT3

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The Cowboys won't have to worry about Crawford not doing everything he can to make an impact at this spot, but the difference from his reps to David Irving's will be noticeable should this be the Cowboys plan.

DT Brian Price

Brian Price finds himself in an interesting position for the 2018 season, re-signed by the Cowboys after losing 2017 to injury after just eight games. Price is solely a 1T-DT, which as previously mentioned is a spot that feels occupied by Maliek Collins.

Still a potentially valuable piece of the Cowboys rotation up front, it's hard to imagine Brian Price giving the Cowboys any of what they'll be missing from Irving. These are simply two completely different players.

DT1

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Price did impress on tape from the first four weeks of the season, disengaging quickly to play with impressive range for a bigger "nose tackle" type.

The Cowboys priority at DT without Irving should be tightening up against the run, something Price undoubtedly helps them with.

 ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

We've heard plenty of great things about newly acquired DT Jihad Ward, a converted defensive end from the Oakland Raiders, as a player that was unavailable to the Cowboys last season. With his new defensive coordinator being a fan, Ward has a chance to turn heads at 3T while allowing the rest of the Cowboys DTs to slide into place.

There's a reason David Irving is worth the setbacks he's caused the Cowboys, and it's because athletic DTs like him that get to the quarterback at a high rate are so hard to find. This is evident by the fact that the Cowboys defensive line, as currently constructed, features sufficient depth at 1T but lacks 3T players behind Ward.

Putting this much pressure on a player traded for on the third day of the draft is never ideal roster building, but Ward could potentially be aided by both Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins as the Cowboys patch things together against the Panthers, Giants, Seahawks, and Lions to open 2018.

Other options further down the roster include Datone Jones, Daniel Ross, Lewis Neal, and Richard Ash.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: How Cowboys DTs Handled David Irving’s 2017 Absence" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Tavon Austin, the Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?

Brian Martin

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Tavon Austin, Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?

If I were to ask you right now who will end up being the Dallas Cowboys playmakers in 2018, what would be your answer? I don't know what my answer would be other than Ezekiel Elliott, but one player does kind of stick out above the rest, wide receiver/running back Tavon Austin.

The Dallas Cowboys acquired Tavon Austin from the Los Angeles Rams during the 2018 NFL Draft. It was a move that was met with some skepticism from many fans, but I for one like the trade.

A lot of NFL teams are overvaluing draft picks, especially later in the draft. The Dallas Cowboys only gave up a sixth-round draft pick to acquire Austin. It's unlikely anybody else drafted there would contribute this season, but Austin surely will.

It really looks as if the Dallas Cowboys have a clear plan for Tavon Austin this season. That's really a good thing considering all of the unknown with the rest of the offensive playmakers.

It's still a little strange to think about how much turnover the Dallas Cowboys have on the offensive side of the ball. Dak Prescott will pretty much be throwing to an entirely different group of wide receivers this season and will have a new tight end as well. Right now, it's a little scary to think about all of that change and whether or not it will be successful.

Ezekiel Elliott and Tavon Austin

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR/RB Tavon Austin

Luckily, the Cowboys still have Ezekiel Elliott, who will once again be the engine that propels the entire offense. He is really the Cowboys only playmaker who we know will without a doubt find success this year. Despite having a down year in 2017, for good reason, he is still considered one of the best running backs in the league.

We should find that comforting considering all of the unknown about the rest of the offense. No one really knows what they are getting from Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, or any of the other WRs. Cole Beasley of course may be the most reliable receiving target, but I wouldn't exactly call him a playmaker.

When I think of a playmaker, I'm envisioning someone who can take over a game by themselves. Ezekiel Elliott is more than capable of doing that, but I don't know if there is anybody else on the Cowboys roster who would fall into that category.

Tavon Austin may not be someone who can solely take over a game, but I think he could be the next best thing. He is a dangerous player any time he touches the ball due to his speed and elusiveness. He can hurt a defense in so many different ways and that should get you a little bit excited.

Unfortunately, we don't really know how the Dallas Cowboys or offensive coordinator Scott Linehan plan to utilize Austin's unique skill set just yet. Linehan doesn't have the best track record of being able to get the ball in the hands of his best playmakers, but hopefully things will change this year.

I may end up being in the minority here, but I'm going to predict that Tavon Austin ends up being the Dallas Cowboys best playmaker, not named Ezekiel Elliott, this season. I think he can make a difference as a receiver, running back, and on special teams as well.

What do you think about WR/RB Tavon Austin as a playmaker?



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Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys uncharacteristically made several offseason trades this year and it has yet to be seen how or if these players can be impactful in 2018. One such trade was met with quite a bit of skepticism and actually angered a lot of Cowboys fans. Sending wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Jihad Ward was somewhat puzzling, but it looks as if the trade might already be paying off.

Unfortunately, one of the Dallas Cowboys best defensive players will once again have to sit out of the first four games of the 2018 season while serving his suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. David Irving was expected to pick up where he left off last season as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but will have to wait until Week 5 to find out what he can do.

I don't know if the Dallas Cowboys suspected something like this would happen with Irving once again, but suddenly the trade for Jihad Ward is looking like a brilliant under the radar offseason move.

I know a lot of Cowboys fans were excited to see what Ryan Switzer could do for the offense this season, but the coaching staff never really had a plan in place for him or knew exactly how to use him. There is no question as to how the coaching staff will use Ward. He could end up being one of the better defensive lineman this season.

Jihad Ward

Dallas Cowboys DT Jihad Ward

Jihad Ward has already caught the attention of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) and mandatory minicamp. Coincidentally, he's been playing in place of David Irving at the under tackle position or the three-technique. It's a role he may not relinquish heading into the 2018 season, and quite possibly even when Irving returns from his suspension.

I know it's a little bit early to anoint Jihad Ward, but the fact that as a new addition he's already starting ahead of the likes of Tyrone Crawford and other 3-tech candidates is pretty telling, at least for me.

Once training camp opens up there will be several things I will be paying close attention to, and how Jihad Ward performs will be one of them. He was after all highly thought of by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a few years ago in the 2016 NFL Draft. Maybe that infatuation will pay off.

I know it still stings a little that Ryan Switzer is no longer with the Cowboys, but Jihad Ward could prove to be the more impactful player this season and beyond.

Do you think the Jihad Ward trade is already paying off for the Cowboys?



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