Here I am, up at seven AM on a Sunday morning and I am furious. Why? I just made myself a delicious breakfast of bacon, egg and cheese on a roll paired with a phenomenal cup of coffee. No way in hell should I be any less than content at the moment. Well, unfortunately, I am distraught. I am distraught because I have to write something incredibly positive about the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys are coming off their most successful season, by far, in years. Dallas fielded a top offensive line in the league, had one of the strongest running games in the NFL, Tony Romo was a legitimate MVP contender and the team made it into the divisional round of the playoffs after going 12-4, only to lose after a now infamous drop by Dez Bryant. There was talk for years about how the Cowboys were built to be contenders, but their window was closing, and now it looks like they are actually on the cusp of hitting their stride. With their draft haul in the 2015, the Cowboys bolstered their roster with instant high impact players who also could be cornerstones going into the future.
With their first pick, Dallas selected UConn Cornerback, Byron Jones and proceeded to piss off every Eagles fan out there (well, at least me). See, Jones was the non-Marcus draft darling for much of Eagles fans, and interest from the coaching staff made many believe he was the pick at 20. Who could blame anyone for being so enamored with a prospect? First of all, he has a prototypical frame at 6-1 with long arms, although he could stand to add some weight. He is an elite athlete whose explosive ability is evident when he is going up for passes or closing on a ball. He is a former wide receiver and safety, and that translates into being able to track and play the ball in the air very well. On top of all of that, he is of immensely high character and displays the leadership qualities off the field that many people thought Chip Kelly would fall in love with. Alas, it was not meant to be.
While Jones has a lot of plus athletic traits and immediately translatable skills, he still has a way to go before he is a complete cornerback. His biggest issue comes out in space, not due to athletic ability, more having to do with understanding and functioning within zone concepts. He can often lose himself and most of his negative plays come from this. It will be important for the Cowboys to bring him along gradually in this regard, and giving him a simplified role off the bat in order to maximize his press and run ability. Jones also has issues with leverage at the line and can be caught to high in his stance, making his movement sloppier and inefficient, thus slowing him down and he tends to open up his hips to early instead of working through his backpedal. On top of that, he is not overly physical when it comes to tackling and this is not helped by the fact that he suffered a major shoulder injury in the middle of his senior season. Luckily, there are no athletic limitations with Jones and his flaws are products of relative newness to the position.
While he may need to embrace a simplified role, it is not off base to think that Jones could be starting day one in Dallas' secondary. While Orlando Scandrick is a decent enough player, there is not really anyone else standing in the way of Jones and a starting job (besides Brandon Carr's absurd contract). It is also possible, though not smart, that Dallas may want Jones back to playing at safety. Now, while he *could* play safety, I believe the learning curve for him would be much steeper whereas he could be a damn good cornerback relatively quick. A smart Cowboys team starts Jones on the outside and basically allow him to run and cover (that sounds more vague than it is) and bring him along gradually rather than force him into being uncomfortable. I am confident that Jones' natural talent combined with his tremendous work ethic will turn him into an upper echelon defensive back soon enough.
Randy Gregory was one of the most polarizing players during the NFL Draft process the passed year, and for good reason. People became enamored with his flashes and his athletic potential, citing that he warranted being a top pick in the class and was one of the best players, while others were frustrated by his inconsistencies on the field and did not want to anoint him based on flashes of potential. On top of that debate, Gregory failed multiple drug tests at Nebraska and during the draft process, while coming to the NFL combine underweight and news coming out about how Gregory's weight fluctuated constantly throughout the season and he was way below average at the end of the season. Now, that is a ton of red flags, but it is like they all have one root... Anxiety.
There is plenty of information out there suggesting that Gregory may be suffering from clinical anxiety and that may have caused his fall in the draft. Anxiety can really negatively impact anything from focus to energy to appetite which explains why his weight fluctuated so much throughout the season and, possibly, why he was so up an down as a player. To deal with anxiety, a lot of those suffering turn to marijuana to alleviate the symptoms. While I am not trying to get into any kind of debate, the reality is that Gregory may have a serious issue that caused a lot of these issues. There is plenty out there to support Gregory's character and I do not think he is a bad person, and neither should anyone, he is just a person who likely needs a strong support system to succeed, and frankly I hope he gets it.
As a player, there is tons to like about Gregory. He flashes dominating burst off the line of scrimmage, has a wide array of pass rushing moves and has tremendous body flexibility to bend and contort around the edge to create pressure. When he is on, he is an absolute hellion as a pass rusher. His inconsistencies come from inability to regularly get off the snap quickly. He will sometimes be a few steps too late and lose the battle with an offensive tackle before it even started. He also has a tendency to play defensive end like a wide receiver, where he tries to dance off the line where he can just run through offensive tackles. His pad level is inconsistent and this is not helped by average lower body strength, which can result in him getting handled at the line if he tries to play with power rather than trusting his speed.There is a lot to like with Gregory, and I think his positives have the potential to be overwhelming enough to outweigh his negatives. It just comes down to him being able to be comfortable on a team and focus on football.
With piece of shit, Greg Hardy, out for ten games next season, Gregory has a great chance to see the field a lot as a rookie. He may be seeing snaps at linebacker as well where he could be used like Anthony Barr or Von Miller and then come down and play on the line on passing downs. His role is not defined at this moment, but there is a lack of playmakers up front for Dallas, so Gregory has a shot to make a big impact his rookie year. Going forward, if he is able to maintain a healthy weight and keep himself together, he should blossom into one of the premier pass rushers in the league.
After two blockbuster picks (AKA names we know), the Cowboys committed what many, including myself, view as a reach with Florida's Chaz Green. Green's appeal comes from having good size at 6-5/314 and decent movement skills. Aside from that, Green is a smart enough player who utilizes good awareness in space to work in the run game, but he is an underwhelming besides that. His overall strength is below average and his hand usage is very poor. His height causes him to play with poor balance more often than not and he does not have the arm length to really make consistent positive impacts on the edge.
The Cowboys have a very talented offensive line and probably wanted to take a chance on Green's movement skills and bank on the hope that his strength and technique can improve. I am not so hopeful and I think this pick was very underwhelming. He projects as a career backup for Dallas, but they tend to do well with developing offensive line talent.
Which Eagles free agents will be back in 2016?
The Eagles have 21 players with deals that expire at the end of the season. Who will make the cut, and who will be playing their final snaps in Philadelphia?
Dallas seems to have a thing for smaller linebackers, spending a pick and then giving heavy starting time to six foot, 240 linebacker Anthony Hitchens last season. Linebacker, Damien Wilson comes in at six foot as well, but is a whopping five pounds heavier than Hitchens. Wilson was able to make an impact at Minnesota based on plus instincts and good movement in space. He did a very good job chasing running plays and using free runs at the ball to make an impact. In coverage, he posses good awareness and agility to hold up in zones.
His straight-line speed is underwhelming and often he is forced to gamble on plays in order to beat them to a spot or he tends to wait and "catch" the play rather than meeting it, thus allowing more yards than necessary. He is not very physical taking on blocks due to his size and lack of length and tends to try to finesse around them, which will not consistently work in the NFL.
If the Cowboys want to ever see him in the starting lineup, his best bet would be as a weak side linebacker who would have free run at plays and would be able to function in coverage. Asking Wilson to consistently play in traffic would be a waste of his positive traits. Likely, Wilson finds a place for himself on special teams very quickly with an opportunity to pick up defensive snaps in a few years if he can add strength.
Another addition to their defensive line, the Cowboys took Purdue end, Ryan Russell. This pick makes sense from a need perspective, because there is just so much youth on Dallas' line that it is important to add competition to the group. Russell has some plus traits that I could see a team falling for, but the full picture is far from there.
Russell is able to win based on decent anticipation off the line and good bend around the edge to pair with a 6-4, 269 pound body. The Cowboys probably saw this combo of size and burst off of the edge as an asset when making the pick. The issue with Russell is that I do not think he is anywhere near a special athlete, just that he does a good job anticipating the snap. While this will help him be a decent rotational lineman, I doubt he becomes anything more. His issues go further as he is not an overly physical player and his motor leaves a lot to be desired. He tends to play with way too much finesse but does not have the body to compliment the style.
Ideally, Russell is able to make an impact as a rotational lineman and his size suggests he could play inside on passing downs, but his lack of physicality makes me doubt that. There are things to like about Russell, but his negatives may be too great for his positives to outweigh.
Nzeocha embodies the complete opposite situation of the Cowboy's other pick, Damien Wilson. Nzeocha has much better size at 6-2, 235 with long arms and is a tremendously talented athlete, but has no idea how to play the position. His instincts are an abject wreck in coverage and he free lances attacking downhill and can find himself out of position more times than he finds himself actually hitting anything. His athletic ability is conducive to explosive plays, but the negative plays distract from that. Not to mention, he suffered a knee injury to end his final season and is 25 years old, which likely means he is maxed out.
I doubt we see Nzeocha making an impact on the defensive lineup, but, if healthy, it would not shock me to see him become a stud special teamer.
In a similar vein to the Chaz Green pick, the Cowboys took Virginia Tech tackle, Laurence Gibson in the sixth round. Gibson possesses very good size and long arms and is a tremendously good athlete. He moves very well in space while doing a great job coming downhill quickly. He is not very heavy for his height (305 pounds at 6-6) and that shows up in his playing strength. I actually really like this pick at this point in the draft because if Gibson can maintain his athletic ability at a higher weight, he has a good chance at developing into an NFL starter or at least a quality backup.
With their final pick, the Cowboys took Texas Tight End, Geoff Swaim. Swaim is underwhelming from a receiving aspect, as he doe not have the speed or catch point ability to be a viable threat in the passing game, but he is a very good blocker. He has good lower body strength and is fearless when it comes to getting into it in run blocking. He projects to being a number three tight end who functions as a blocker, and I doubt he becomes anything more. However, getting a very good blocking tight end this late is still a good pick.
Free Agent Addendum: La'el Collins
The best player that the Cowboys acquired during the draft was one that they did not even select. We all know the crazy La'el Collins situation that led for the star LSU tackle to go undrafted. After being lightly involved in a murder investigation, Collins became the most coveted undrafted free agent in NFL history. After all, many thought of Collins as a top end first round pick and I thought incredibly highly of him. After being wooed by the thought of forming "the best offensive line in history" Collins took his talents to Texas.
Collins is an incredibly powerful player. His lower body strength paired with his violent punch makes him a load to deal with in the passing game and the running game. He moves well downhill and does a good job working to second level blocks. His awareness in general is very good and that pairs with his violent playing style to make him so dominant.
He has very few flaws, as some cite his lateral agility as a weakness. While it may not be stellar, he does a good job using his length to compensate for it and does a great job reaching to make up for speed.
The Dallas offensive line is stacked. Tyron Smith, Zach Martin and Travis Frederick were all upper echelon players at their given positions last year and Doug Free had a resurgence at right tackle. Ronald Leary did a good job manning the left guard spot, though he will likely be usurped by Collins going into this season. Guard is going to be a good spot for Collins because it mitigates the negative impact of any issues he has moving laterally and allows him to operate in a phone booth. Collins has the ability to play guard at a high level until Dallas feels ready to move on from Doug Free in favor of moving Collins to right tackle. Regardless, Collins will be the finishing piece to a dominant offensive line that will likely be better than the dominant group the team fielded last season.
A lot of the picks, to be honest, are a bit underwhelming and likely max out at special teams players, but it is the selection of Randy Gregory and Byron Jones, along with the signing of La'el Collins that make this class so scary for an Eagles fan. Not only did they acquire three starters, but all of whom possess immediate impact ability and high ceilings. I think all three players will develop into top tier players at their given positions and cause a challenge for the Eagles for the next decade.