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Cowboys News & Notes: NFL Execs Say Cowboys Turning Into "Scary" Contender

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Latest Cowboys headlines: NFL GM says Cowboys are 'Super Bowl-caliber team' with Stephen Jones; Why Ezekiel Elliott will win Rookie of the Year; NFL personnel director says Jaylon Smith could be greatest No 2 pick ever.

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NFL Execs: The Cowboys Under Stephen Jones Are Turning into a 'Scary' Contender - Mike Freeman, Bleacher Report
Freeman, NFL National lead writer at B/R, is stunned by the feedback he's getting from around the league.

The Cowboys, once again, are a legitimate threat. And there's a simple reason: They are making smart decisions. Tons of them. This is something that hasn't happened in many years.

The personnel men I've spoken to over the past few days believe the Cowboys are neatly positioned to win the division and within a year or two—maybe even this season—make a strong Super Bowl run. All of this seems a bit fast for me, but I've continued to hear after the draft how impressed the rest of the league is with the Cowboys and what they're doing.

The main thing these teams see is a different philosophical bent. They point to the growing influence of Stephen Jones—Jerry's son and the Cowboys' chief operating officer, executive vice president and director of player personnel—on the football product.

NFL GM: Cowboys are 'Super Bowl-caliber team' with Stephen Jones - Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com
Stephen Jones has done a masterful job of keeping his dad in check while also forcing other executives around the league to take the Cowboys seriously, Wilson explains.

One NFL general manager even went so far as to tell BleacherReport.com's Mike Freeman that "The Cowboys are starting to scare me." And it has everything to do with Stephen's voice (of reason) being the loudest in the room.

"You could always count on Jerry Jones f--king things up," the GM said. "That isn't happening any longer. That's a Super Bowl-caliber team now."

Meanwhile, Stephen, whose fingerprints are all over rebuilding the Cowboys' offensive line into the league's best -- and who also kept Jerry from drafting Manziel two years ago -- is earning respect from his peers.

"He was seen by a lot of people in football as a trust fund baby masquerading as a football guy," the GM said. "Now he's just an excellent football guy."

2016 NFL Draft grades: Cowboys get 'A-' grade - Bucky Brooks, NFL.com
Six teams earned "A" grades from Bucky Brooks following the 2016 NFL Draft, and the Cowboys are one of them. While we shouldn't read too much into these early grades, it's nice to see the Cowboys listed as having had the fourth-best draft overall.

Any team that lands a pair of blue-chip prospects with its first two selections in a given draft deserves a high grade. The Cowboys, who nabbed Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith before the end of Day 2, earned a gold star. Each guy is considered a transcendent talent at his position -- and both are also blue-collar workers with the requisite intangibles to step into leadership roles early in their careers. Although Smith, who suffered ACL and LCL tears in January, might need a redshirt year before he is able to step onto the field to make an impact, Elliott could be the Cowboys' most pivotal player as a rookie. He will anchor the offense as the bell cow in the backfield and help the team follow the 2014 blueprint that resulted in an NFC East title.

Dak Prescott could be the franchise quarterback of the future, based on his ruggedly athletic game and superb leadership skills. He will push Kellen Moore for the backup quarterback job while serving as Tony Romo's apprentice. Will Rico Gathers be the next former hoops player to earn Pro Bowl honors as a pass-catching tight end? The late-round pick will get a chance to carve out a role as a developmental prospect.

Added bonus: Chip Kelly's current and former team are both ranked among teams having had the worst drafts.

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Why Ezekiel Elliott will win Rookie of the Year - Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus
Sam Monson breaks down the near-unstoppable ground game the Cowboys will possess in 2016.

High-level running backs can get production without much help, and high level offensive lines can get production out of very mediocre players. When you add the two of those together you get an absolutely dominant and near-unstoppable ground game, and that’s what it looks like the Cowboys are gearing up for in 2016.

A healthy Ezekiel Elliott has the skills to be productive in any system, but put him behind that Cowboys line with the tools to play on all three downs, and he’ll easily walk away with Rookie of the Year.

Dallas Cowboys mailbag: Ezekiel Elliott better be Day 1 starter - Todd Archer, ESPN
With a high draft pedigree come high expectations. If Ezekiel Elliott isn't the Dallas Cowboys' starter at running back in the season opener, something went very wrong, Todd Archer explains.

If he's not, then the Cowboys don't have the runner they thought they were getting. I understand Jason Garrett preaching competition with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, but sometimes coaches just have to say those things. Of just about any position, running back is the easiest to plug and play. There is the most natural carryover in the position. There are things to learn, like blitz pickup, but running the ball is running the ball is running the ball.

The Cowboys probably won't give Elliott 392 carries like they did with DeMarco Murray in 2014 but if he's not the predominant ball carrier this year then he either got hurt or wasn't as good as advertised. Clearly the Cowboys had no reservations about Elliott to be a three-down back when they picked him. They lauded his ability to block. They lauded his ability to catch. But they really need him to be a difference-making runner and that has to be Sept. 11 against the New York Football Giants, as Garrett likes to say.

Which rookie running backs will get most carries in '16? - Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com
Ezekiel Elliott figures to see plenty of touches out of the Cowboys' backfield, Rosenthal writes.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys -- Projected touches: 365

This number might be conservative. DeMarco Murray averaged 23 touches per game in 40 starts between 2012-2014, which equates to 368 touches over a 16-game season. The Cowboys took Elliott because they believe he's a transcendent talent who can exceed Murray's peak.

The possibility of the Cowboys overusing Elliott is a risk. He's not going to share carries regularly, but the Cowboys should still mix in Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris to keep Elliott fresh. They can't load up Elliott with nearly 500 touches like they did with Murray in 2014. They should at least wait until Elliott is an impending free agent for that strategy.

Ezekiel Elliott's over/under for rushing yards in 2016 is absurdly low - Will Brinson, CBSSports.com
Vegas doesn't think the Cowboys' rookie will crack 1,000 rushing yards in 2016, which Brinson writes is "badly undervaluing Elliott."

There is some logic in wondering how often he'll touch the ball given the presence of Darren McFadden (holdover) and Alfred Morris (free-agency addition) on the roster. But Elliott isn't your typical rookie running back. He was taken No. 4 overall by the Dallas Cowboys, a team very fond of using its shiny new toys as often as possible.

The former standout averaged 6.7 yards per carry in his career at Ohio State. Dallas doesn't want to unduly burden him with a crazy load in 2016, but they're clearly going to find a way to get him somewhere in the range of 250 to 300 total touches.

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Stephen Jones on being stunned that two DEs were drafted right before Cowboys took Jaylon Smith in 2nd round - SportsDay
Stephen Jones explains on KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket that even if the Cowboys had picked Kevin Dodd or Emmanuel Ogbah at the top of the second, they would have tried to trade back up into the second to get Jaylon Smith.

Did it stun you that (defensive ends) Emmanuel Ogbah and Kevin Dodd went 1-2 in front of you in the second round?

Stephen Jones: (Laughs) Candidly, yes. They were obviously guys that were on our radar screen. It was surprising that they did go like that. We had 'em grouped in there with Jaylon (Smith), those two ends. We're very pleased with where we are with Jaylon. I'm not so sure that we would have taken both ends over Jaylon, but we would have been tempted maybe to take one. And then our strategy was to get right back in the second and try to get Jaylon.

Sources: Irish to Officially Announce Change in Base Defense - One Foot Down
Here's a humorous take on why some Notre Dame fans have taken to calling Jaylon Smith the "Godbacker." Includes this "Mayock breakdown of Smith coverage duties."

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Dallas Cowboys QB coach says Tony Romo is looking good - Drew Davison, The Star-Telegram
Tony Romo has looked re-energized so far in off-season workouts.

"He’s looking good," quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said Friday following a rookie minicamp practice.

"We had two practices where we’ve been out here on the field with the guys and he’s done everything. He’s throwing. He’s got good velocity on all of his throws, great movement in his legs.

"He looks like he’s re-energized because he hadn’t played, you know, missed the majority of the season. So he’s real energized and anxious to get going."

Stephen Jones on where pass rush will come from - SportsDay
Stephen Jones joined KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket and explained how the rotation along the D-line will help the Cowboys make up for the suspensions of Gregory and Lawrence.

I think we'll play eight guys consistently, we'll keep 'em fresh. We'll play with relentless effort. You hope that some of these guys that we're bringing in - a guy like (Charles) Tapper - who we're gonna line up at right end. He had very similar measurables to Ogbah. He was a little bit hamstrung by the techniques he played for Oklahoma. He played more inside. He wasn't necessarily playing on the edge. He's a big man. He had seven sacks in that scheme. There's a lot to what Tapper might bring to the table. At some point, these guys (DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory) come back. Then you throw in Tyrone Crawford. There's a big group in there that I think can really help us.

Cowboys Believe Maliek Collins Could Be a "Cornerstone Player" - Scott Crisp, NBC 5 DFW
The Cowboys believe defensive tackle Maliek Collins has a good shot at becoming a household name in short order in Dallas.

"He’s a guy when we started the second round we look at as someone that could potentially step in here and have those kind of snaps," Jones said, per Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas. "I’m reluctant to say starter because I don’t want to do that. On the other hand he’s going to get a lot of snaps. I do predict that now."

"He’s going to be a cornerstone player," Jones said.

Cowboys make roster moves to get to a 90-man roster - Todd Archer, ESPN
The Cowboys have made five roster moves to get to 90 players: OT Reshod Fortenberry (knee) and DE Ken Boatright (neck) were released with a failed physical designation. DT Chris Whaley, CB Buddy Jackson, and RB Ben Malena have been released.

Cowboys Sign 13 Undrafted Free Agents - David Helman, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys brought in 14 UDFAs, and announced that they had signed 13 of them. The odd man out is safety Rolan Milligan. He was at the Cowboys' minicamp, but hasn't been announced as an official signing.

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Stephen Jones: Cowboys were done with Greg Hardy when season ended | The Star-Telegram
The Cowboys didn’t make an official statement on Hardy until last week, but Stephen said the team knew they were done with Hardy as soon as the season was over.

Took a while longer for Cowboys Nation to catch up to that. Back in Febbruary, we wrote that "Hardy is not coming back. Period." That met with some mixed reactions.

L.A. Times’ Farmer wins prestigious Beat Writing award, DMN's David Moore comes in seventh - AP Sports Editors
Farmer came in first in the APs Sports Editor contest for newspapers with a circulation of over 175,000, and the DMN's David Moore finished seventh among all sports writers (not just football). Here are his winning entries for the Cowboys:

In Greg Hardy, Cowboys adding star defender, controversy and uncertainty

Story behind rookie Randy Gregory’s marijuana use, personality

More on Randy Gregory

Full story of the dinner that brought La’el Collins to the Cowboys

At what point does Dez Bryant’s ‘passion’ become an issue for Cowboys