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Cowboys News: Where does Cowboys 2016 draft class rank one year later?

Latest Cowboys headlines: Ezekiel Elliott is a bona fide superstar; how film study helped Dez Bryant; the value of a long preseason.

Power Ranking Every NFL Team's 2016 Draft Haul 1 Year Later - Brent Sobleski, Bleacher Report
Sobleski proposes a power ranking of the 32 draft classes from 2016 based on the number of starts and number of games played a team received from rookies last season and also factors in the quality of play from the rookies. The Cowboys finish in the top spot.

Total Starts: 54

Games Played: 72

Top Performer: QB Dak Prescott

The Dallas Cowboys redefined their entire organization with the selections of running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. After missing the playoffs during five of the previous six seasons, the rookie duo led the Cowboys to the NFC's best record at 13-3.

Which of the two actually performed better last season is up for interpretation, but Prescott gets the nod here since far less was expected from the fourth-round pick.

If not for a preseason injury to veteran Tony Romo, Prescott may have never seen the field. But he did and excelled. The young signal-caller set rookie records with a 67.8 completion percentage, 104.9 quarterback rating, 23-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 11 games with an over-100 NFL passer rating and 176 consecutive pass attempts without an interception to start a career. As a result, Prescott was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year.

Elliott challenged his teammate as the league's top rookie, though. Last year's fourth-overall pick became the first rookie back to lead the NFL in rushing yards since Edgerrin James in 1999. Elliott accumulated 1,631 yards on his way to his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.

These two standouts once again placed stars in the Cowboys lineup and not just on their helmets. But they're not the only contributors found within the class. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins and cornerback Anthony Brown established roles within the defense and much is expected of both as they continue to develop.

The Eagles come in 11th, the Giants 14th, and the Redskins 27th.

Star or system guy? Judging Ezekiel Elliott - Bucky Brooks,
In yesterday's news roundup, we saw that Brooks thinks of Dak Prescott as a system guy, largely because Prescott "landed in a perfect situation for a young quarterback" in Dallas. Elliott landed in a similarly favorable situation in Dallas as a running back, but Brooks sees him as a bona fide superstar.

I've heard plenty of observers suggest that anyone could run for 1,000 yards behind the Cowboys' ultra-talented offensive line. And I get where that sentiment comes from, having seen 28-year-old Darren McFadden hit four digits in Dallas back in 2015. That said, while the Cowboys' front line can make an average runner look like a fine one, it takes a special player with extraordinary skills to make a run at 2,000 yards as a rookie. With 1,631 yards in just 15 games, I believe Elliott more than qualifies as a star in this league.

The 6-foot, 225-pound workhorse is a dynamic runner with a combination of strength, speed, balance and body control that allows him to play with power or finesse. He is one of the few runners in the league capable of scooting around the corner with sprinter's speed or bludgeoning defenders in the hole with fullback-like power. Although he is rarely touched in the backfield, Elliott's ability to run through contact is exactly what offensive coaches covet in elite RB1s.

As a receiver, Elliott flashes soft hands and polished route-running skills. The Cowboys haven't fully taken advantage of his receiving skills out of the backfield, but he is more than capable of being a 50-catch playmaker in an offense that will use more spread formations and concepts this season. To that point, Elliott's versatility as a dot back in a spread or I formation separates him from others and puts him in the conversation with Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson as the top backs in the game.

When I asked an NFC scout about Elliott's long-term prospects as a runner, he called him a "special player" with the potential to put a team on his back with his rare skill set. Having claimed a rushing title as a rookie, Elliott has already put the league on notice.

VIDEO: Tale of the Tape: Dez Bryant - Dallas Cowboys
The mothership continues its outstanding tale of the tape series and has Dez Bryant and Bryan Broaddus breaking down one of Bryant's best catches from last season at the Minnesota Vikings in Week 13.

Dez Bryant explains how film study helped him beat Harrison Smith - Michael Smith, ProFootballTalk
PFT offers some soundbites from the Tale of the Tape video linked above.

Bryant says on the video that he studied Smith on film, saw how aggressive Smith is, and knew that there was a way to use that aggressiveness against Smith.

Harrison Smith, we knew from watching film that he’s an extremely aggressive safety,” Bryant said. “If you run any kind of in cuts, out breaking routes, he’s ready to drive on them. So I felt like we did an outstanding job game planning him.”

Bryant said that before even looking back at quarterback Dak Prescott, he knew just from seeing Smith bite on his fake that he was going to break a big play.

“I want to sell him inside just because I know he’s aggressive. I know once I sell the in he was gonna bite because that’s what he’s been showing all year, driving hard on those in cuts, and we know that he’s going to jump it,” Bryant said. “I knew I had him.”

Cowboys player profiles: Dallas looking for more from DT Cedric Thornton in his second season - Brandon George, SportsDay
George expects Thornton to primarily play as a one-technique this season.

Thornton should be more at ease in the Cowboys' defensive scheme entering his second season in Dallas. Thornton will again be part of the Cowboys' eight-man defensive line rotation and will be looked upon to have more production after a lackluster first season in Dallas. Thornton will primarily play at the one-technique defensive tackle spot for the Cowboys, likely backing up second-year player Maliek Collins.

Cowboys player profiles: Can reunion with Marinelli jump-start Stephen Paea's career? - Brndon George, SportsDay
George expects Paea to primarily play as a 3-technique this season.

The Cowboys hope they can jump-start Paea's career and get him back closer to the player he was in Chicago. He will reunite with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli with whom he spent his first two seasons in the NFL. Paea is a much better fit in the Cowboys' 4-3 defensive scheme and will get the chance to compete for playing time at the key three-technique defensive tackle spot. In 2012, his last under Marinelli, Paea became a full-time starter for the Bears. He started from Chicago from 2012 to 2014, totaling 10 sacks, including a career-high six in his final season with the Bears in 2014.

Mailbag: Value Of The Long Preseason? - Bryan Broaddus & David Helman, Dallas Cowboys
Broaddus hates the extra preseason game, Helman kinda likes it.

Bryan: To be honest, I hate the five preseason games for a couple of different reasons. I am always worried about the freak injury to my players whether it is my starters or backups. I can’t control who my guys are playing against in these games from a talent aspect. All it takes is one or two bad players to get knocked around and then fall in the back of one of my guy’s legs and my depth is damaged. Another reason is simple wear and tear. These camps are long enough and especially with the way and the length that Jason Garrett has them practice, playing an extra game causes more issues going into the season. These players only have so many practices and games in their bodies to begin with. Two games would be plenty to evaluate my team.

David: I’m honestly pretty excited about the Hall of Fame Game. Of course the game itself will be boring, but the entire league will be watching. It’ll be fun to be a part of the first true football game of 2017. Last time the Cowboys went, we got to see Larry Allen go into the Hall of Fame alongside guys like Bill Parcells and Warren Sapp. This year, Jerry Jones’ Hall of Fame induction will be must-see TV. Other than that, though, I pretty much hate the preseason. It’s just a month-long wait to see if anyone is going to get injured.

How Cowboys Use Inside Zone To Dominate Defenses - Joey Ickes, Fanrag Sports
X's and O's master Ickes takes us through an underrated aspect of the Cowboys' ground game, the inside zone run.

Because of the pure number of various schemes the Cowboys use on a weekly basis, they don’t run straight up inside zone all that often. The way they incorporate it into their running game gives them a dynamic element that is tough to counter.

One of the team’s favorite variations of inside zone is split zone, with the flow of the play going one way, and a tight end or fullback working back across the formation to ensure the cutback lane stays clean.

The second way the Cowboys employ inside zone is in the red zone as part of a read option/run-pass option look.

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