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Cowboys news: Concerns about Jaylon Smith, the Dez watch continues

Also, debating Calvin Ridley as a playmaker and other draft insights for the Cowboys.

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NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

How badly do the Cowboys need a top linebacker in this draft? – Bob Sturm, The Athletic
Sturm takes an in-depth look at Jaylon Smith's 2017 season and comes away concerned. With numerous GIFs he convincingly illustrates that Smith was incapable of changing directions effectively and opponents repeatedly targeted him in game plans. With the departure of Anthony Hitchens to the Chiefs in free agency this creates a mammoth roster challenge for the Cowboys.

I don't blame Jaylon Smith for any of this. He can't control this. By all accounts, he has done everything he can to get his body back and his mentality serves him well. He appears to be a fantastic human being and I still have hope that 2018 can be a big step forward.

But I think it is possible he will never be a full-time linebacker, in which case they must draft one within the first 100 picks. If that linebacker doesn't need to play because everything has worked out, great. Hopefully, they then have a successor for Sean Lee someday. But the Cowboys cannot afford to enter this season with Lee, Smith, and hope as their linebacking corps. Last year should have taught us that the biggest collision position on the defense will feature some injuries and that this roster is dangerously thin. Now, without Hitchens, the danger is even more pronounced.

The Cowboys must prepare accordingly.

Dallas Cowboys 2018 NFL Draft primer - Kyle Crabbs, NDTScouting
The NDT Scouting site looks at the Cowboys' off-season moves thus far and where the team's biggest needs exist. They agree linebacker is an area likely to be addressed early in the draft.

2018 NFL Draft Needs

1a. Defensive Line

The Cowboys have shown interest in some of the interior defenders, perhaps preparing for life after David Irving. Even if Irving were to be retained in the long term, Dallas’ interior front is thin. Behind Irving and fellow starting [sic] Maliek Collins is an underwhelming group who need more talent.

This is a prime position to consider in the first round, given the available talent on the board.

Potential targets: Washington DL Vita Vea, Florida DL Taven Bryan, Alabama DL DaRon Payne

1b. Linebacker

The loss of Anthony Hitchens is quietly a big one. Hitchens was a solid player as a mid-round pick out of Iowa and Dallas does not have many options on the table right now to address his loss.

With workouts a week away, Dez watch continues in Dallas - Todd Archer, ESPN
The never-ending speculation regarding Dez Bryant's status with the team continues with ESPN's Todd Archer giving his thoughts.

The Cowboys could choose to do nothing, which would go against what executive vice president Stephen Jones said at the onset of the offseason: that Bryant's contract needs to be discussed. More than two months later, it evidently has not been addressed.

Although tying up more than $30 million in wide receivers would not be the best use of their salary cap, the Cowboys don’t need to adjust Bryant’s cap figure. It would make their situation more difficult to deal with, but they can sign Zack Martin or DeMarcus Lawrence to long-term deals to create room.

The Cowboys can ask Bryant to take a pay cut. They have done that in the recent past with cornerback Brandon Carr and offensive tackle Doug Free. Of course, Bryant does not have to accept it, and he could find a suitor on the market, especially with a number of teams with cap space available.

The Cowboys can look for a trade partner. There have been several big names traded this offseason, with Jason Pierre-Paul moving from the New York Giants to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Alex Smith moving from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Washington Redskins. The Los Angeles Rams gave up a first round pick (as well as a sixth-rounder) to acquire Brandin Cooks and a fourth-rounder from the New England Patriots.

Playmaker Score 2018 - Nathan Forster, Football Outsiders
Each year the FO gang looks at prospective wide receivers and evaluates them using their "playmaker score" statistic. They come away unimpressed with the wide-out likely to be the first chosen in this year’s draft.

Calvin Ridley is a halfway-decent prospect, but Playmaker believes that he is way overrated as the top wide receiver prospect in this draft. Ridley, put simply, does not have top-tier production even after adjusting for Alabama's run-heavy offense. Ridley's touchdowns were particularly weak for a potential first-round draft pick. As a junior, Ridley had only five touchdowns in 332 team pass attempts, while D.J. Moore had eight touchdowns in only 318 team pass attempts.

Nor is it likely that there is any other team-related factor holding Ridley's projection back. Playmaker did miss somewhat on a former wide receiving prospect from Alabama -- Julio Jones -- but Ridley is a far cry from Jones. Jones was a physical freak who ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 220 pounds. By contrast, Ridley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds and only weighs in at 189 pounds. Moreover, Ridley had a poor vertical leap (31 inches), which historically has been the workout metric that is most predictive of success for wide receivers (although even the correlation between vertical leap and success is relatively weak). Without outstanding production or workout numbers, it is a little puzzling that Ridley is so highly regarded.

Irving Has Shown An Ability To Dominate When Available - David Helman, Dallas Cowboys
Helman continues the Mothership's look at the team's existing roster and, like most of us, likes what he saw from David Irving on the field last year.

When he was on the field last fall, Irving was a dominant and disruptive force at a level that isn’t often seen from a defensive tackle. He returned from a four-game suspension in October and immediately made his presence felt, posting two sacks and five tackles in a dramatic, last-second loss to Green Bay. That wouldn’t be his only impact, either, as he finished the season with 22 tackles and a whopping seven sacks in just eight games. Paired alongside Maliek Collins, Irving played like the most disruptive interior pass rusher since 2013, when Rod Marinelli was working with Jason Hatcher. It was also an encouraging improvement from 2016, when Irving provided four sacks as a role player, as it showed his ability as a starter in this scheme.

Dozens of Cowboys players showing commitment by working out at The Star ahead of OTAs - David Moore, SportsDay
While official activities don’t start until next week, Moore reports that many Cowboys are already hard at work in preparation for the upcoming season.

The first phase of the Cowboys offseason program begins next Monday.

It will be hard to tell much of a difference.

The majority of players descended on The Star weeks ago to begin preparations for the upcoming round of organized team activities and minicamp. The players aren't allowed to interact with or be overseen by the coaching staff, but they are welcome to use the facility whenever they want.

"We've been really fortunate," Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick said. "We have 50 guys right now who have been in and out. We have a really good core group of guys that come back in and get workouts in when it's not required and not organized.

"We're happy about that."

See who joins legends Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett on list of Cowboys' best RB draft picks ever - SportsDay Staff
The SportsDay folks continue their look at the best - and worst - Cowboys draft picks at each position. It's no surprise who comes in at number one at the running back position.

And to think Jimmy Johnson really wanted linebacker James Francis in the first round, only to see him go to Cincinnati. The Cowboys "settled" for Smith to complete what became known as the Triplets with Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman. The Cowboys won three Super Bowls with Smith leading the way on the ground, and Smith won NFL rushing titles in 1991-93 and again in 1995. He was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, and earned league MVP in 1993 as well as MVP of Super Bowl XXVIII. On Oct. 27, 2002, Smith broke Walter Payton's all-time rushing mark and finished his career with 18,355 yards. In 2005, the Cowboys inducted him to their Ring of Honor. He was soon inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 2010.

Brugler: No Combine? No problem for these 35 - Dane Brugler, NFL Draft Scout
Scouting wiz Dane Brugler looks at 35 players who weren't invited to the NFL Combine but are still attractive draft targets.

The Scouting Combine is a valuable opportunity for NFL hopefuls to audition their skills, sometimes providing the difference whether a prospect is drafted or not.

But even with 330-plus players earning invites to the annual Combine, there are always worthy prospects who go overlooked. The good news for those snubs is the dream of hearing their name called on draft weekend is still possible. An average of 35 non-Combine prospects have been selected in the past four drafts, while about an average of 110 Combine invitees in that time have gone undrafted.

Below are my guesses for 35 non-Combine prospects in this class who will be drafted.