The Cowboys play an actual regular season football game in less than a month. Man, that feels so good to say. This offseason has been a good one for the Cowboys. They added talent via free agency, the NFL Draft, and have so far gone through a good chunk of training camp without losing anyone major due to injury (knock on wood). With the offseason starting to wrap up, here are five candidates who should be in consideration for the offseason MVP.
Jaylon Smith - Linebacker - Third year
If someone had mentioned four months ago that Jaylon Smith would be on an offseason MVP list, it would have drawn a few chuckles, but the level that Smith is playing at is no laughing matter. It has now been almost three years since Jaylon Smith went down in the Fiesta Bowl against the Ezekiel Elliott led Ohio State Buckeyes. Since then, Smith has struggled to regain his form as one of the best linebackers in the world. This offseason we have seen glimpses of Smith inching closer to that form.
Whew, so much to take away from this play. Jaylon Smith carrying Kittle up the seam stride for stride, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods showing good range and closing to help out as well. pic.twitter.com/Cz0gGw0nnu— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) August 10, 2018
Earlier this offseason whispers started to surface about Jaylon Smith looking much bigger, stronger, and more explosive. Everyone seemed to take that with a grain of salt, due to the fact that Smith is always super positive. He has been tremendous so far this offseason, even with limited expectations due to his knee/foot issue, it’s hard not to be shocked by how good Smith has looked. In the team’s first preseason game, Smith finished the game with multiple impressive plays against the run and the pass. These are plays Smith wouldn’t have made last season, so it’s very nice to see him improving in all aspects of the game. He has without a doubt improved in coverage, and he’s shown that off in both the preseason game and in practice. There is still three weeks left of training camp, but so far, Jaylon Smith has been the best linebacker on the field for the Cowboys with Sean Lee being brought along slowly.
Dorance Armstrong - Defensive End - Rookie
This ranking could be influenced by the expectations that were set on Dorance Armstrong since entering camp, but Armstrong may be the most consistent defensive lineman on the Cowboys roster not named DeMarcus Lawrence. Armstrong was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and was set to be the teams fifth or sixth pass rusher at the start of the season, but through almost a month of camp, Armstrong has shown he’s much more than a “bottom of the depth chart” role player.
From Training Camp LIVE: This is some insane bend from Dorance Armstrong. Feints with a high insane hand and drops his pad level to take a sharp path to the QB. Proper stride length allows him to keep his balance and carry his momentum around the corner. pic.twitter.com/qQjTAkF2zX— John Owning (@JohnOwning) August 14, 2018
Whoever has lined up across from Armstrong has faced a challenge. Whether it’s been Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Cameron Fleming, or Chaz Green, Dorance Armstrong has had his fair share of wins against all of these guys. Armstrong had very intriguing traits coming out of Kansas, and many saw him as one of the best pass rushers in the nation after the 2016-2017 season. At 6’4”, 260-lbs, Armstrong has the size, speed, and length to be a very disruptive pass rusher in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. Armstrong has plenty of competition on the defensive line with Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory, Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper, and Kony Ealy, but so far, so good for the rookie pass rusher.
Byron Jones - Cornerback - Fourth year
Byron Jones has had an up and down career as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, but so far this season he is on an up moment. Entering his fourth year, Jones has switched to cornerback with Kris Richard coming in to coach the secondary. Jones started his career at UConn playing corner, so he’s familiar with the position and how to play it. Jones has been nothing short of great so far through three weeks of practices and one preseason game at his new position and continues to get better each day.
Jones has the physical attributes and has, so far, shown that he is ready for a fresh start in Dallas at his new position. Kris Richard has praised Byron Jones since he arrived in Dallas back at the start of the offseason. Jones fits exactly what Richard looks for in his corners. In years past, Byron looked really good in training camp, but his play would fall off in the regular season. While that still is a possibility, there is a different feel about Jones’ play in camp this year, let’s hope he can keep it up.
Tavon Austin - Wide Receiver/Running Back - Sixth season
When the Cowboys made the trade to acquire Tavon Austin during the NFL Draft, a lot of people (including myself) rolled their eyes and said there’s no way he will work in Dallas. At the time, the Cowboys had Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown, Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Lance Lenoir, and had just drafted Michael Gallup in the thrid round, A the day before in the third round. Where was Austin going to fit in? Well since they acquired him, he isn’t being looked at as just a wide receiver, but a guy who can be a receiver, runner, and returner. And he’s proving that to be true.
What the Cowboys got with Tavon Austin was a guy who can make plays north-south, and east-west as both a wide receiver and running back. The Cowboys also got a vocal leader, who has energized this team with his play on the field and his voice on the sideline and in the locker room. Austin is looking to start over with his new team, and so far has been fantastic since arriving in Dallas. He showed in the first preseason game what he can do as a route runner and down the field receiver. The former eighth-overall pick has yet to live up to the standards expected of him in the 2013 NFL Draft, but the word out of Oxnard is he could soon reset how people view him if he continues the path he’s on.
Chidobe Awuzie - Cornerback - Second year
Last but not least, we have second-year cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie impressed in his rookie season after missing a big chunk of the year with hamstring issues. In year two, Awuzie is letting everyone know why the Cowboys drafted him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The top two corners for the Dallas Cowboys have been fantastic since the start of the 2018 offseason. Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones have been two of the best players on the field for the Cowboys in training camp, and it doesn’t sound like that’s going to change anytime soon. Awuzie was handed the starting left corner job at the start of the offseason and hasn’t looked back since.
Awuzie has lined up against every receiver on the Cowboys offense in practice, and has won a lot more of those battles than he’s lost. A lot of people expected him to be very good coming out of Colorado, but I’m not sure many thought he’d be this developed in his second year. As long as Chidobe Awuzie can stay healthy, he will be one of the most consistent players on the Cowboys defense for the rest of the offseason and into the regular season as well.