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Cowboys news: Can Aldon Smith offer Cowboys any impact after long layoff from football?

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The Cowboys can have high hopes for Aldon Smith, but high expectations are something entirely different.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS SAN FRANCISCO 49ers Joe Barrentine/Tacoma News Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

How Good Were Aldon Smith's First 3 Years? - Jonny Auping, DallasCowboys.com
Having been out of action for almost five seasons, will the Cowboys find anything left in the tank from Aldon Smith?

The 2011 NFL Draft would prove to feature three elite pass rushers in the top 11 picks. Von Miller was the second overall pick. Smith was drafted with the seventh pick. And J.J. Watt was taken at No. 11.

You probably don’t need a reminder of Miller and Watt’s accomplishments. Miller has been to eight Pro Bowls and was the Super Bowl MVP in 2015. Meanwhile, Watt has won Defensive Player of the Year three times and has been as close to an MVP candidate as any pass rusher in the past 20 years.

But in their first three seasons, neither was as skilled at getting to the quarterback as Smith. From 2011-2013 Smith recorded 42 sacks. Over that same time, Watt recorded 36.5 sacks. Miller recorded 35. Watt and Miller were utilized in more various ways than Smith and so both recorded more total tackles. But the fact remains, in his first three seasons in the league, Smith averaged an astonishing one full sack per game.

Cowboys sign DE Aldon Smith to 1-year deal & reunite him with DL coach Jim Tomsula - Todd Archer, ESPN
If anyone can get the most out of Aldon Smith after a long hiatus from football, it could be his old coach Jim Tomsula.

Part of the allure of Smith is his connection to the Cowboys’ new coaching staff. Smith had his best two seasons under defensive line coach Jim Tomsula with the Niners, including a 19.5-sack season in 2012, when he was named an All-Pro.

Tomsula was one of the first additions to Mike McCarthy’s staff after Mike Nolan was named Dallas’ defensive coordinator.

Having high expectations for a player who last played in a game on Nov. 15, 2015, might seem foolish, but the Cowboys have a need for pass-rush help. Robert Quinn, who led the Cowboys with 11.5 sacks in 2019, left as a free agent for the Chicago Bears.

Film room: What can the Dallas Cowboys hope to get out of Aldon Smith? - John Owning, SportsDayDFW
Going into some film of Aldon Smith.

If you remove the 2014 season, when he was suspended nine games for violating the league’s substance abuse and personal conduct policies, Smith was arguably the best pass rusher the NFL had to offer from 2011-13, posting 42 sacks (second-most in the league during that span) and 231 total pressures.

As his run-ins with the law and NFL caused him to miss 16 of a possible 32 games from 2014-15, Smith’s productivity and effectiveness waned significantly. After averaging 14 sacks per season from 2011-13, Smith produced just 5.5 sacks in the 16 games he played with the 49ers and Oakland Raiders from 2014-15. But even at a reduced version of himself (he appeared a little less explosive during his stint in Oakland), Smith still generated a good deal of pressure over those two shortened seasons, posting 68 pressures in 16 games (4.25 pressures per game). For comparison’s sake, 4.25 pressures per game would have ranked first on the Cowboys’ defense last season, when Robert Quinn led the way with 4.07, according to Pro Football Focus.

Aldon Smith, Cowboys Agree to Contract; Reinstatement still TBD - Paul Kasabian, BleacherReport.com
Smith’s comeback with Dallas is still contingent on one thing.

The NFL still needs to reinstate Smith, but Rapoport noted that Dallas is apparently “confident that it will happen.”

Rapoport noted that Smith will have a $2 million base salary and can earn an additional $2 million in incentives.

However, Smith’s reinstatement is not necessarily a given.

”A league source said that commissioner Roger Goodell is yet to determine Aldon Smith’s eligibility to return to play in the NFL and that his unresolved status is the same as that of Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory in terms of the reinstatement process,” ESPN’s Ed Werder reported.

Mike McCarthy’s history demonstrates how he’ll use Ezekiel Elliott - Ben Grimaldi, CowboysWire
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has a history of getting the most out of his talented running backs like Ezekiel Elliott.

McCarthy’s had talented first-round RB’s in his offense before, he was the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints from 2000 through 2004. In those five years, McCarthy led five straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons and each runner had, or was scheduled to have if not for injury, over 300 carries.

Fifth-overall pick in 1999, Ricky Williams was on his way to a monster year under first-time coordinator McCarthy in 2000 before an injury sidetracked him for the final six games. Williams had 1,000 yards and eight scores in just 10 games that year, but followed it up with 1,245 yards in a full-season in 2001. Another former first-round pick, Deuce McAllister, picked up where Williams left off. In 2002 McAllister ran for 1,388 yards and scored 16 total touchdowns. For the 2003 season, McAllister exploded for 1,641 yards, eight scores and caught 69 passes for 516 yards. Under McCarthy, McAllister had three-straight 1,000-yard seasons and at least eight scores each from 2002 through 2004 before McCarthy moved on.

It’s safe to say McCarthy knows how to use elite running backs and Elliott should still see a healthy workload. He might not have had the talent with the Packers to always commit to giving his RB the ball, but that shouldn’t be a problem in Dallas.

Texas WR Devin Duvernay Would Solve Cowboys Slot Need - Matthew Lenix, InsideTheStar.

With a void still present for a slot receiver, there may be no better fit than the former Longhorn Devin Duvernay.

Duvernay showed flashes as a freshman in 2016 that he could be a productive player when he racked up 412 yards and three touchdowns on 20 receptions. His sophomore season was one to forget, though, as he only registered nine receptions for 124 yards. He bounced back with a solid junior season totaling 41 receptions for 546 yards and four touchdowns. His senior year would be his masterpiece as Duvernay amassed 106 receptions (second in the nation) for 1,386 yards (fifth in the nation) and nine touchdowns while receiving first-team All-Big 12 honors.

At 5’10 200 pounds, Duvernay is built more like a running back which probably attributed to the 23 missed tackles he created and the 719 yards (led all receivers in the draft class) he gained after the catch in 2019. He’s a straight-line speed demon as he displayed at the NFL Combine when he ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash. His hands might be the best of any receiver coming out of the college ranks as he had the lowest drop percentage of any receiver in a power-five conference over the last two seasons and never dropped a pass in the red zone during his time at Texas. Also, he had a lot of production on screens.

Cowboys Musings: This year's draft process is going to be unique for the Cowboys - Tom Ryle, Blogging The Boys
For a team like the Cowboys, who put an emphasis on pre-draft meetings with prospects, this year's process will bring some unique challenges.

Just how many prospects will the Cowboys interview for the draft?

Most years, this would be the time when all eyes would be on the Star in Frisco for people interested in the Dallas Cowboys. That is because one of the most informative things leading up to the NFL Draft was the college prospects the team brought in for their 30 allowed visits. We would also be tracking Dallas Days for local candidates, and any mention of scouts or coaches showing up at pro days.

In the new abnormal, all that is now gone. Travel has stopped except for absolutely essential reasons. However much importance we place on football, prepping for the draft is really not one of those. That doesn’t mean that the team is not talking to college players. It will all just have to be via video chat and such. One interesting thing to note is that the only real limits the league has placed on video communication appears to be restricting how many times the prospect can be contacted, and for how long.

Theoretically, a team could speak with far more than 30 possible draft picks if they chose. It would take some time management, but if you did just 15 different players a week, you could knock out 45 between now and the actual draft.

And we would pretty much be in the dark unless someone (most likely agents) spread the word.

BTB Podcast

The Aldon Smith signing left a lot of Cowboys fans with questions. Our latest episode of The Ocho features special guest Ron Slavin, Aldon’s agent, who talks through the pass rusher joining America’s Team.

Make sure that you never miss an episode from Blogging The Boys by subscribing to the Blogging The Boys podcast feed!

Also make sure to subscribe to the official YouTube Channel from Blogging The Boys. We’ve got big plans coming there throughout the offseason and you don’t want to miss a thing!