Film room: 3 long-term projects who could pay huge dividends for the Cowboys down the road - John Owning, Dallas Morning News
Could these three “projects” end up hitting big for the Cowboys?
Azur Kamara, DE/OLB
The Cowboys’ UDFA class has been widely regarded as one of the best in the NFL, as Dallas secured more than a handful of players with draftable grades.
One of the most intriguing members of the class is Kansas edge defender Azur Kamara.
The Ivory Coast native’s skill set is raw as sushi, which is why he posted little production — five sacks and 10 tackles for loss combined in two years at Kansas — and is unlikely to make Dallas’ 53-man roster this year. Kamara’s hand technique, footwork, pad level and processing ability all need significant development before he can be trusted on defense during game action that counts.
Nevertheless, at 6-3, 245 pounds with outstanding length (35 1/4-inch arms), Kamara is an elite linear athlete, having posted a jaw-dropping 4.59 40-yard dash (94th percentile among edge defenders) and an impressive 10-foot-1 broad jump (81st percentile) at the scouting combine. On top of that length, speed and explosiveness, Kamara has natural power in his hands to go with a nonstop motor. Players with Kamara’s length, speed and motor don’t come around every day, which is why he’s worth developing long-term.
A name you may not be familiar with, Luther Kirk, but should start getting to know.
The Good: This dude has some range! Sideline-to-sideline, pressure, it doesn’t matter...Kirk flashes his speed and length in the secondary. A great build for a safety with an impressive wingspan (73¾ inches) that he uses to efficiently close on defenders and finish the play. Had the ability to take away the best receiver he faced each week and was known to make the big play at the right time. With a game sealing interception against Western Illinois in 2018, a 10-tackle game against Top 10 ranked Northern Iowa, or a couple big pass breakups against Northern Illinois, Kirk seemed to find a way to get the job done.
The Project: He still has a long way to go as a run defender when brought into the box. Oversells on the attack and can easily lose sight of the ball carrier leading to big gains on misdirection handoffs. Also, it’s concerning to see where his production from 5 interceptions in 2018 dropped to zero this past season against the same competition in the FCS. Whether that’s because of different responsibilities in the secondary or just lack off opportunity, it took until his postseason game to finally get a pick.
Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch makes NFL writer’s All-Under-25 Team - Dallas Morning News Staff
Even with the injuries, LVE is still really good.
One year after Vander Esch became the first rookie defender in a Cowboys uniform to receive a Pro Bowl invitation since Everson Walls in 1981, his promising career took an unexpected turn. The linebacker missed seven games last season — including the final six — with a bulging disc.
It turns out he has cervical spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. The Cowboys say Vander Esch will be fully recovered whenever the season begins, but his health is worth watching.
When healthy, Vander Esch is one of the NFL’s best young defenders. NFL.com’s Marc Sessler certainly thinks so, giving Vander Esch a spot on his 2020 All-Under-25 Team this week.
A roster compiled of the league’s top players who will be younger than 25 on Sept. 10, the opening day of the season, Vander Esch, 24, is one of two linebackers on Sessler’s squad.
Vander Esch struggled through a painful neck injury last season, but no doubt lingers over his ceiling when healthy. A force-of-nature Pro Bowl selection as a rookie in 2018, the Cowboys’ first-rounder piled up 140 tackles, two picks and six pass breakups. Two seasons ago feels like the early 1970s, but it’s a crime to forget Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith shrinking the field as sideline-to-sideline wizards. We’ll be reminded again come kickoff.
We have a tendency to overrate players on our favorite teams. Who is the Cowboys most overrated player?
30% - Stink eye view
On a character level, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player that’s a better person than Jaylon Smith. The positive mindset, the ridiculous commitment in rehabilitating, and the resounding impact he’s had on the community with his minority entrepreneurship program is just the tip of the iceberg to what Smith offers. But what you can do on the football field matters too, and needless to say - he didn’t have that great of a year in 2019. He wasn’t terrible, and yes - he did earn Pro Bowl honors, but that may have been some residual guilt from the voters after snubbing him the year prior. Smith had a great season in 2018 where he had 121 tackles, four sacks, and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown. It was enough to get the team to lock him down with a five-year, $64 million contract extension.
While he’s still a solid player, fans expected more from him, especially when his All-Pro partner-in-crime linebacker Leighton Vander Esch went down. He didn’t help matters by ill-timed celebrations that rubbed some people the wrong way. A narrative got tossed around that he was more concerned about his brand than his performance on the field. That seems a little absurd based on the type of person he is, but based on the voting - fans just aren’t all that warm and fuzzy when it comes to Smith. Hopefully, a rebound year with an improved coaching staff will help get him back in favor with the fans.
Jime Tomusla + DeMarcus Lawrence + Gerald McCoy + Aldon Smith + Neville Gallimore + Donatari Poe = ?
The quickest way to success in the NFL is being dominant in the trenches. On the defensive side of the ball, the Dallas Cowboys had some work to do after losing Maliek Collins and 2019 sack leader Robert Quinn to free agency, and they didn’t wait long to start putting pieces together.
The biggest area of concern was the interior, an area the Cowboys routinely ignored during the Jason Garrett era. The first domino to fall came in March when the Cowboys signed veteran Gerald McCoy to a three-year deal worth 18.3 million. McCoy, a former six-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time All-Pro, gives the Cowboys an immediate upgrade from the aforementioned Collins at the 3-technique. Not only is he a constant disruptor in the run game, but McCoy also hasn’t had less than five sacks for eight consecutive seasons. For a team that had trouble stopping the run and getting sacks last season, McCoy’s presence will be vital in getting this defense back to the form it played in during the 2018 season.
About a week after McCoy came on board, his ex Carolina Panther teammate Dontari Poe inked a two-year deal with the Cowboys. Although Antwaun Woods is still on the roster and has been solid, Poe will takeover 1-technique responsibilities. His ability to use his nearly 350-pound frame to disrupt from inside will not only benefit the pass rush and stopping the run, but it will keep offensive linemen from getting to the second level and putting a hat on the Cowboys talented linebacker core.
The Cowboys have three WR1’s.
When the Dallas Cowboys selected CeeDee Lamb with their top pick in the 2020 draft it offered up a mountain of possibilities. Lamb was widely regarded as the top WR in this receiver-rich draft. His prospect grades forecast him as a future Pro Bowler and his advanced skill set indicated it won’t take long to reach that elite status.
He joins an already talented receiving corps in Dallas that features Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cooper is a proven No. 1 WR and Gallup is on the cusp. With three legit star receivers capable of playing all three spots (X, Z, and slot), the Dallas Cowboys are in a unique position heading into the season: they can play them interchangeably in order to exploit match-ups.
Oftentimes teams are limited as to how much they can move their receivers around. X, Z, and Y all demand different skill sets and finding players capable of playing all three is a rarity. The fact that the Dallas Cowboys appear to have three elite WRs capable of playing anywhere could be a decided advantage for them going forward.
Aldon Smith Q&A: Back With A Purpose That’s Bigger than Cowboys Football - Mike Fisher, 105.3 the Fan
Aldon Smith back and ready to contribute.
FRISCO (DALLAS) - ”I lost my way along the way,’’ says Aldon Smith, in his first full media session since joining the Dallas Cowboys and being reinstated by the NFL. “I wasn’t sure what my purpose was. I know football is one of my many purposes that God has put me here for. ... With God giving me this gift, this talent ...
“It was something I didn’t finish.”
Smith, 30, has been away from football for four seasons due to a series of horrific incidents. He’s owning those mistakes now, driven he says by that understanding of purpose, some inspirational words from his late grandmother Julie Edwards, and his dealing with his drinking problem.
Smith says: “Last year, my grandma passed (of ALS). .. My life wasn’t where I wanted it to be. She got a message to me: ‘Go out there and get what you deserve.’ That, and me surrendering to the problem I had with drinking ... It was time.
“I got to a point where I was fed up with how I was living my life, and I knew I needed to change.’’
What is your earliest Cowboys memory? What Cowboys moments made you cry, both in good and bad ways? We discuss it all on the latest episode of Girls Talkin ‘Boys.
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