Film room: Why these 3 Cowboys players will be the most improved in 2021 - John Owning, Dallas Morning News
It’s time to improooooooove.
Projecting improvement for Randy Gregory is tricky because of how incredibly efficient he already was in 2020, as he finished ninth in pass rush productivity rating (8.5) — a metric that measures pressure created on a per snap basis with weighting toward sacks — and run-stop rate (9.8%) among edge defenders.
So even if Gregory does improve, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to sustain his efficiency over a larger sample size.
I do believe Gregory will be improved in 2021 even if it isn’t directly reflected in the stat sheet.
First off, I believe Gregory’s role in Dan Quinn’s defense will be more conducive for growth, as he’s a perfect fit for the LEO role in Dallas’ new defensive scheme. The wide alignments should only enhance Gregory’s physical traits and pass-rushing ability, as it enables him to generate more momentum prior to contact and makes it easier to isolate tackles one-on-one in space.
Moreover, I expect Gregory to have a much bigger overall role in the defense under Quinn than he did under Mike Nolan last season. Despite Gregory’s efficient play against the run and pass, he was relegated to essentially a third-down pass-rush specialist role. This year, I expect Gregory to be utilized much more like a traditional defensive end, meaning more opportunities (both against the run and pass) to make an impact. While a bigger role could lead to less efficient play, it should lead to an overall bigger impact made over the course of the season.
In addition, Gregory’s ability to finally partake in Dallas’ offseason program (though the nature of offseason workouts seems to still be up in the air due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic) should only help facilitate improvement for the 28-year-old. Due to suspensions stemming from the league’s antiquated drug policy, Gregory hasn’t been able to partake in the team’s full offseason program since his rookie year.
Being able to spend time around the facility around teammates and coaches should put Gregory in an environment where he can really hone his craft and improve his overall skill set. Whether it’s improving the timing of his hands, widening his pass-rush repertoire or becoming more familiar with the scheme/playbook, I believe Gregory will make some serious strides this offseason that will pay off during the 2021 season.
Vander Esch needs a bounce-back year.
The Good: It was a challenging year for the Cowboys’ defense, and for Vander Esch individually, to say the least. But the former first-round pick managed to finish third on the team in tackles (73, according to coaches’ film) despite missing the better part of seven games with injuries. He also recorded his first career full sack in a Week 8 road loss to the Eagles, blitzing and forcing a fumble that led to a field goal for a Cowboys offense forced to play rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci at quarterback.
The Bad: The obvious. The injuries. After a dominant rookie season in 2018 – he became the Cowboys’ third rookie defender and first rookie linebacker to make the Pro Bowl – Vander Esch has missed 13 games in the last two seasons. It’s arguably been a run of bad luck more than anything: a shot to the collarbone in Week 1 that resulted in a fracture and stint on Reserve/Injured, then a rolled ankle in Week 15 that sidelined him the final two regular-season games. Vander Esch has made clear that his 2019 neck injury and subsequent surgery is now a non-issue, and it didn’t impact his availability last season. But there’s no doubt the Cowboys need him on the field. They also need Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith to make more of the impact plays that ignited the defense during the team’s NFC East title run in 2018. Last season the Cowboys allowed the most points and the second-most rushing yards in franchise history. It was a tough year for the linebackers, but the entire defense struggled for a number of reasons, including an unsuccessful scheme change with no true offseason program under ex-defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, as well as multiple season-ending injuries to the interior defensive line. Twelve takeaways in the final four games was a sign of progress heading into 2021, though.
Dallas Cowboys Draft Digest: Eyeing Azeez Ojulari, other potential franchise pass rushers - Bob Sturm, The Athletic
Edge rushers anyone?
Azeez Ojulari — Georgia — 6’3 – 240 – Jersey No. 13
Ojulari was a highly-touted recruit in 2017, but also was signed at Georgia knowing full-well that he was going to be unlikely to offer much in 2018 due to a late-in-his-senior-season ACL injury. This was the downside, but the upside is that you would then be able to enjoy the services of one of the Ojulari brothers (BJ Ojulari is at LSU) and are grandsons of true Nigerian royalty (their grandfather is a prince). Azeez Ojulari was an exceptional basketball player as well and is an impressive prospect.
Positives: This is a player with violent hands and a bending edge which you always look for in a potential lead pass-rusher. His get-off at the snap puts him in a good spot to have success and he really shows power for a player of his size. He is an active edge and this allows him to take on direct blocks and runs as well as occasionally dropping in passing lanes. He is dynamic and versatile, but do not lose sight of the meat here; he is an exceptional pass rusher who dominated the tackles placed in front of him, including legitimate prospects. He will generally line up outside and gain the edge, but he has a power rush and relentless style that make him a real issue and that includes drawing considerable holding penalties, as well.
Dallas Cowboys: Case for drafting an offensive lineman in the first round - Connor Green, The Landry Hat
Could the Cowboys go O-Line with the 10th overall pick?
Given the importance of having a good offensive line shouldn’t the team at least consider taking an offensive lineman with the tenth overall pick? The organization is unlikely to have a shot at the top lineman in the draft, Oregon’s Penei Sewell, but it could reasonably have a chance to pick either Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater or Virginia Tech offensive lineman Christian Darrisaw.
Both of those players would serve to bolster the teams’ offensive line and give Dallas more flexibility to potentially cut the aging Smith. Although the team arguably has greater needs at other positions like cornerback and safety it could use its later-round draft picks to address these needs. The organization also saw two young players in their secondary, cornerback Trevon Diggs and safety Donovan Wilson, have breakout seasons which somewhat decreases the urgency to select a player at one of these positions in the first round.
The past decade should have demonstrated the importance of having a dominant offensive line to fans of America’s Team. With the unit on the verge of a potential collapse, the Dallas Cowboys should at least consider selecting an offensive lineman with its first-round pick. Otherwise, the organization might see its playoff and Super Bowl drought extending into 2021 and beyond.
With no real NFL Draft Combine in 2021, these dates take on an out-sized importance for draft prospects - Dave Halprin, Blogging the Boys
Pro Day schedules here.
The 2021 draft will be missing one big thing. Not the actual draft, but the run up to the draft will be without the regular NFL Combine. COVID-19 has taken way one of the big spectacles of the draft season when all the prospects gather in Indianapolis to get prodded and poked, analyzed, and then perform drills for the masses. There will actually be mini-Combines, but they will involve a smaller number of players getting medical-only evaluations with no drills. It will also likely happen at a few different locations around the country.
Also missing will be the in-person visits. This is really a downer for sites and fans that track those like we do as they have been a very accurate source for figuring out who the team may take, not just in the first round, but throughout the draft. It definitely helps in figuring out the positions the team is most worried about.
Instead, scouts and the fans will have to rely on Pro Days. In the past, Pro Days have been notorious for their favorable outcomes for players, especially much faster 40 times. One of the big challenges this year will be trying to standardize the results from Pro Days around the country. That was one of the big benefits of the Indianapolis Combine, everyone was competing at the same location with the same timing mechanisms, etc.
We now know when some of these Pro Days will be held. A full list of the Pro Days we know as of now is below, but let’s highlight a few that may be of interest to the Cowboys and the fanbase for the pick at #10 in the draft. We’re not sure if all these prospects mentioned below will be participating at their Pro Days, but we’ll list them anyway.
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