DT John Ridgeway: “Vanilla Gorilla” eager to bring animalistic edge to Cowboys run defense - Todd Brock, Cowboys Wire
You’ve got to love John Ridgeway’s swagger. Hopefully it carries over to the field.
The Cowboys bucked a recent trend as they worked their way into the late rounds of the draft last weekend. In a game where speed kills and a blazing 40 time is often the deciding factor that gives one player the edge over another, the Dallas brain trust found themselves, instead, shopping for size.
The most recent game the Cowboys played was their unceremonious postseason exit at the hands of the 49ers, a contest now largely remembered inside The Star as one in which the Cowboys were outphysicaled and outmuscled. That’s what head coach Mike McCarthy was thinking of in particular as the fifth round neared its end.
“Mike was sitting there all day going, ‘Playoffs, playoffs. Remember the
playoffs,” owner Jerry Jones would later recall.
The Cowboys needed a beast.
They called The Vanilla Gorilla.
John Ridgeway III weighs in at 320 pounds. That’s the size of Tyron Smith. And Ridgeway is actually a little taller… at least if you ask him.
Cowboys linebacker depth is a concern and Deion Jones does have a history Dan Quinn.
Dan Quinn Reunites with Deion Jones
In 2017, Jones posted a PFF grade of 87.3 and was voted to the Pro Bowl as a second-year player. Fast-forward to 2021, and Quinn is now the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. Jones, meanwhile, is coming off one of his worst seasons, posting a 34.6 grade with PFF.
Jones compiled 137 total tackles but had just two sacks, eight tackles for loss and no interceptions for the first time in his career.
As it happens, the Cowboys could stand to add a linebacker to their mix. They re-signed Leighton Vander Esch to a one-year deal and have young options in 2021 pick Jabril Cox and 2022 pick Damone Clark, but Jones could be an upgrade over all three given his success with Quinn.
According to Spotrac, the Falcons can trade Jones after June 1 and save $10.7 million against the cap in 2022 with a savings of $13.1 million in 2023. For a rebuilding team like the Falcons, those extra savings could pay major dividends.
Jaquarii Robertson is one of several intriguing undrafted rookies for the Cowboys.
Name: Jaquarii Roberson
Position: Wide Receiver
School: Wake Forest
Awards and Recognition: 2020 and 2021 Second Team All-ACC
The Good: Production was booming for Roberson in the ACC. He finished as a top 15 receiver in 2020 and broke the program record for consecutive 100-yard receiving games, doing so in the final four games of the regular season. Then, in 2021, he backed that up with four more 100-yard games over five weeks in October. Good speed and shifty in his route running allows him to be good after the catch.
The Project: Despite a solid frame, Roberson really struggles to get defensive backs off his back in coverage and does not have any physicality to his game. This limited his versatility and confined him to the slot for most of his college career. His separation was enough to get him by in college, but at the professional level, his windows will be smaller, and he’ll have to win with his frame. He’ll also be one of the older receivers in the rookie class turning 24 in July.
Draft takeaways for the Dallas Cowboys.
2. Coaches Do A Great Job of Lobbying for Players
During the Jason Garrett head coaching era, all we really would hear from this Cowboys coaching staff was that they wanted “the right kind of guy” when looking at players in the upcoming drafts. Whether it be their ability to make plays on the field, their aggression on the field, or just leadership qualities, that’s what they wanted. This new coaching staff under Mike McCarthy has taken a different approach when assessing whether a draft pick is a fit for this roster.
The motto of the old regime has turned into players with athleticism and traits over the right kind of guy on and off the field. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is a prime example of this. Over the last two years, he’s been able to lobby, with success, to draft two players with off-the-field concerns in the second round in back-to-back drafts. It gives us some insight into just how much sway the coaching staff has when it comes to the roster and their ability to sell Jerry on these players.
This also shows the level of trust Jerry has in his coaching staff to follow their judgment at times over what his scouting department tells me are concerning red flags about players.
Leighton Vander Esch is back to “prove it” but probably further teams - Jess Haynie, Inside The Star
Leighton Vander Esch doesn’t look to be in the Cowboys plans beyond 2022.
After finishing his rookie contract last season, Leighton Vander Esch signed a one-year deal to return to Dallas and hopefully convince someone that he deserves a long-term deal. But after the Cowboys’ 2022 draft, it’s starting to look like the linebacker’s “prove it” season will be to attract the NFL’s 31 other teams.
Vander Esch became an unrestricted free agent this offseason after Dallas declined the 5th-year option on his original contract. While Leighton had an outstanding rookie season in 2018, injuries and scheme changes marred his 2019-2020 seasons and left the Cowboys dubious about his long-term potential.
Leighton started to get back to form last year, finishing 2021 on a high note with a strong second half to the regular season and being one of the team’s best performers in the playoff loss to the 49ers. It was enough for Dallas to give him an almost fully guaranteed $2 million for the upcoming season.
The Cowboys already have two linebackers they seem committed to for the long term in Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox. One is obvious; Parsons is already one of the best defensive players in the league and probably the centerpiece of Dallas’ defense for years to come.
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