OTAs/Minicamp Takeaways and the Beat Writer Beat: Dallas Cowboys
Always looking for a competitive edge, dynasty fantasy football players tend to use apps with push notifications (think Sleeperbot) or frequently check the news sections on their league’s hosting site (powered by Rotoworld, for example) to stay informed about NFL team and player news. The news blurbs they read summarize reports written by the beat writers of all 32 NFL teams who work for various news organizations and websites. They often contain little nuggets of information that can sway them in one direction or another regarding a roster decision for their fantasy teams. But many dynasty players fail to realize that these blurbs capture only a fraction of the information being generated by beat writers, especially this time of year with OTAs and minicamps taking place. In this series of articles, I’m going to walk the beat writer beat to collect some of that information from tweets, articles, and podcasts that they might have missed, one NFL team at a time (or as many as I can cover before training camps start.) This article covers the Dallas Cowboys.
The one Dallas player who is most noticeable in the news right now other than Zeke (for all the wrong reasons) is Dak Prescott. Most of the news regarding Prescott has to do with his contract negotiations. Showing up in the push notifications of most apps and the newsfeed of most hosting sites has been positive comments by the Cowboys front office and ownership. Team sources told Jane Slater of the NFL Network that the team is “very comfortable with Dak being our future.” On the Rich Eisen show Jerry Jones himself said that he’s “sold” on Prescott who is “worthy of investing in for the long term.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill reported that the Cowboys are comfortable paying Prescott close to $30 million a year. But with Carson Wentz recently signing a $30 million deal and the next big QB contract usually having to one-up the previous one, Prescott may be in line for more.
But the news that many dynasty players may have missed, especially if they don’t follow Dallas beat writers on Twitter, in the local Dallas media, or on Cowboys-focused podcasts is that Prescott has been getting rave reviews from his coaches, teammates, and beat writers during offseason workouts. In a presser during OTAs reported on by several beat writers, Jason Witten, the unretired TE, 11-time Pro Bowler, and franchise legend, said that Prescott has been “fantastic.” When pressed for details, he explained that Prescott’s accuracy, velocity, and anticipation have all been “unbelievable.” Having played with Prescott for two years and then spending a year away from the team, Witten believed that he had gained some perspective, and it was clear to him that Prescott has grown as a quarterback “by leaps and bounds.” One of the beat writers reporting Witten’s comments, David Helman of dallascowboys.com, agreed with Witten’s assessment himself, noting that what Witten said “lines up pretty well with what’s been on display during open practices.”
Even more effusive about Prescott than Witten was Prescott’s QB Coach Jon Kitna. In an article for the Dallas Morning News, Jon Machota interviewed Kitna who has been working with Prescott to improve the positioning of his shoulders and feet. But Kitna considered this work minor adjustments. In fact, Kitna said that he doesn’t buy into the theory of some analysts that
“there’s a lot to fix.” He believed that Prescott “excels at everything” and “when his feet and shoulders are in the right spot, he can throw it through a Froot Loop.” Machota himself remarked that the Cowboys might not need that level of pinpoint accuracy from their QB, but they will need him to take care of the football and make defenses pay when they load the box against Zeke. With regards to taking care of the football, Machota did observe that in the 6 practices the media was allowed to attend, Prescott didn’t throw a single interception.
While a lot of this praise has to be taken with a grain of salt, dynasty players looking to draft a QB in a startup or to trade for an upgrade at the position should take note of all the positive vibes surrounding Prescott. And if vibes aren’t enough, they should consider a recent tweet by fantasy expert Evan Silva, who noted that while Prescott’s ADP hovers around the QB18-21 range he actually finished as the QB6, QB11, and QB10 respectively in his first three seasons. And in weeks 9-17 of the 2019 season after the Amari Cooper trade, he was the QB4.
Another Cowboy getting high praise is former Packer WR Randall Cobb. While Cobb told Todd Archer of ESPN that he felt “like a little kid, lost” on the first day of OTAs, Archer observed that on the field Cobb “did not look like a receiver finding his way.” He thought Cobb looked sharp, showing quickness out of the slot. He also described how Cobb and Prescott have been trying to get in sync with each other, with Cobb asking his QB about his progressions so he can time his footwork better and Prescott asking his WR about ball placement.
Over the course of OTAs and minicamp, it became clear that Prescott and Cobb were building a rapport, and more than one beat writer used the word “chemistry.” Some of this chemistry may be attributed to a similar mindset as Cobb played quarterback in high school and his first year at Kentucky. In an article for the Dallas Morning News, Tyler Dragon focused on this background to explain Cobb’s performance and his budding rapport with Prescott. He dropped a few quotes from Prescott who said Cobb is “an incredibly smart guy” and “his background of playing quarterback really shows.” Prescott elaborated that Cobb asks what number he is in his progressions (as Archer also reported) and he already knows where and when he’s supposed to go in motion.
Besides the chemistry he’s developing with Prescott, Cobb was praised by teammates, coaches, and beat writers for showing off his versatility. During OTAs and minicamp, he played both in the slot and on the perimeter, and he even ran a few jet sweeps. WR Coach Sanjay Lal was quoted by several writers as saying, “He’s smart enough to play every position…We’ll…use multiple formations with him outside, inside, in the backfield. We can put him anywhere, because he is that guy.” On the Locked on Cowboys podcast, Landon McCool and Marcus Mosher discussed how impressive Cobb was, and they claimed that it was going to be hard for the Cowboys to take him off the field during the season. Both of them agreed that “it wouldn’t be surprising” if he played close to 75% of the snaps.
In his Scout’s Notebook series for dallascowboys.com, former scout Bryan Broaddus praised both Cobb and the Dallas front office for filling the void at slot WR: “Nothing against Cole
Beasley and his ability as a player, but this front office hit a home run with Randall Cobb as his replacement. I swear that in these practices, it’s as if Dak Prescott and Cobb have played together for multiple years.” Broaddus went into further detail by complimenting Cobb’s “great feel for how to find space in the secondary.”
In an offseason wrap-up article for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Clarence Hill summed up Cobb’s performance by writing, “There is no question that free agent receiver Randall Cobb is going to be a huge addition to this offense. He and Prescott have a fast connection. He has frequently found him in the middle of the field in practice for big plays.”
It remains to be seen if Cobb can get enough touches behind Elliot and Cooper to become an impact fantasy player. But if this reported chemistry with his QB holds up and his projected playing time comes to fruition, he just may become one.
Another Cowboys player that shined during OTAs and minicamp was RB Tony Pollard. The former Memphis RB and teammate of Darrell Henderson popped up in push notifications and newsfeeds because of a video that the official Cowboys account tweeted showing Pollard breaking through the line, making some cuts in the secondary, and then streaking to the end zone with Zeke whooping in the background and running to congratulate him. Of course, it’s OTAs and there were no pads, but the run showcased Pollard’s speed and play-making ability, which is what teammates, coaches, and beat writers complimented him for.
From his observations of OTAs, Jean-Jacques Taylor of Dallas-Fort Worth’s NBC 5 Station suggested that Pollard has a chance “to make a real impact for the Cowboys.” He noticed that the coaches seem “to have a real vision for [him] in terms of using him in a variety of different ways and getting him the ball as a runner and receiver. He’s shown some big-play ability in OTAs….”
In an article for USAToday’s Cowboy Wire, Todd Brock asked four Cowboys beat writers which rookie will have the biggest impact for the team, and three of them said Pollard. Bryan Broaddus said that “from the moment he was selected…Pollard was going to be that guy. During OTAs and minicamp practices, he might have been running behind Darius Jackson, but… Kellen Moore is going to find things for Pollard to do. The player is just too explosive not to take advantage of his skill set.” Lindsay Draper, also of dallascowboys.com, stated that “the coaches love his ability to pick things up quickly, in addition to his confidence. The fans will love his electrifying speed and versatility.”
On the Locked on Cowboys podcast, McCool and Mosher took note of the “glowingly” positive reports on Pollard and speculated that he could be that play-making, space player that the Cowboys have been seeking but haven’t had since Lance Dunbar and didn’t find in Tavon Austin. They both insisted, however, that Pollard was not just a gadget player, an opinion that was also expressed by RB Coach Gary Brown before the start of OTAs. Brown said: “I know people think he’s going to be this gadget guy. He’s more than that. He’s bigger than what you think he is and he runs powerful for a guy you think is a gadget guy. I think he can do all our
runs and more.” On their podcast, McCool and Mosher agreed with Brown, saying he’s not just a gadget player. Although they couldn’t predict his usage, they agreed that if he could get 5-8 touches a game, he could be an “explosive playmaker” for the Cowboys.
Making more widespread news before the start of OTAs, however, was a comment by Executive Vice President Stephen Jones who proclaimed that Pollard could get up to 30 snaps a game. But as Rotoworld staff writers pointed out in their blurb, Tavon Austin got more than 20 snaps only once last year, so it’s probably best to tamper down those expectations. What is truly revealing about Jones’ comments, though, is the enthusiasm for Pollard inside the Dallas organization.
So what kind of player can Pollard be, not just this season but in seasons to come? Jane Slater of the NFL Network tweeted that Pollard’s teammate Amari Cooper made a lofty comparison by saying that Pollard reminded him of Alvin Kamara, his former college teammate for a single season at Alabama, primarily because of his elusiveness. Interestingly, Pollard compared himself to Kamara at the NFL Combine. Though it’s doubtful that a kind of Ingram-Kamara partnership will emerge in Dallas, any chance that Pollard can generate a fraction of Kamara’s production makes him a fantasy player worth paying attention to.
Besides Prescott, Cobb, and Pollard, other Cowboys players haven’t generated the level of buzz during OTAs and minicamp that they have. Undrafted rookie WR out of Toledo Jon’Vea Johnson turned heads a little bit mostly because of his speed. WR Coach Lal was quoted in a presser as saying, “Jon’Vea the last two days, his speed and athleticism and how smooth he is has shown up here almost a little bit earlier than we thought it would.” But there’s a few veterans ahead of him that set his chances of making the roster a bit low. And even if he did, he probably wouldn’t be fantasy relevant.