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Key Dallas Cowboys rookies to evaluate for 2021

The Dallas Cowboys’ season is all but over. Despite being in contention for the NFC East title, the Cowboys have no hope of competing for a championship this year. Their offense has stagnated after the loss of Dak Prescott, and their defense continues to be among the worst in the league. However, not all is lost. The Cowboys can evaluate their young players in order to see who deserves to remain on the roster after the 2020 season. Let’s look at three names to look for as the Dallas Cowboys decide who to keep and who to cut loose.

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Bradlee Anae, DE

Bradlee Anae is the Cowboys’ 5th round pick from this years’ draft. Anae had an extremely impressive college career at Utah, finishing as the school’s all-time leader in sacks with 29.5 in 39 career games. He was selected as a consensus All American his senior year and earned the Morris Trophy, given annually to the best defensive lineman in the Pac 12.

Anae proved himself to be a technician in college. He possesses an arsenal of pass rush moves that are more developed than most of his peers coming out of the draft. This includes a spin move that he flashed multiple times at Utah, to great success. His quick first step allows him to get up the field quickly, while setting linemen up for a counter move inside.

There’s no doubt that Anae’s talent for pass rushing is there. The only question about him as a prospect was his athleticism. These concerns dropped him to the end of the fifth round in the draft. He had an unfortunate combine, running a 4.93 40 yard dash and a 7.44 three cone time. These are average to slightly below average times for a defensive end. While this lack of athleticism never bothered him at the college level, the NFL is a different story.

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Moving forward

Anae hasn’t had the opportunity to show his talent quite yet. According to Pro Football Reference, Anae has only played six snaps across six games. However, his role could expand sooner rather than later, as the Cowboys traded away Everson Griffen to the Lions in exchange for a conditional sixth round pick. There seems to be some indication that the younger lineman are going to get a chance to prove themselves:

With Griffen off the team Anae becomes the primary backup for DE Tyrone Crawford. Look for him to make the most of his opportunities in the coming weeks.

Reggie Robinson, DB

Reggie Robinson is another name to keep an eye out for this year. Robinson is a fourth round pick out of Tulsa. He played cornerback most of his college career, and played there well. He recorded 101 solo tackles, 34 pass deflections, and three interceptions across 31 career games.

Robinson was considered raw coming out of college, but his traits as a defensive back were promising. He’s very aggressive in coverage, not afraid to jam receivers on the line of scrimmage. He’s also an excellent athlete and has long arms, meaning his physical profile looks the part. The biggest knocks on Robinson are his technique and his instincts, both of which are seen as lacking.

At the beginning of the season, the Cowboys switched Robinson’s primary position from CB to Safety. This allows him to utilize his athleticism and physical playstyle more than if he were to play outside corner. This move also gets him closer to the field. The Cowboys have decent depth at CB and Robinson would be near the bottom of the depth chart. Safety is the position that allows Robinson to potentially earn the most playing time. The teams’ current safeties have not been playing well at all, so don’t be surprised if you see Robinson make his first appearance on the field within the next few weeks.

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Francis Bernard, LB

Francis Bernard is yet another young Cowboys’ player out of Utah. Unlike Anae, however, Bernard was undrafted in 2020 and was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an UDFA after the draft.

Bernard went undrafted for a reason. While he played well at Utah, he doesn’t have any one area that he is elite in, and his athletic traits are underwhelming. He doesn’t fight through block particularly well, which has already been a problem on the Cowboys’ defense all season. He also struggles to make tackles and isn’t agile enough to stick with shifty ball carriers in open space.

His best assets are his constant motor and his football IQ. He does well in diagnosing plays against both the run and the pass, and keeps his feet moving until the play is over. His coverage ability is above average for a LB prospect, which along with his short-area quickness means he could be decent in zone coverage.

All in all, Bernard has some good traits, but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be a star player. Why should the Cowboys play him then? Well, their current linebackers have been…not good.

Jaylon Smith, #54, bites hard on a fake end around…even though the QB doesn’t even try fake the handoff to the receiver in motion. Smith just sees the movement and either panics or forgets about the RB entirely. Either way, the result is a touchdown straight up the gut for Antonio Gibson.

This is one of many disappointing plays the Dallas Cowboys LB corps has put on tape this year. Between their poor performance and the lack of talent at DT, it’s no wonder that the Cowboy’s run defense is the worst in the league. It is clear that whatever they are trying to do on the field right now isn’t working. While Bernard might not be a star, if he can develop into a decent depth linebacker this year, that’s a huge win for the defense going forward. Get him some game action and see what you have. What’s the worst that can happen? The defense gets worse? Doubtful.

If the Dallas Cowboys want to move into 2021 with the best chance to win, they have to determine who they want on the roster and who they want to move on from. This season provides them the chance to evaluate their young players and let them earn roles on the team. The 2021 defense could be much improved if even one of these players turns into a quality starter next season. Might as well give them the chance to get there.

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