Every year around the end of a season in any sport you can think of, a debate rages on regarding that particular league's MVP award. Some believe it should go to the best player on the best team. Other's take the, "if you remove (a certain player) from their team, what would the team look like?" route. And others still, argue that it should go to the best player in a given league. When we talk about team sports, it's nearly impossible to have a clear definition of what "Most Valuable Player" means. In the NFL, where 46 guys can have an impact on a given week and 53 or more make contributions throughout the season, that discussion becomes even more difficult. Then you take a team like the Dallas Cowboys who have talent at all of the premium positions and then the discussion becomes even more convoluted.
On Tuesday, Jean-Jacques Taylor of 103.3 ESPN, threw out his 5 most important Dallas Cowboys. Important is certainly subjective, but his list is a good one and certainly creates debate.
5 most IMPORTANT Cowboys: Dak, Tank, Zeke, Amari and LVE. Yours?
I'd argue that his list is a bit flawed in that it doesn't include the second most important position for any team, offensive tackle. But instead of ripping apart his list, I'll give you my own.
1. Dak Prescott, Quarterback
The starting quarterback to any team is generally the most important player determining success in the NFL. You can win games despite having good play at the position, but sustained success is very difficult in the NFL without good quarterback play. Teams that want to contend in the modern NFL have to have a player at the quarterback position that can make plays in the passing game.
Dak Prescott isn't a perfect quarterback and not even a top 10 quarterback, but he's a player that makes plays in the passing game and keeps his team in a position to win the game ar more often than he hasn't. Sure he's had some clunker games, but he's had some great games as well. His ability in the running game pretty much helped the Dallas Cowboys seal the win over the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
For 2019, a lot of what will determine the Dallas Cowboys success will be the play of Dak Prescott. If he's able to recreate the back half of 2018, after Amari Cooper arrived, then the Cowboys will have a lot of success despite the appearance of a difficult schedule.
John Williams from InsideTheStar.com takes you Inside the Quarterback room to breakdown the Dallas Cowboys signal callers heading into 2019.
2. Tyron Smith, Left Tackle
Though he's struggled with back issues each of the last three seasons, Tyron Smith is still one of the best players in the NFL regardless of position. You only have to look at how the Dallas Cowboys have performed without Smith manning the left side to see how valuable he is, in particular in 2017.
The 2017 season was derailed in the Atlanta Falcons game when the Cowboys had to play Chaz Green at left tackle for the injured Smith. By now, we know what happened that night. The Dallas Cowboys allowed Dak Prescott to be sacked eight times by rather no-name defensive players because Chaz Green and Byron Bell couldn't hold up on that side of the field.
In Smith's three game absence that season, the Dallas Cowboys averaged only seven points per game. In the other 13 games, the Cowboys averaged 25.5 points per game. That's a tremendous difference. Many people would like you to believe that Ezekiel Elliott's suspension was the reason the Cowboys suffered in 2017. In games with Elliott, the Cowboys averaged
3. Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver
Whether you want to take a statistical look at the impact Amari Cooper had once arrived in Dallas or look at the game film, you can't deny that the Dallas Cowboys offense looked radically more explosive after his arrival.
Cooper's elite ability to get open quickly and make plays after the catch, combined with his size as well as his reputation, provided an element that had been missing since Dez Bryant was still doing Dez Bryant things in 2016.
Though he struggled at the end of his time in Oakland, a change of scenery showed why he was so highly regarded coming out of Alabama and why the Dallas Cowboys were willing to give up a first-round draft pick for Cooper's services.
After Amari Cooper arrived, Dak Prescott went from a passer rating of 87.4 in the seven games of the season to a passer rating of 103 in the nine games after Cooper came on board. Prescott saw his pass yardage per game jump from 202 yards per game to 274. Even if you take out the 455 yard game against the Philadelphia Eagles and the 387 yard game against the New York Giants in the regular-season finale, Prescott still averaged 232 yards per game over the other seven games. Still, that's a significant jump from 202 yards per game in the first half of the season.
Amari Cooper's impact goes beyond Dak Prescott though. Ezekiel Elliott went from 88.4 rushing yards per game to 101 yards per game after Cooper arrived. His yards per carry and yards per reception both went up over the second half of the season.
Much of how we expect the offense to go in 2019 will depend on the Dak to Amari connection being as explosive as it was in 2019. With Cooper's ability and the rapport already established, there's a reason for optimism that this offense can go to the next level.
4. DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
There's a reason you're seeing the top edge players in the league now being paid as the second most important position in the NFL behind the quarterback position. Because creating pressure in the passing game is such an elusive trait that every team is looking for it. It's why the Chicago Bears sent a huge package to the Oakland Raiders for premier pass rusher Khalil Mack. Believe it or not, DeMarcus Lawrence fits right into that discussion with as one of the top edge players in the NFL.
Lawrence's ability to play the run and pass to an equally elite level makes him one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. Per Daniel Houston of WFAA, and @CowboysStats on Twitter, the only defensive lineman who was more productive according to playmaking EPA (expected points added) was Los Angeles Rams Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald.
Sure, Khalil Mack and Von Miller may be more productive players when it comes to sacks, but nobody, other than Aaron Donald plays the run and creates pressure to as great of an extent as DeMarcus Lawrence.
His impact on defense is similar to that of Amari Cooper on offense. When Lawrence is in the game, he opens everything up for the rest of the defense. Opposing offenses are sending double teams and give their tackles help with running backs and tight ends to combat Lawrence. That opens up opportunities for the rest of the defensive line. Randy Gregory is a good, ascending player, but does he record six sacks if Lawrence isn't taking some of the attention? Do the linebackers have as much effectiveness without Lawrence setting the edge on the left side of the defensive line? The answer is probably not.
He's an insanely disruptive player, who's still in his prime and a huge reason for the Dallas Cowboys success on defense over the last couple of seasons. Even after getting paid, you don't have to worry about Lawrence experiencing a drop off in production. He's a player that brings so much intensity to the playing field that you'll never see a drop off in effort. His leadership and that intensity helped propel the Dallas Cowboys to their biggest win of the regular season last year against the New Orleans Saints.
It's wildly important that he's healthy for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. If he's unable to start the season on the active roster, it will certainly hurt the Dallas Cowboys chances of repeating as NFC East champions.
5. Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Another player who's become an emotional and on-field leader for the Dallas Cowboys is Linebacker Jaylon Smith. Even for the most optimistic of Cowboys fans, there was always a little bit of doubt that Jaylon Smith would return to his All-American form that he displayed out of Notre Dame.
In 2017, that doubt grew into concern when Smith did take the field and looked to struggle with lateral movement. While those outside of The Star may have had doubts, Jaylon never lost faith that he would make a significant impact in the NFL.
Not only did Jaylon Smith make an emotional impact as an on-field leader for the Dallas Cowboys, his impact, though largely unnoticed, might have been bigger than fellow Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
As you can see from the graphic above, Jaylon Smith was far more disruptive than Leighton Vander Esch when it comes to playmaking EPA. Here's an excellent definition of playmaking EPA, again from Daniel Houston.
"Playmaking EPA measures the expected points added on all sacks, quarterback hits, tipped passes, interceptions, fumbles forced or recovered, tackles, etc., that resulted in a failed play for the opposing offense.
Playmaking EPA doesn’t care as much if you make a large number of routine tackles for four or five yards allowed. Instead, it rewards you for making game-changing plays that substantially reduce your opponent’s odds of scoring next—such as a tackle that stops the opponent on third-and-short, for instance."
Daniel Houston - WFAA.com
Traditional statistics liked Leighton Vander Esch's 2019 more, but more advanced analytics liked Jaylon Smith more. Combine that with the leadership he brings to the table, his ability to rush the passer, and the physicality with which he plays and to me, he's a more important player to the Dallas Cowboys success than Leighton Vander Esch.
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A lot of people would probably have Ezekiel Elliott in their top five. He's an important player for me, but not quite there. He'd probably rank six or seven if I extended this list. I'm not a "running backs don't matter" guy like some are, but I do believe the value of running backs is diminishing and not as important to team success as the guys listed above.
If the Cowboys for some reason didn't have Elliott, I think they could get productive games out of the running back position from a combination of Tony Pollard, Mike Weber, and Jamize Olawale. They wouldn't be as productive as Elliott, but they don't need to be.
Elliott's a great player and I would like to see the Dallas Cowboys work out a contract extension with him this offseason to keep him around through his prime years, but as we inch closer to training camp, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.
Who are your 5 Most Important Dallas Cowboys for the 2019 Season?
Report: Amari Cooper Likely out for the Rest of the Preseason
Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Amari Cooper is likely out for the remainder of the preseason according to ESPN's Todd Archer. He is currently dealing with a form of plantar fasciitis that has kept him out of practice since August 6th.
The three-time pro bowler changed life in Dallas last season as the team went 7-2 in it's final nine games after he was acquired to win the NFC East. Cooper isn't worried about any long term effects, though, as this is something he's familiar with.
"I'm not worried about it at all, because I know if it does linger, it doesn't matter," Cooper said. "I had 1,000 yards when I played on plantar fasciitis before."
The Cowboys host the Houston Texans this Saturday in what is known as the "dress rehearsal" game before the regular season. Starters normally play about a half of football to get the juices flowing for when games really count in September. Ideally, the plan would be for Cooper and Dak Prescott to get a rhythm of sorts before the season starts but that will have to wait until the team prepares to take on the New York Giants on September 8th.
However, the good thing here is this issue doesn't seem to be serious and Cooper will be ready for the start of the 2019 season.
Report: Cowboys Agree To Contract Extension With LB Jaylon Smith
The Cowboys are neck-deep in contract negotiations with some of their team's most important players, but it appears they have gotten one key guy signed this afternoon.
ESPN's Todd Archer is reporting that the Cowboys have agreed to a contract extension with middle linebacker Jaylon Smith, though the exact terms of the contract have yet to be announced.
The Cowboys have agreed to a contract extension with linebacker Jaylon Smith, according to sources. Smith was set to be a restricted free agent after this season but the Cowboys and his representatives started talks in the spring and they ramped up once camp began. Smith, a...
Of course, the Cowboys drafted Jaylon Smith early in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft despite the horrific leg injury he suffered in Notre Dame's college bowl game. Some didn't think Smith would ever recover to be the same player he once was, but in 2018 Smith emerged as an excellent middle linebacker once again. Smith finished the 2018 season with 121 combined tackles and 4 sacks, and has looked just as imposing thus far in the preseason.
Smith regained his athleticism and sideline to sideline speed, while retaining his impressive hit power and sound tackling to become one of the league's best. Combining Smith with Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys have put together arguably the best linebacker group in the NFL.
And now, there's no end in sight for the dynamic duo.
Report: 2 Dallas Cowboys to be Activated off of P.U.P. List
Per a report from ESPN's Todd Archer, the Dallas Cowboys will soon activate Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence off of the Physically Unable to Perform (P.U.P.) List.
"The Cowboys are planning to activate defensive linemen DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford from the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday, according to a source. They will work through individual drills in their first steps on the field before going through full practices. Lawrence had shoulder surgery not long after signing a five-year, $101 million contract in April. Crawford has been working his way through a hip issue that kept him out of the offseason program. Safety Byron Jones (hip) and receiver Noah Brown (knee) remain on PUP."
Todd Archer - ESPN.com
This report comes after DeMarcus Lawrence had offseason shoulder surgery in April and signed his five-year deal making him the highest-paid player in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, at least for now. It looks as if Lawrence will be ready for a week one return.
It's long been believed that Lawrence would be available for week one of the regular season and hasn't suffered any setbacks to this point that should lead you to believe otherwise. With Robert Quinn suspended for the first two games of the regular season and Randy Gregory's status still up in the air (he still hasn't applied for reinstatement), getting Lawrence and Crawford back for the first two weeks of the season becomes instrumental.
The Dallas Cowboys defensive line has looked really good through the first two games of the preseason, but as good as they've been, they'll need Lawrence and Crawford once the regular season starts. Lawrence will slot back in as the left defensive end and Tyrone Crawford will split snaps at right defensive end with Dorance Armstrong and 3-technique defensive tackle with Maliek Collins, Trysten Hill, and Kerry Hyder.
While the additions of DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford will help the defense tremendously, there still isn't a timeline on the return of Pro Bowl Cornerback Byron Jones. Jones has been out since having hip surgery this offseason.
With as good as the Dallas Cowboys defense has looked this offseason, there's reason to believe that they can be even better once each of these guys are back in the lineup full-time. For a defense that was one of the 10 best defenses in the NFL in 2019, they'll need Lawrence, Crawford, and Jones to make the jump into the elite stratosphere of NFL defenses.
With the Dallas Cowboys' eyes set on capturing that sixth Lombardi Trophy, getting Lawrence and Crawford back in time to be ready for the regular season is vital to starting the 2019 season off right.
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