When the Dallas Cowboys open training camp in Oxnard, California, they'll begin with several questions yet to be answered. The Cowboys have done a lot of work to address the problems, particularly on defense, but we won't know if those issues are addressed until the Cowboys line up to play football in the regular season.
With doubt spreading across the defense, there is still a lot to feel good about with the Dallas Cowboys. There's a reason many are picking the Cowboys to win the NFC East and make the playoffs, and that's because they still have position groups that provide a high degree of confidence. It would be nice to list every position group on here one day, but for now, let's stick with these six position groups that you should feel most comfortable about.
Dak Prescott is back. By all reports, he looked really good in the limited portion of practices the media could attend during OTAs and minicamp. And that's fantastic news for a team with really high aspirations.
Dak Prescott has improved every offseason he's been with the team. In his third season in Kellen Moore's offense, we'll likely see another productive and explosive season from Prescott and the Cowboys' offense.
The Cowboys were on a historic pace to start the season in 2021. The nature of the defensive performance early in the year and the turnovers committed by Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in the first five weeks of the season forced the offense to throw a lot to score. While they'd like more balance than what they were allowed to do in 2021, this is still a Dak-led vertical-based passing offense. Ezekiel Elliott will get his carries, but this team is different than the grind-it-out group under Jason Garrett.
As Dak Prescott goes, so will the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. Like we saw in 2020, if Prescott goes down, the season will be a complete wash. So while the backup quarterback position is a position of importance, it's unreasonable to expect any team to have sustained success with a backup quarterback. That's no shot at Garrett Gilbert, who I think is capable of coming into a game and making some plays for you. But even as good as he was against Pittsburgh last season, he was still limited in his ability to make enough plays for the Cowboys to win the game.
2. Wide Receiver
There isn't another team in the NFL that boasts as much talent at the wide receiver position as the Dallas Cowboys do with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb. That trio is arguably the best in the NFL. Then you throw in veteran depth players like Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson, and you have a really nice depth chart heading into the 2021 season.
The Cowboys have a chance to have three players eclipse 1,100 yards receiving in 2020. Cooper will likely lead the way in targets as one of Prescott's favorite targets. CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup will follow, but both will get a ton of opportunities to make plays.
Dallas is a mismatch problem on the outside and in the slot. According to reports from OTAs, Michael Gallup started getting some work in the slot, and they've moved CeeDee Lamb to the outside to expand upon their wide receiver's roles.
This allows Kellen Moore to move his receivers around to find the best matchups possible for his playmakers. Brown and Wilson will get opportunities, too, and Simi Fehoko may work his way into the lineup as well. The Cowboys have six wide receivers who can play both on the outside and in the slot. And that means trouble for their opponents.
3. Edge Rusher
A full offseason for Randy Gregory is going to really give us a glimpse of what he's capable of as a full-time edge player in 2021. This is the first time he will have finished one season, spent the offseason with the team, and then rolled right into the following season. That has to do a ton for his confidence, his conditioning, and his development.
Working back into the defensive rotation last year, Gregory was arguably their best pass rusher down the stretch.
Then you throw in DeMarcus Lawrence, who is still one of the best edge players in the NFL. The Cowboys have a tandem that has an opportunity to be a dominant force in 2021. If the Cowboys can get any pass rush from the interior of the defensive line, it should do wonders for Lawrence and Gregory to get pressure and finish sacks.
Behind the starters, the Cowboys have many players that fit into certain roles but still have quite a bit to prove. There isn't a third rusher you're looking at with a ton of confidence in their ability to step into the lineup and provide a significant pass rush. However, between Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, Bradlee Anae, and Chauncey Gholston, the Cowboys have several players that can take snaps for them at defensive end and still be solid. Throw in Micah Parsons, who has taken some snaps off the edge, and the Cowboys have a really intriguing group.
But the confidence level I have in this position group comes from DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Those two will be a dynamic duo that will be equally effective against the run as they are rushing the passer.
This position could be higher on this list, and I wouldn't complain about it. Zack Martin is still the best guard in the NFL, even after struggling with some injuries in 2020. Yes, he sat out some games, but he provided a rock-solid and elite presence in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line when he was available. He's an elite player at the position.
Coming into the final year of his contract, Connor Williams was one of the most consistent players for the Cowboys in 2020. The only member of their starting lineup to play all 16, Williams had arguably the best season of his career. Though he isn't viewed as some star in the making, he is a solid player that helps to provide continuity along the offensive line.
Connor McGovern got his first action last fall and was solid, leading many to believe that the Cowboys may have a competition at left guard this summer. We'll see how training camp plays out, but I anticipate Connor Williams holding down the left guard spot again through 2021.
The only concern about tackle is that Tyron Smith and La'el Collins combined for 30 missed starts in 2020. Everything seems to be full-go for their tackles, which will pay huge dividends for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021.
Getting an All-Pro player like Smith and a borderline All-Pro like Collins back into the lineup will help everyone from the quarterback to the running game to the rest of the offensive line. Zack Martin and Connor Williams will have a greater sense of confidence in the guy playing to their outside than they did in 2020 when it was mostly Brandon Knight and Terence Steele playing tackle of the Dallas Cowboys.
The return of the tackles combined with the return of Dak Prescott and a slimmed-down Ezekiel Elliott should make for an explosive season that will land the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs.
6. Running Back
Ezekiel Elliott has slimmed down and looks ready for the high octane passing offense that Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy will roll out in 2021.
Like Prescott during the early part of last season, Elliott was pressing to make the most out of every carry. Sometimes that worked great, but there were times where he attempted to do too much. Though he had many fumbles through the first six games of the season, Elliott was better in the second half, only losing one fumble. The Cowboys, though, need Elliott to be a reliable ball carrier. Much like Dak's turnovers last year and the strain put on the defense, Elliott can't afford to give up the ball and put the defense in a bind.
Even without the addition of the 17th game, this was looking like it could be a rebound season that returned Elliott to the top of the rushing yards leaders,
Tony Pollard saw his first action as a starting running back in 2020. Though it was a mixed performance, like with Elliott, understanding the context of the offensive line with which these two were running behind is essential to understanding the running back group from 2020.
Pollard continued to impress with his balance, vision, breakaway ability, and explosiveness. He's a player the Cowboys have to get the ball to more. He's too dynamic to sit on the sidelines. With the addition of the 17th game, the Cowboys should look to get the running back splits closer to 60-40 to help preserve Elliott and Pollard for what hopefully is a deep run into the playoffs.
Elliott is already the most utilized running back over the last five seasons. He's got a lot of wear and tear on his body. The Cowboys would be wise not to rely upon him for 25-30 touches a game in 2021.
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Even with questions circling this team as they get ready for training camp in July, there's still a lot to like about this squad moving forward. There are several position groups that should give Cowboys fans a high level of confidence heading into 2021. It isn't a perfect roster yet, but with these six position groups leading the way, the Cowboys will have a huge season in 2021.