It's only about three months until the start of the 2019 regular season. While a lot can happen between now and September, we already have a pretty good sense of where the Dallas Cowboys are strongest and weakest throughout the roster. From starting talent to reliable depth, how do all of these positions compare to each other?
This has become an annual exercise, and it's interesting to compare each year's rankings to the previous one. Once again, there has been movement from the previous list to the new one.
For easy reference, here are the 2018 rankings:
- Running Back
- Guard & Center
- Offensive Tackle
- Special Teams
- Defensive End
- Defensive Tackle
- Wide Receiver
- Tight End
Keep in mind that these were done around the same time last year. We didn't know that Leighton Vander Esch would be an outstanding rookie, or that Travis Frederick would miss the entire season. We certainly didn't see Amari Cooper coming; these were based on the perception of the team in late May.
So, what about now?
1. Guard & Center
Assuming that Frederick is all the way back, which all reports right now indicate is the case, then the interior line should be as strong as it's been since Ron Leary was here. Along with the All-Pro pair of Frederick and Martin, Dallas has exceptional depth and an intriguing young talent at left guard.
Connor Williams has reportedly put on weight and is more physically prepared to play guard than in his rookie year. He was showing solid improvement by the end of 2018, and there's good reason to be optimistic for what Year 2 will bring.
The depth is what really pushes the group to the top. Joe Looney could be a starting center for plenty of teams, and Xavier Su'a-Filo is another solid backup. Now with rookie Connor McGovern joining the mix, Dallas is truly loaded in the middle of the offensive line.
2. Offensive Tackle
The margin between the G/C and OT spots is thin, but Tyron Smith's consistent health issues these last few years are a cause for concern. Still, the duo of Smith and La'el Collins is among the better pairs in the game, and swing tackle Cam Fleming provides strong value as a veteran backup.
While Tyron is still an elite left tackle, he's missed three games in each of the last three seasons. Nagging spine and shoulder injuries have also shown up on the field at times; Smith doesn't always look like himself.
Collins isn't an All-Pro like his fellow starters, but he's a capable player and still developing. A full offseason with Marc Colombo as the returning Offensive Line Coach should do wonders for his progress.
Even with its minor warts, this is still about as strong a trio as most NFL teams could ask for at offensive tackle.
The breakout season for Jaylon Smith, coupled with the first-year excellence of Leighton Vander Esch, vaults this group from 9th in 2018 to the top three. Dallas now has arguably the most exciting pair of linebackers in the entire league.
In addition to the young studs, Sean Lee returns as a versatile option who hopefully still has some elite plays left in him. Getting to move into a reduced role could be ideal for Lee, who turns 33 in July, allowing him avoid injury and stay fresher throughout the year.
Joe Thomas is another strong reserve in the LB corps. He can play multiple positions and flashed some play-making potential even in limited duty. He's a nice insurance policy in case Lee doesn't have that one year left in him.
The rest of the LB depth isn't that notable but Jaylon and Leighton make up the difference. Barring injury, those two will carry this group and perhaps the entire defense.
4. Defensive End
Dallas paid big to keep DeMarcus Lawrence, and they also made a bold move in trading for veteran Robert Quinn. It gives the Cowboys their best pair of ends, at least on paper, since the days of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
As good as they sound together, Lawrence and Quinn aren't fully guaranteed. Will Tank's performance level change now that he's finally got his long-term deal? And will Quinn continue the slow decline we've seen the last few seasons?
The depth also has question marks, but Dallas countered that by giving themselves plenty of options. Taco Charlton enters his third year, looking to avoid the "first-round bust" label that some are already pinning to him. Dallas also signed veteran Kerry Hyder, who had eight sacks in 2016 before injury and scheme changes got in the way.
Randy Gregory's status for 2019 remains a mystery, but the team has maintained confidence that he will be eligible to play. Still, they also have Dorance Armstrong as a young pass-rushing specialist and just drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks this year.
Throw in Tyrone Crawford's ability to play DE, assuming he makes the team, and the Cowboys have arguably more overall talent here than at any point in their modern history.
5. Running Back
Going from the top spot in 2018 to fifth this year may seem a steep drop, especially since Ezekiel Elliott is still the man. But depth is a major issue over a full NFL season, and Dallas is taking some big risks in the lack of experience and perceived talent currently behind their franchise back.
While Zeke has been as tough and durable as they come, every new year comes with an increased risk of injury. Even if he doesn't miss time, the wear and tear of multiple seasons starts to take a toll on performance. If Dallas plans to have a long-term relationship with Elliott beyond the next season or two, then they need to find ways to reduce his mileage.
This year there is no Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, or even a Rod Smith as the backup. The Cowboys are currently gambling on a pair of rookies, Tony Pollard and Mike Weber, and the inexperienced Darius Jackson to fill out the depth chart. I still think they may add a veteran before training camp, but we'll go with what we know right now.
Pollard is an intriguing athlete but is more of a Lance Dunbar than a true backup, who could handle a heavy workload if Elliott missed time. Weber is a 7th-round rookie and Jackson has only six carries in his career, all of which came in last year's meaningless regular season finale.
Unless they have a notable signing coming, the Cowboys are going to be unusually shallow at running back. Their faith in Ezekiel Elliott's physical health, and that he won't get suspended again, must be very strong.
6. Wide Receiver
Amari Cooper is the real deal and was worth the first-round pick Dallas traded for him, plus whatever big contract comes his way. If Michael Gallup builds on a strong rookie season, Dallas will have a great starting combination at WR.
Losing Cole Beasley in free agency hurts, but the Cowboys are hoping that the addition of veteran Randall Cobb will cover that. Even if Cobb can't take on some of the heavy loads that Beasley did over the last few years, the combined efforts of all top-3 receivers should give Dallas more firepower than they've had in a while.
How things shake out on the bottom half of the depth chart will be interesting. Veterans Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns are back, but young prospects like Noah Brown, Cedrick Wilson, and others should compete for jobs.
As with several other positions, Dallas has given itself strength in numbers this offseason. When you're wondering if players like Hurns or Austin will even make the roster, that's a great problem to have. The Cowboys should be deep at WR, however it turns out.
You may not like seeing QB this low, but that's more about depth than the starter. Like at running back, Dallas is allowing young and unproven players to be the next man up from Dak Prescott. That's a risky proposition heading into a year when the Cowboys should be a contender.
Prescott isn't a sure thing either. I'm not one of his detractors, but there's no denying that he still a ways to go before he's among the NFL elite. Hopefully a full year offseason with his new receivers, plus the changes coming with Kellen Moore's rise to Offensive Coordinator, will help Dak take things to the next level.
The real concern is behind him; neither Cooper Rush or Mike White have shown that they can take over if needed. Maybe the ghosts of 2015 are still haunting me, but I'm always scared of what could happen if Prescott has to miss time.
8. Special Teams
The days of supreme confidence in Dan Bailey and Chris Jones are over. Bailey is gone, replaced by Brett Maher, and Jones didn't have a stellar season in 2018.
Despite his highlight moments, Maher was one of the least accurate kickers in the NFL last year. His long-distance kicks are wonderful but the misses from 30-49 yards are killers. Dallas hasn't added any competition yet this offseason, so hopefully Brett is improving on his all-around game.
Chris Jones is still a solid punter but wasn't up to his usual level last season. His punts were returned 30 times for 254 yards, compared to just 18 returns for 75 yards the year before. Turning 30 in July, Jones may be starting into a downward trend that will have to be addressed soon.
In the return game, Tavon Austin is still here for punts and rookie Tony Pollard is likely going to take over on kickoffs. If Austin doesn't make the team, we could Pollard, Randall Cobb, or a few other players get a look on punt returns. Whoever has the jobs, they shouldn't suffer any loss from last year's production.
Byron Jones' move back to corner in 2018 was highly successful, with Jones making his first Pro Bowl. But sophomore slumps by Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are concerning, and leave the position in a state of overall uncertainty.
Awuzie is still the presumed starter for this year but Anthony Brown could push depending on Chido's performance. Hopefully it will be a matter of who outshines the other, rather than having to choose the lesser of evils.
Jourdan Lewis, who was arguably better than Awuzie as rookies, fell off last year when Kris Richard's arrival seemed to cause him issues. Lewis is a smaller CB, not fitting Richard's typical mold, but has plenty of talent.
Dallas drafted Miami's Michael Jackson in the fifth round of this year's draft. He be in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and young prospects Donovan Olumba and Chris Westry for at least one more roster spot at CB, and perhaps two if the team goes long.
10. Defensive Tackle
Starter uncertainty continues through these last four spots, which is really why they make up the bottom of the list. Competition isn't a bad thing, but in most of these cases the issue is not being sure how much talent is really there to use.
Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods both had solid years in 2018, and Tyrone Crawford is still hanging around for now. But this is also the same group that got run over by the Rams in Dallas' playoff loss.
The Cowboys used their second-round pick to add Trysten Hill, but how much he can contribute as a rookie is hard to say. They also signed Christian Covington from the Texans, who will be converting to DT after playing as a 3-4 DE in Houston.
Dallas should get solid production from whoever plays the largest roles out of this group. But even if things go relatively great, none of them are likely to be among the NFL's best in 2019. The Cowboys are just hoping that it won't be a significant liability.
The analysis at DT is similar here. Dallas would be okay with Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods starting again, but they added veteran George Iloka as a potential upgrade at either spot. But even at their peak, can this group really be a strength of the 2019 defense?
Xavier Woods, much like Antwaun Woods at tackle, is the key. Both young players could be who push things to another level at their positions, having flashed some great potential in 2018. But NFL history, and certainly Cowboys history, are full of guys we thought would grow into something that never happened.
Heath and Iloka are both older players who have likely already shown the best that they have to offer. Unless something about the Dallas system really clicks with Iloka, things aren't going to change much here.
As for depth, Kavon Frazier and sixth-round rookie Donovan Wilson are likely competing for the fourth and final spot. Frazier will need to clearly outplay Wilson to keep his spot, having just one year left on his rookie deal.
For people who longed to see Earl Thomas or a safety of that caliber come to Dallas this offseason, the end result was probably frustrating. Hopefully, the Cowboys saw something in their current talent that we didn't.
12. Tight End
Even Jason Witten's return couldn't push this group higher. In fact, Witten coming back may have done more harm than good.
The big hope here is that Blake Jarwin will build on last year's surge late in the season. If that doesn't happen, maybe Dalton Schultz will make a big push in his second year. Witten here to help teach these young guys and contribute whatever he can.
But if not for Witten, Dallas might've gone ahead and signed a more proven player. Or, the Cowboys could have gone with a TE early in the 2019 Draft.
Jason's return deferred those thoughts to next year, contingent on how Jarwin and Schultz perform. Dallas appears content to see if their TE of the future is already here, and hopefully improved by working with their TE of the past.
It's a logical experiment, but one that could significantly hurt the offense if it blows up in their faces.
Jason Garrett Reminds Everyone That Kellen Moore Calls the Plays
There's a lot of blame game being played around the Dallas Cowboys right now after a demoralizing home loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Even the head coach seems to be getting in on the act as Jason Garrett went out of character and got unusually specific in explaining Kellen Moore's responsibility for play-calling.
Garrett is not known for calling people out. In fact, many fans have criticized him for not being more critical of his players. He tends to speak in vague, nebulous terms when it comes to discussing the Cowboys' weaknesses or failings after a loss.
But in a radio appearance this morning, Garrett didn't mince words on who was deciding the plays during the Cowboys' final drive.
Jason Garrett on @1053thefan on the two run plays late: "Kellen's calling the game. In that situation it's 2nd and 2. He felt like he had a good opportunity against a favorable box to run the ball in those situations. On each of those plays we had options beyond just the run.
Jason did try to excuse his offensive coordinator's decisions with some context, but he also made sure to clarify who was responsible for those calls. It was not very Garrett-like, and it may speak to his own growing frustration and concern over his future.
Garrett is on the final year of his contract and the Cowboys' front office has made it clear that any extension depends on the results of the 2019 season. With Dallas now dropping to 5-4 and only leading the division by a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Philadelphia Eagles, the future is increasingly unclear.
Jason Garrett famously uses "we" and "us" terms when talking about the negatives, not wanting to assign blame to any particular player or person when things aren't going well. That he strayed from this well-established behavior today may be an anomaly, but it shouldn't be ignored.
With a tough second-half stretch coming in this 2019 schedule, Garrett may be starting to feel like a dead man walking. We'll see in the coming weeks if this leads to anymore shifts in his usual demeanor with the media.
Dallas Cowboys Good, Bad, and Ugly from Week 10 Against Vikings
Well Cowboys Nation, the Dallas Cowboys let yet another winnable game slip to their grasp Sunday night after the devastating 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. By my count, that's three out of four games the Cowboys probably should have won this season. But, probably… maybe… and should have don't mean diddly squat in the NFL.
I'm not going to beat around the bush today because I would likely end up going into a long winded rant about what took place last night. So, let's go ahead and jump right into this week's edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. As always, please feel free to use the comment section to voice your opinions and thoughts on the subject.
Unlike in weeks past, I had absolutely no problem deciding what to go with this week for this category from the Dallas Cowboys Week 10 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. I don't think anyone would argue that the good had to be Quarterback Dak Prescott's play and the Cowboys overall passing game. This unit was the sole reason they had a chance to win at the end.
Prescott was simply phenomenal Sunday night. He threw for 397 yards, three touchdowns, and only one interception. He was on point last night and was dropping dimes all over the place. It's one of the reasons why both Amari Cooper (147 yards, 1 TD) and Randall Cobb (106, 1 TD) both went over the 100 yard mark in receiving, and Michael Gallup wasn't too far behind (76 yards, 1 TD). All in all it's an MVP caliber performance from No. 4, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to seal the victory.
I thought and thought about what I wanted to go with in this category and I'll have to admit, I had a hard time deciding. There were individual players who deserved a nomination here, but in the end I think the bad for the Dallas Cowboys was them getting off to yet another slow start against the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, it's been a trend for them this season.
It all started when Jason Garrett decided to send out Kicker Brett Maher to attempt an ill-advised 57 yard field goal. Maher is capable of making such kicks, but there's a time and place to use that kind of weapon. Last night on the opening drive of the game was not one of those times. After the missed FG, the Vikings had excellent field position and scored a quick TD. Not long after they scored another TD to go up 14-0 after another stalled drive by the Cowboys offense. It's a hole they were never quite able to dig themselves out of.
Deciding what to go with here in this category was pretty easy after narrowing down what I wanted to put in the bad category. I think the ugly for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings was their defensive play. In all honesty, it was absolutely sickening to watch the Vikings have their way with the Cowboys defense. Dallas has far too much talent on that side of the ball to be manhandled like they were.
The tackling was atrocious and so was the execution. I'm pretty sure the game plan was to neutralize Dalvin Cook the way they did Saquon Barkley in Week 9, but the league's leading rusher (Cook) would have none of that. He pretty much did what he wanted. He ran through arm tackles and had room to run, whether it was as a rusher or receiver. It looked a lot like what Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones did to the Cowboys in Week 5. It was completely inexcusable and unacceptable!
What is your good, bad, and ugly from the Dallas Cowboys Week 10 matchup?
Randall Cobb has Breakout Game in Tough Loss vs Vikings
When NFL free agency began this past March the Dallas Cowboys spent the month making several additions to their roster. Veterans George Iloka (only one not currently on the roster), Kerry Hyder, Christian Covington, and Robert Quinn were added to help on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensively, there was a huge hole to fill when Wide Receiver Cole Beasley signed a four-year 29 million dollar deal to play for the Buffalo Bills. The Cowboys would then sign Randall Cobb about a week later to a one-year deal. The seasoned pro was brought in as an upgrade over Beasley in the slot to compliment Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Also, with his unique ability to play on the outside as well, it would allow Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore to present different looks for opposing defenses.
In his first seven games of the season, Cobb struggled to find his place within this offense. He produced 25 receptions for 274 yards, with his lone touchdown coming in the season opener vs the New York Giants. He had four or fewer receptions five times and his most productive game only produced 69 yards. However, last night against the Minnesota Vikings was a glimpse of how productive Cobb can be in this system.
Cobb finished with six receptions for 106 yards Sunday night. This was his first 100-yard game since Week 1 in 2018. Four of his catches went for 20 yards or more, five went for first downs and he scored his second touchdown of the season. Dak Prescott showed supreme confidence in looking for Cobb on crucial third-down situations.
That's exactly what Cobb can do for this offense. He provides another reliable threat in the Cowboys aerial assault. When Cobb plays at a high level it will only free up Cooper and Gallup to wreak havoc on the outside.
Last night's game was a perfect example of this. Cooper had 11 receptions for 147 yards and Gallup added four catches for 76 yards, each scoring touchdowns. It doesn't allow a defense to lock in on one receiver and take them completely out of the game.
Cobb playing well also has an impact on the running game. The better he plays the more defenses will have to focus on stopping himself, Cooper, and Gallup. What does that do? The Cowboys won't face as many eight or nine-man fronts which will give All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott the opportunity to wear down opposing defenses by playing ball control, which is the Cowboys bread and butter.
Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come from Cobb as the playoff push heats up. If he can continue to build chemistry with Prescott it will only improve one of the NFL's best passing offenses while simultaneously increasing Elliott's ability to be effective by taking extra defenders away from the box. Will Cobb make this a regular occurrence for the rest of the season? Only time will tell.
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