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Dallas Cowboys Top 50 Players of 2017 (1-10)

Jess Haynie

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Dez Bryant, Dak Prescott, Offense

The Dallas Cowboys open training camp on July 24th, just a few weeks away. Inspired by the NFL’s recent Top 100 list, I thought it would be interesting to try rank just the Cowboys players against one another. This should also give us a sense of who will make up the majority of the 53-man roster after final cuts.

The players are ranked based on a variety of factors. Overall talent and performance, legacy with the franchise, and the importance of their position (e.g. left tackle vs. guard/center) were all considered. I also looked at their projected role in 2017.

We’ve finally reached the Top 10 of our list. You probably already know most of the names, but how do the top-tier Cowboys stack up against each other? Who, in this one writer’s opinion, is the most important player on the roster?

10. Cole Beasley, WR

Leading the Cowboys in catches and receiving yards last year, Beasley has gone from a nifty slot receiver to one of the faces of the franchise. He was clearly Dak Prescott‘s favorite target in clutch moments, seemingly always able to get open and make the catch when the pressure’s on.

The timing of Beasley’s emergence is fortunate for Dallas as Jason Witten, the longtime security blanket in the offense, is nearing the end. For the next few years at least, Beasley should remain a major factor in the passing game. Even if Dez Bryant is fully healthy in 2017, Beasley could still lead the team in catches as teams focus on Dez and leave him room to wreak havoc underneath.

For however long he remains a Cowboy, Beasley will be one of the fans’ favorite players. He plays bigger and tougher than he looks. Cole’s social media game is also one of the strongest on the roster. He makes it look fun while being a highly effective player; the ultimate combination for sports entertainment.

Jason Witten

TE Jason Witten

9. Jason Witten, TE

It feels weird having Witten outside of the Top Five, but that’s what happens after 14 seasons. In what may very well be his last ride with the Cowboys, Jason enters 2017 still a figurehead and leader but not quite the same receiving threat as in his prime.

As we just discussed, Cole Beasley showed more chemistry with Dak Prescott last year. They connected in those crucial moments when we’re so used to seeing Tony Romo find Witten. This isn’t a bad thing; a Prescott-Beasley relationship has more shelf life than any rapport he’d build with Witten at this point.

That said, Jason’s impeccable route-running still allows him to get open despite declining athleticism. He had 69 catches last year and still provides security at the tight end position, much-needed in 2017 with a shaky depth chart behind him. All Cowboys fans hope that, if this is Witten’s last season, he goes with a championship bang.

Dez Bryant

WR Dez Bryant

8. Dez Bryant, WR

It’s been three years since Bryant was putting up double-digit touchdowns and 1,000-yard seasons, but he still commands plenty of respect. Still just 28, Bryant is capable of putting up those franchise WR numbers again if he can stay healthy. A second year with Dak Prescott will also do wonders for his potential production.

Bryant’s impact can’t just be measured in stats. He attracts a lot of attention and opens things up for others, especially Cole Beasley working underneath. If Dez can have a strong start to 2017, that effect will be magnified and help Beasley, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams and others to enjoy success.

Along with the on-field impact, Dez is one of the emotional leaders of the team. He is now one of the veterans on a suddenly young Cowboys offense. His passion and energy are never lacking, and hopefully his health and performance will match in 2017. Bryant can play a major role in helping the Cowboys achieve their championship goals.

Dan Bailey

K Dan Bailey

7. Dan Bailey, K

Did I just put a kicker above Dez, Witten, and Beasley?

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Bailey isn’t just one of the two best kickers in the NFL today, but he may be one of the two best in NFL history. Games can be won and lost off the foot of a kicker, so having one who is as money as Bailey is crucial for a team trying to build a lasting legacy. Just ask Patriots fans how they feel about Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski.

Or, go ask Bills fans how they feel about Scott Norwood.

The Cowboys felt so good about Bailey after his first three seasons that they signed him to a seven-year contract in 2014. This may seem excessive for any kicker, given how suddenly they have been known to drop off, but Bailey is as icy and consistent as they come. Still just 29-years-old, he should remain a fixture in Dallas for many seasons to come.

6. Ezekiel Elliott, RB

I won’t fight anyone who says that Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson are better pure talents than Elliott.  They’re both outstanding players. But like we saw all those years with Emmitt Smith, the combination of great talent and ideal circumstances are what make the NFL’s top rushing attack

Zeke not only brings the great production but his personality is infectious. His hop into the Salvation Army kettle bell last year was applauded nationally, with even ardent Cowboys haters calling for the league to withhold the usual petty fine. Elliott’s entire persona, from his flashy running style to his big smile, have him on pace to be the biggest star in Dallas.

With recent front office comments that Elliott’s workload should increase in 2017, there is potential for Zeke to break some major NFL records. His 1,631 yards last year made for the fifth-best season in Cowboys history, 214 yards shy of DeMarco Murray’s record. Few would be surprised if Elliott gets on top of the franchise record books, but I hope we’ll be looking at those league-wide records come December.

Dak Prescott

QB Dak Prescott

5. Dak Prescott, QB

It’s tough to pick between Dak and Zeke. In fact, I was one who thought they should have been Co-Rookies of the Year. I put Prescott over Elliott here because of the superior responsibility of the QB position and the leadership role Dak has both on the field and off.

There is seemingly no end to the ways to praise what Prescott did last year. He was arguably the greatest rookie QB in league history. When you factor in that he didn’t even get the job until about two weeks before the season started, it’s an astounding accomplishment that will go down in the annals of Cowboys lore.

Understandably, some fear the “sophomore slump” for Dak’s second season. But if you look back at the history of the truly great quarterbacks, they didn’t have that issue. They generally built on the previous year. Prescott’s efficiency numbers may take a hit if he starts to get more aggressive, but the things we last year were far more than just a bus driver. This is a precise, confident QB whose approach to the game should only lead to further growth.

Sean Lee

LB Sean Lee

4. Sean Lee, LB

The unquestioned leader of the defense, Lee is the only elite talent Dallas has on that side of the ball since DeMarcus Ware. His intelligence and consistency have earned him overdue Pro Bowl trips the last two years and now we just hope some of his teammates will start to get up to his level.

The most important stat for Sean is that he’s played in 29 of the team’s 32 regular season games the last two years. After so much missed time in the years before, including all of 2014, he appears to have finally put the injury bug behind him and is able to keep bringing his great talent to the field.

Even with all that missed time, Lee never had a season without at least one interception. Last year was the first that he didn’t record a turnover, but it’s safe to assume that was a fluke. The prospect of Lee joining forces with Jaylon Smith should have you salivating; they could easily form the best LB duo in the league.

3. Zack Martin, G

Many bemoaned the drafting Martin in 2014, looking at the picks already spent on Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick and feeling Dallas already had a strong offensive line. After three seasons, Zack is arguably the best guard in football and nobody seems to have any regrets.

Much like his first-round buddies, Martin is about to get a sizable long-term contract that will keep him as a foundation piece in the Cowboys offense. Mixing power with athleticism, there is no perceivable weak point to his game. Turning 27 in November, Zack is going to be elite for many years to come.

Trying to decide between Martin, Frederick, and Smith is really splitting hairs. They are each elite players at their position. I ultimately had to go by the responsibilities and potential risk at the three positions, and guard comes up short compared to center and left tackle. Zack still make a tremendous impact because of how good he is, but he’d also be the easiest to replace.

Travis Frederick

C Travis Frederick

2. Travis Frederick, C

The act of the initial snap is easy to take for granted, but we’ve seen how disastrous it is when something goes wrong. That alone gives Frederick the slight edge on Martin; a critical component to every single offensive play.

Like the elite guard to his right, Frederick is both a mauler in the trenches and an athletic blocker in space. Their versatility allows the Dallas rushing attack to be equally open in its approach, focusing more on the weak points of the defense. They both also keep any interior pressure at bay, leaving pockets clean for the quarterback to make his throws.

The play of these two, along with Tyron Smith, is a huge part in the success that Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott had as rookies. The confidence they give to their young teammates is invaluable, and Frederick plays such a huge part in that in his relationship and connection with Prescott.

Tyron Smith

OT Tyron Smith

1. Tyron Smith, OT

The league’s top defensive ends get paid a lot of money to go get the quarterback. Naturally, the league’s left tackles get equally compensated to stop them. The team’s highest-paid player after Dez Bryant, Tyron earns his money by taking on the league’s best pass rushers and consistently shutting them down.

Of course, Tyron can’t win them all. The problem with the tackle position is that a single bad play can have a major negative impact, be it with a sack, turnover, or even a holding penalty. The drive-killers put tackles under considerable scrutiny, which Doug Free certainly experienced his many years in Dallas.

Despite this microscope, we rarely hear Tyron Smith’s name in a negative light. We’re shocked when he is on the bad end of a play, which is a sign of just how good he is. As elite as they come and with the QB’s blind side to guard, Tyron gets the top spot over his fellow offensive linemen and the Cowboys roster as a whole.

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I’ll be sure to respond!

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3 Comments
  • Charles

    Not bad rankings but I would have put Dez in front of Dan and Zeke in front of Dak. Other than that I pretty much agree.

    • Jess Haynie

      Any past year and I’d have definitely put Dez above Bailey, but he needs to get back to franchise form after two down seasons. As for Dak/Zeke, I just feel like Prescott carries a much greater burden than Elliott and handles his responsibility just as well.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • John Williams

    Whew. Can’t argue a ton with that. You gave some great reasoning.

    Hard to consider a kicker, even one as great as Bailey has been, more important than Dez, but I can’ argue your rationale. Having a bad kicker makes you realize how important a great kicker is.

    Again, hard to argue a ton with your top 3, but I’d probably put Martin in front of Travis and maybe in front of Tyron. As I argued last week, Martin is the key to the Dallas identity as a running football team. The team ranks in rushing yards aren’t even close comparing the team before Zack was drafted and what they’ve done since he was drafted.

    That said, it’s like arguing favorite flavors of ice cream. There aren’t many wrong answers. Except for Coffee, that’s the only wrong flavor of ice cream.

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Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Cowboys have just one more game to get through without their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve been able to fill in out of the backfield for Zeke Elliott. Throughout the time Elliott has missed though, the Cowboys have lacked the explosive plays on offense that he can provide – until Rod Smith was given an opportunity last week at the Giants.

Smith complimented Morris exceptionally well, running with quickness and power to prove his case for more of a role on offense behind Elliott moving forward. It was the Ohio State product’s consecutive touchdowns of 81 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground that sealed the game for the Cowboys in week 14.

Here is a closer look at Rod Smith’s performance from last week in this latest Sean’s Scout.

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The Cowboys offensive line was dominant as always against a tough New York defensive front, and this first play is a great look at their execution in space and on the move. Rod Smith’s decisiveness when hitting the hole with speed and balance was the first thing I noticed on the game tape.

The best thing Smith does on this play comes at the second level, where running backs can truly make a difference in Dallas. As RG Zack Martin rides his man out of the play entirely, he gets in front of Smith who is seeing the play develop straight ahead. With his long strides, Smith is able to smoothly get through traffic and continue accelerating up field through arm tackles for a big gain.

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These same traits are seen with Rod Smith as a pass catcher – something he does effortlessly to also help fill the void left by Elliott. Watch how quickly Smith commits to his angle up the field after catching this dump pass from Dak Prescott, attacking a defender that has the angle on him after the catch.

Rod subtly leans to the right just enough to make the defender hesitate long enough to allow his burst to evade him and gain extra yards falling forward.

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Smith essentially does the same thing without the ball in his hands here, on his 81 yard catch and run for a touchdown. Setting up the safety out of the slot to be beat across his face, Smith separates from him at the stem and then does a great job getting depth on his route into the vacated middle of the field. With blockers to help him reach the end zone, Smith turns this busted coverage by the Giants into the game’s biggest play.

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This last play I chose to show is probably the least well-blocked attempt for Smith out of the ones in this Sean’s Scout, but there is still a lot to like about what Rod does here with the ball in his hands.

The Giants might be a two-win football team, but they still have marquee players up front, particularly DE Olivier Vernon. Smith does well here to keep his feet moving as he cuts this play to the backside. Vernon does well to limit the potential gain on this play by staying away from the block of Jason Witten, as Smith is taken down by Darian Thompson.

The numbers the Giants had to commit to stopping the run was still a huge reason why Prescott had a career day throwing the football, and Rod Smith’s readiness to step in at RB was a deciding factor in getting Dallas to 7-6.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Proving to be one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable players, considering his cost (under contract through 2018), and ability to contribute on special teams and offense, Rod Smith is the perfect RB3 for this team.

Smith is not elite in any one area, and is not a prototypical RB from a physical standpoint, but his contributions as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker could remain critical to the Cowboys’ hopes of reaching the playoffs behind this offense – even when Ezekiel Elliott is back in the fold.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who’s The Cowboys Real RB1?

Brian Martin

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Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who's Cowboys' Real RB1?

The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from welcoming back their talented Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, but until then they still have a game to play against the Oakland Raiders. That means we will have one more week of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith handling the workload, but which RB is sitting at the top of the Cowboys depth chart?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of decision that can end up winning or losing a game. Both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have had their moments during Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, but neither one of them have really distanced themselves from the other. So, should Rod Smith or Alfred Morris receive the majority of the workload against the Raiders Sunday?

A Case for Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith and QB Dak PrescottRod Smith might just have had is coming out party last week against the New York Giants. Against their divisional rival, in what was a must win game for the Cowboys, Smith rushed for 47 yards on six carries and added another 113 yards through the air on five catches. He also found himself in the end zone twice, once on a rushing touchdown and the other on a receiving touchdown.

You may or may not agree, but I believe that “Lightning” Rod Smith was largely responsible for igniting the Cowboys offense and helping them pull away from the Giants last Sunday. He accounted for over 160 total yards and two touchdowns by himself and didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later in the game.

Rod Smith certainly has traits that make him a more desirable RB over Alfred Morris. First off, he is a more complete back. He is better in pass protection and at catching the ball out of the backfield. But, he is also starting to show up in the running game and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season. His size (6’3″, 235) also makes him a better short yardage back, although I wish he would deliver more of a blow at the end of his runs.

A Case for Alfred Morris

RB Alfred MorrisAlthough there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about Alfred Morris, he has proven time and time again he is more than capable of carrying the workload. He has received the majority of the workload during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and has performed pretty well. In fact, he is averaging 5 yards a carry this season, which is better than any other RB on the Cowboys roster, including Elliott.

Alfred Morris has looked pretty good this season and is playing with more of a spring in his step than I have seen from him in probably his entire career. Last Sunday against the Giants he received the the majority of the workload and finished the game with 19 carries for 62 yards. Not particularly spectacular, but the week prior he did rush for 127 yards on 27 carries in the victory over the Washington Redskins.

Like I mentioned earlier, Morris is a tried-and-true RB in the NFL and is at his best when he can continue to pound the rock and wear down opposing defenses. That is what he did against the Redskins, but he has his limitations as well. Despite his years in the league, he still struggles in pass protection and is limited in what he can do in the passing game. But, he does seem to have the trust of the Cowboys coaching staff.

✭✭✭✭✭

Personally, I would like to see more of Rod Smith this coming Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. I really like what I’ve seen from him in both the running game and in the passing game. I just think he is a more dangerous and versatile weapon then Alfred Morris. His presence on the field really opens up what the Cowboys can do offensively.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Alfred Morris at all. I just think that Rod Smith has proven he is a more dangerous offensive weapon of the two. I don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will agree or not, but I truly believe Rod Smith could once again be the X factor against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, both Rod Smith and Alfred Morris will have to take the back seat once Ezekiel Elliott returns. So, this discussion really only has any credibility for this week in yet another must win situation against the Oakland Raiders.

Who do you like better… Rod Smith or Alfred Morris?

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La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin

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La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?

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