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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
Cowboys Playoff Scenarios: Week 15 Impact Games
It's hard to believe that we're looking at the Dallas Cowboys potentially clinching the NFC East this week, but that's how dramatic the turnaround has been over the last five games. Week 15 could lock Dallas into the playoffs and give them a lot of freedom over their final two games.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- New Orleans Saints (11-2)
- Los Angeles Rams (11-2)
- Chicago Bears (9-4)
- Dallas Cowboys (8-5)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)
- Carolina Panthers (6-7)
- Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
- Washington Redskins (6-7)
- The Cowboys lost to Seattle earlier this year, but still remain the 4th seed as a division winner over a wild card team.
- The Panthers are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker.
- The Eagles are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. They play each other again in Week 17.
- The Redskins beat the Panthers earlier this year, but their loss to Philadelphia within their own division negates that tiebreaker.
In truth, there's not much intrigue left for the Cowboys in this regular season. One win gives them the NFC East, and it would take the Saints or Rams dropping all three of their remaining games for Dallas to have a shot at a top-two seed.
So, barring the nearly impossible, Dallas is locked into either the 3rd or 4th seed. They will host one of the Wild Card teams in the first round of the playoffs.
The biggest thing to watch now is how the seeding shakes among the bottom four playoff teams. The Seahawks seem a cut above the likes of Minnesota, Carolina, or one of our NFC East friends, so avoiding them in the first round would be lovely.
Here are this week's games involving the NFC playoff contenders:
Dallas Cowboys @ Indianapolis Colts
We've already discussed what the Cowboys need to do, so let's talk about the Colts. Not only do they have home field advantage this week, but they are fighting for their playoff lives.
Indianapolis is one of four teams with a 7-6 record battling for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC playoffs. The Broncos are also in the mix at 6-7, giving none of these teams any cushion for losing.
Dallas has its own incentive to win, though. If they want to avoid Seattle in the first round, they probably need to take the #3 seed from the Chicago Bears. They need to keep winning and hope for the Bears to drop a game or two.
Ultimately, getting into the playoffs and starting at home is a huge reward. But anything that can help make the road a little easier is worth pursuing. It's no time to rest on your laurels.
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears
As we just discussed, we'd like to see Chicago drop a few games to give Dallas a shot at the #3 seed. This week isn't the worst opportunity, with Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay still not completely eliminated from playoff contention.
Expecting much from the Packers here is unwise. They've had a coaching change and appear to be in a state of organizational disarray. But they still have Rodgers, and crazy things always happens in rivalry games.
So while these are two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions, you never know what could happen given the variable elements. By all means, root for the Cheeseheads.
Miami Dolphins @ Minnesota Vikings
Your rooting interest here comes down to a simple question; who do you prefer to play among that last bunch of Wild Card teams? Who does Dallas match up best against between the Vikings, Panthers, and Eagles?
I think we'd all agree that we don't want to see the Eagles a third time. Beating a team three times in one year is tough to do, and especially given how close last week's meeting was.
The Panthers beat Dallas in the season opener, but that was in Carolina and well before the Cowboys were playing at a high level. A second meeting could go very differently, especially with the recent slumping by the Panthers.
Both Carolina and Minnesota are struggling, with one on a five-game losing streak and the latter having lost their last two. The Vikings just fired their offensive coordinator, so neither of these teams appear to be going into the postseason with any real momentum.
At this point, I'd say it's a toss-up between the Panthers and Vikings. Both are much preferable to seeing the Eagles again, so I would just keep rooting for both to win. In either case, they knock out Philadelphia.
We'll reassess the threat level of Carolina and Minnesota as playoff opponents in a few weeks.
Washington Redskins @ Jacksonville Jaguars
I didn't mention the Redskins among those last three teams because they may not win another game this year. Their QB situation is so bad that even the Jaguars look good by comparison.
Granted, Jacksonville is lousy right now. Washington might be able to go down there and get a win, but neither team has anything to play for now. This one may come down to whether or not the Jaguars have gone into tank mode.
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers
Seattle just walloped the Niners 43-16 a couple of weeks ago, and changing venues is unlikely to make that much difference. The Seahawks are a legit NFC contender and San Francisco is already thinking about the offseason. A Seattle loss would be great, but it ain't happening this week.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams
While catching the Rams and getting a top-two seed would be great, it's barely plausible. The far more concrete benefit here is seeing the Eagles lose and getting them further away from a possible Wild Card spot.
In fact, an Eagles' loss this week would give Dallas the NFC East even if the Cowboys fall in Indianapolis. That's not the way we want to win the division, but you take what you can get.
With the breaking news that Carson Wentz is unlikely to play this week with a back injury, you'd generally think this suits the Cowboys' interests. But Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is still the backup in Philadelphia, so is anything really for certain?
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers
We have every reason to root for Carolina here. For one, it helps the Panthers stay ahead of the Eagles in the Wild Card race. Also, it brings the Saints one loss closer to possibly being caught by Dallas. A Saints win doesn't really benefit us all.
Ezekiel Elliott has Huge Day vs Eagles Thanks to Receiving Prowess
The Dallas Cowboys came away with a huge win against their division rival Philadelphia Eagles, putting them in a commanding position in the NFC East. They're up two games in the division and one of the more underrated story lines from the victory is Ezekiel Elliott's game. He had a huge day that no one is talking about.
Elliott had 28 carries for 113 yards and then caught 12 passes on 13 targets en route to his big performance in the 29-23 win over the Eagles. That's probably the quietest 40 touch, 192 total yard game you'll ever hear about. And yet, that's where we are. Please read that stat line again, because in all of our talk about Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and the defense, Ezekiel Elliott's stat line is absolutely ridiculous.
The receiving element that Elliott is providing the biggest difference to the offense this season. He's been a huge asset to Dak Prescott in the passing game as both a primary target and a check down option in the short part of the field. If Elliott isn't showing that he's the best running back in the league, with what he's doing with a broke down offensive line, then people will never give him the credit he's due.
For the last three years, the Dallas Cowboys and their fan base has known what an elite player the Cowboys have in Elliott. He's easily one of the best runners in the NFL, but if you talk to the general NFL fanbase or analysts around the league, Elliott doesn't get the same kind of love as players like Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell receive from the national media. The knock against Elliott has been that he doesn't bring the same value as a receiver. With what he has done over the last six weeks, and really all season long, it's safe to say, that won't be a knock against the Cowboys All-Pro running back.
Among running backs this season, Ezekiel Elliott ranks sixth in targets (77), fifth in receptions (65). seventh in yards (502), and is tied for 12th in receiving touchdowns with three. Elliott is the seventh highest rated running back when targeted among running backs with at least 50 targets this season.
Over the last six weeks, since the Amari Cooper trade, only Christian McCaffrey has more targets, receptions, and yards than Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott's previous career high was in 2016 when he caught 32 passes on 39 targets. With three games left in the season, Elliott has more than doubled his previous career high from that season. Over the last six weeks, he's caught 40 passes with an average of 6.7 receptions per game.
Ezekiel Elliott is on pace for his best total yardage season in the NFL. If he continues at his current per game averages, Elliott would finish the season with 330 carries for 1,553 rushing yards, 80 catches on 100 targets for 618 yards and 10 total touchdowns. He's been great this year, but he's been even better over the last six games. At his per game averages for the last six games, over a 16 game season, Elliott's numbers would look like this; 363 carries for 1,715 yards rushing, 107 receptions on 120 targets for 872 yards, and 13 total touchdowns.
It's rare that Ezekiel Elliott has a game like he did on Sunday and it goes largely unnoticed by Cowboys Nation, but that's just how tremendous Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper were. In a game where the Cowboys got big games and big plays through the passing game, it was Elliott's steadiness that held things together and helped sustain drives like the fourth and one conversion in overtime. Even with Amari Cooper elevating his game since coming to the Cowboys, there's no question that Ezekiel Elliott is the Cowboys best skill position player. Expect more big games for Elliott as the Cowboys continue to "Feed Zeke."
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