The NFL offseason can be a hard time to get through. July is the month when I’ll randomly watch any replay of any Cowboys game. It’s also the time of the year when, out of nowhere, I’ll look up stats from any NFL player just because I’m curious how many tackles he had, or how many touchdowns he scored.
Last week, I was looking through Cowboys stats. This left me wondering, which players would lead each category this year, as the Cowboys try to compete for a Super Bowl.
I thought it would be a fun exercise to predict the Cowboys team leaders for 2017 in each category.
Predicting The Offensive Leaders
Note: I skipped both passing and rushing categories. Even with all the suspension talk going on lately, I still see Ezekiel Elliott leading the team, and frankly, I don’t know who wouldn’t. As for the passing categories, we all know who Dak Prescott is, right?
Dak’s Best Friend: WR Cole Beasley, Receptions
- 2016 receptions leader: WR Cole Beasley (75)
- Honorable mention: TE Jason Witten (69)
Last year, Beasley led the team for most receptions with 75. He was a fundamental piece for Dak’s development as a rookie and he will step up again this year. For Prescott’s sophomore season, I’m picking Beasley to lead the team in this category once again.
I expect the 5’8″ WR to have an even better year when it comes to receptions. Dak Prescott will throw a lot more than last year, and there’s no reason to believe his favorite target won’t remain being Beasley.
Besides, the QB-friendly receiver now has a clone of himself in Ryan Switzer, which could help his game even more. I don’t know how defenses will come up with a game plan to stop such a loaded offense.
However, I don’t expect him to lead the team in yards as he did in 2016.
Throw Up The X: WR Dez Bryant, Receiving Yards/Touchdowns
- 2016 receiving yards leader: WR Cole Beasley (833)
- 2016 receiving TDs leader: WR Dez Bryant (8)
Remember when Dez had an awesome season in 2014?
88 catches, 1,320 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Then 2015 happened, which ended up knocking him out of the top-5 WR conversation. 2016 though, was not ideal at first, including the fact that he suffered another injury.
When he came back though… well, he came back.
A quick look at the numbers is more than enough. (If the chart below seems familiar to you, that’s because you read fellow writer Christopher Wätjen’s great article on Dez Bryant. And if you haven’t, you should.)
For Dez, it’s all about remaining healthy. This time his quarterback is not a rookie. This time, defenses will respect Cole Beasley way more. And well, we all know you can’t forget about the running game when you’re facing Ezekiel Elliott.
Only reason why he didn’t lead in these categories last year, is the fact that he missed three games.
This year, no one will stop him. (‘Specially not you, Josh Norman).
Predicting The Defensive Leaders
Inside Pressure: DT Maliek Collins, Sacks
- 2016 sacks leader: DE Benson Mayowa (6)
This was a tough one. And you may think this is a bold prediction, but is it really?
Collins didn’t miss a single game last year. After a very good rookie season, I expect him to be the Cowboys defensive lineman with the most snaps played at the end of the year. Collins had five sacks last year as a rookie. This year, he will be on the field most of the time and is arguably the best DL on the team.
If David Irving hadn’t been suspended for four games, he would definitely be my pick. Missing four games may be a little bit too much though.
With such uncertainty among the edge rushers, however, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if a defensive tackle ends up leading the sack category. I don’t expect the Cowboys to have a great pass rush, but I do see Collins getting 8-10 sacks as well as an improved DL.
CB Anthony Brown, Interceptions
- 2016 INTs leader: S Barry Church (2)
Intercepting the ball is something our defense has struggled to do these past years. Right now, our secondary is without a doubt promising. After heavily addressing the position this offseason, the Cowboys now have a group of athletic and young DBs.
However, lots of these players have a lot to prove before we consider them a great secondary.
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Anthony Brown looks to become the CB1 for the Dallas Cowboys. Throughout his rookie year, he made a lot of plays in big moments and was consistently good in coverage. After losing Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr this offseason, Brown will need to step up.
He is the best outside corner on the roster right now. This year, a projected starter, Brown will be around the ball more often and hopefully, he will produce the takeaways this defense so desperately needs.
Also, rookies Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie both show a lot of promise and were known for their takeaways in college. This could end up being a very productive secondary, and a dominant one for years to come.
Defense General: LB Sean Lee, Tackles/Tackles For Loss
- 2016 tackles and tackles for loss leader: LB Sean Lee (93/13)
Sean Lee might not be the MIKE of this defense, but he is the most important linebacker on the team.
Last year he led the team with 93 tackles and 52 assists, combining for 145 tackles. He also was the best in tackles for loss, leading the team with 13. Lee was all over the field last year. Not only was he the best LB on the team, but one of the best in the NFL.
In a Cowboys defense which is full of question marks, Sean Lee is one of the most important players on the roster, and the most important on defense.
Picking any other player from the Cowboys to lead this category is an absolute bold prediction.
Completion Denied: S Byron Jones, Passes Defended
- 2016 passes defended leader: S Byron Jones (10)
Perhaps Byron Jones hasn’t lived up to the hype in the INT department, but he is still one of the best defenders on the team and is an essential piece to this secondary.
He has led the team in passes defended both in 2016 and 2015. Last year he had 10, which is a number that can be improved a lot, and with a group of young and athletic DBs, it’s fair to think it will.
Byron Jones is one of my favorite Cowboys right now, as he appears to save the team from a lot of big plays. I expect Jones to have his best season this year and hopefully, he can even add a few interceptions.
Life After Doug Free: Jason Witten, Penalties
I added this as a little bonus.
Discussing this article with Inside The Star Staff Writer, Jess Haynie, he came up with including the penalties category. Doug Free seemed to draw a flag every week and after his retirement, we wondered who would be the player with the most penalties this year.
We said the same name at the same time.
Jason Witten is my favorite Cowboys player of all time, I love the guy. But to be honest, he is not the same athletic tight end he once was, and he did draw yellow flags once in a while.
Be it false starts or offensive holdings, I’m picking Mr. Reliable to make Doug Free the most proud. This doesn’t mean I expect him to have a bad year at all.
Is September here yet?