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?
Do you agree or disagree with these predictions?
Tyron Smith Named Most “Underpaid Veteran” On Dallas Cowboys
Counting the pockets of Cowboys star players has become a favorite activity of the national media this offseason, as everyone tries to figure out how Dallas will structure the deals for their young players over the course of the next year.
While trying to figure out what the new deals will look like, it's worth reflecting on how well the team did on some of their past negotiations. The Ringer released an article this week naming the most underpaid veteran on each NFL roster, with Tyron Smith earning that honor for the Cowboys.
Smith, who signed his extension with the team back in 2014, is under the deal until the 2024 season. That 8 year extension was lucrative at the time for sure, but as the salary cap rises and other offensive tackles have gotten paid, it looks more like a bargain deal for Dallas by the second.
"A long contract is a bad deal for an elite player in a league in which revenue grows handily. The salary cap was $133 million in 2014, but it’s $188.2 million for 2019. So while the Cowboys have 41.5 percent more money to spend, Smith hasn’t had a raise in five seasons. The Cowboys essentially locked up one of the best tackles of his generation for his entire career."
When put like this, you can see just what a steal of a contract the Cowboys signed Tyron Smith for. Smith is inked for the entirety of the prime of his career, and has very little leverage for a holdout given how many years still remain on this deal.
On the field, Tyron Smith remains one of the best left tackles in all of football, even if back issues have forced him to miss some time over the last two seasons. Smith should remain a top contributor for the Cowboys for at least a few more years, all of which will come at a bargain for a Cowboys team looking to execute some salary cap gymnastics next offseason.
PFF Ranks Cowboys Run Defense 13th In The NFL
The Cowboys duo of young linebackers took the NFL by storm in 2018.
Rookie Leighton Vander Esch and former second round pick Jaylon Smith played well above expectations, as for the first time in years Dallas did not face a significant drop off in defensive production when Sean Lee was out and injured.
These young linebackers are the cornerstone of a run defense which should be among the league's best going forward, and Pro Football Focus agrees. Well, somewhat agrees.
PFF ranked all 32 run defenses heading into the 2019 season, slotting the Cowboys 13th overall. Better than half the league, but not quite top 10.
PFF's reasoning behind this ranking certainly makes sense, as they credit the young linebacker duo without mentioning much of what will be in front of them helping to stop opposing running games.
"The Cowboys’ run defense begins and ends with the league’s best young linebacker duo. Leighton Vander Esch ranked third in run-stop percentage as a rookie while Jaylon Smith checked in at 29th."
The playoff loss in Los Angeles has left a bad taste about the Cowboys' interior defensive line in a lot of mouths, but I do think they've improved the unit this offseason. Signing Christian Covington and drafting Trysten Hill was a nice start to do so, but having Maliek Collins healthy and Antwaun Woods back for a full season will also go a long way.
Interestingly enough, two of the Cowboys divisional foes came in ranked above them on this list. Washington was slotted as the 12th best run defense, while Philadelphia was placed at number 8. Both teams' units deserve respect, of course, but this further highlights how difficult it could be to run the ball in the NFC East this season.
While I hate simply throwing this term around, analytics suggest that passing is what wins games in the NFL. Passing and stopping the pass, I should say.
With strong run defenses in their division, the Cowboys will need to maximize their passing game efficiency if they want to repeat as NFC East champions.
3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season
Amari Cooper changed life for the entire Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018. Finally, Quarterback Dak Prescott has the number one option at wide receiver he's desperately needed since his rookie campaign. Now, after half a season and multiple playoff games under his belt in Dallas, Cooper is set to have a monster year. Here are three specific reasons why.
Head Coach Jason Garrett has established a certain way of doing things in Dallas since taking over in 2010. His constant search for the RKG or "Right Kinda Guy" as he puts it has the culture in the locker room at a very positive and productive place. As criticized as he is, justifiably or not, he has his team all on the same page. This is something Cooper has been trying to find since he entered the league in 2015. An organization with the right mindset in order for him to perform and maximize his skill set. After being traded to Dallas, Cooper opened up in November about being unhappy during his days in Oakland.
"I wasn't really happy in Oakland or anything like that. But when I sat and thought about it [Monday} night, I thought about the fact that they traded me away. I don't know how to feel about it," Cooper told Yahoo Sports.
This may seem small to others considering these players make millions of dollars right? Well, it doesn't change the fact that they're human. When you feel unappreciated you don't play to the best of your abilities. Shortly after the trade, Cooper talked about how he's been different since putting a star on his helmet. "I feel like it did change me, as far as having that chip on my shoulder. Not that I wasn't passionate before, but playing with more passion, trying to intentionally have fun out there. It definitely has changed me, in terms of me going out there and just having fun with it," Cooper said. A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Cooper and the Cowboys.
2. The other weapons around him
The Cowboys aren't just Amari Cooper or bust at the wide receiver position. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb provide more challenges for defenses on a weekly basis. Gallup has firmly locked down the number two spot on the depth chart. It took a while for him to establish chemistry with Dak Prescott, as they would misfire on several big plays during the first half of the season. Nonetheless, by seasons end things started to pick up, and he finished with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he scored a touchdown in the Cowboys Wild Card win over Seattle. The next week against the Rams he performed well even in defeat, with 6 receptions for 119 yards. He's got speed, size, and versatility. Now with a full season and two games of playoff experience under his belt, I look for even more production from Gallup, as a possible breakout star.
Randall Cobb is a much-needed upgrade in the slot for the Cowboys. Unlike former receiver Cole Beasley, Cobb can line up inside or outside. Giving new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore a bigger bag of tricks at his disposal. Now, he can lineup Cooper inside or outside and play with a plethora of different looks, keeping defenses off balance because of the uncertainty of how the Cowboys will attack through the air.
Then, of course, there's Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion is the tone-setter on offense and dictates how defenses will attack. With Cooper being such a threat in the air you basically have to pick your poison. 8-9 man fronts against the run can make you vulnerable to play action down the field or quick slants with Cooper's exceptional route running. The more productive Elliott is the more honest it keeps opposing defenses, opening up more opportunities in the passing game. Averaging 101.2 yards per game for his career, second all-time to Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Elliott can make create even more opportunities for Cooper in 2019 with a full season of playing time together.
Amari Cooper is currently looking to sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys. Preferably, both sides would like to get this deal done before the season starts considering he's in the last year of his rookie contract that is set to pay him 13.9 million in 2019. However, it isn't just a new deal that motivates Cooper heading into the new season.
"It's kind of a weird situation, just being that I've never been in this situation before, talking about a contract. But also, I'm under a fifth-year option, so I'm not too familiar with it. I really don't ask my agent many questions. I'm not really worried about it that much. I'm more focused on actually playing and really earning the respect and then the contract," Cooper said.
Being motivated by earning respect is a very mature approach from Cooper. Now, add that to the fact that I'm sure he wants to firmly put his name alongside Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr, and Michael Thomas as the best receivers in the game, you have a fully motivated number one option heading into the new season.
Amari Cooper has already made three pro bowls, but now there's another level for him to reach. In just nine games last year with the Cowboys he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. Also, he caught another 13 on 18 targets in the playoffs for 171 yards and a score. He's in the right culture, he has a number of other weapons around him and he has multiple reasons to be motivated heading in the new season. With a full offseason of building chemistry with Dak Prescott, I see Cooper taking that leap to the All-Pro level in 2019.
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